Toilets, Latrines, and Everything in Between

by Corinna Wang

My friend and co-worker, Corinna Wang has written a most inspirational piece on the evolution of the toilet. Since April 7th is World Health Day, I thought this was a good day to post it. Thanks for reading.

The public bathroom at Bryant Park in NYC © pam lazos

Most conversations around bodily functions can be uncomfortably embarrassing discussions, especially those concerning use of the bathroom.  Everyone has a bathroom ritual they deem necessary, one that is, to them, normal as well as socially and culturally acceptable.  In general, it is common practice in the United States to use a toilet and toilet paper, but in other countries this is not always the case.  After spending two years in Panama while serving in the Peace Corps, I have had more than a glimpse into this sometimes controversial topic and the uncomfortable conversations that often surround it so I decided it was time for some deep reflection (!) on issues surrounding water, sanitation and hygiene, or WASH.  

Often, cultural barriers and lack of information about diseases linked to open defecation play a major role in the disuse and disinterest of using a toilet or latrine (an outhouse).  Funding is another issue, impacting access to materials and to the sustainability of latrine installations and maintenance.   The toilets we use today have evolved over time during which the lowly toilet went from fulfilling a sanitation need to being a sign of wealth, a time to socialize, and even a topic of controversy. 

Inside the bathroon at Bryant Park © pam lazos

Before toilets, it was common practice for people to drop their drawers behind a tree, a bush, or even in the street and get down to business. Open defecation is still practiced in some countries where toilets are not readily accessible, available, or seen as a necessity. Millenia or even decades ago, a low population density relieving itself outside or even in public areas was thought to be harmless, but as the population grew, such issues became more concerning once many more people seemed to be pooping everywhere. I can only imagine the unpleasant smell that led to the enactment of sanitation laws because — let’s be honest here and admit it – shit stinks.

So, what DID people do in the early days of WASH?  Throughout the world, societies created their own way of dealing with waste.  Generally, people are not interested in the history of sanitation, and as a result not much has been written about it so it’s difficult to determine when and where the first toilet was constructed. However, around 4000 BCE, archaeologists found that the Mesopotamians (the first people of a developed civilization in western Asia) built seating areas over cesspits that had an open slot at the base where waste could drop through. The waste would then travel through clay pipes to the actual cesspits. 

Fast forward to Roman times when public bathhouses were considered both a luxury and a socializing experience. The facilities consisted of long stone benches with holes evenly spaced for you and your friend to enjoy together. Underneath was where the real magic happened with a simple, yet revolutionary engineering system. A channel of water ran under the seats, to carry the sewage away, typically to a stream or river, very much akin to a modern piping system.  Similar engineering has been found in other areas such as Scotland, the Indus Valley, and Mesopotamia. Can you imagine going to the bathroom while sitting right next to someone else and carrying on a conversation?  I can’t, especially considering the shyness I feel even with walls between me and other users in public restroom. In addition, indoor restrooms were also uncovered in the Roman ruins and located near the kitchen which would be a common health hazard now.  These I can imagine were for the wealthier class.

Following the decline of the Roman Empire, people began inventing other ways to relieve themselves. By the Middle Ages, people typically used “potties” whose contents were thrown outside onto the street. For the wealthier folk, “garderobes” were built which were private rooms or closets protruding over the castle’s moat with an opening at the bottom. The sewage would just slide down the castle directly into the water or a separate cesspit.  Sometimes, the sewage would even stick to the sides of the castle and residents would hope that the rain would wash it away. Public garderobes also existed but were places filled with diseases and stench. Gross!

As times changed, garderobes and public toilets were replaced with “commodes”, a box with a seat and a pot to catch your waste. Also known as a chamber pot, this was the most common way of relieving yourself for hundreds of years. These were typically made of porcelain or copper and sometimes had elaborate designs. The owners would store these pots under or near their bed in case one needed to relieve themselves at night and were used in many places late into the 19th century. Wow, right?!  

not a chamber pot

While the chamber pot or the outhouse was still a favorite, during this time, other developments began to take hold, and in 1596, the first flushing toilet was invented by Sir John Harrington, godson of Queen Elizabeth I. The design was simple.  It had a pipe with running water that flushed the waste out of the raised reservoir, spiriting it away.  Unfortunately, Queen Elizabeth was not interested and the invention did not gain traction for another two hundred years until 1775 when Alexander Cummings developed the iconic S-shaped pipe which reduced foul odors by trapping them inside the pipe. Still it didn’t take off until the late 19th century when a man name Thomas Crapper invented the ballcock — a tank-filling mechanism still used in toilets today — that flush toilets became successful.

With the advent of all this new technology, why didn’t people embrace the toilet as a concept?  Most people feared that indoor bathrooms would bring poisonous gases into their homes and apartments, leading to illness and death.  Again, while shit stinks, waste itself is not deadly, but the diseases carried within the waste can be.  Yet people often do what they are used to and even in New York City, people were using outhouses in their backyards and alleys which were filled with “rats, vermin and were a major source of disease”. 

Despite technological advances, chamber pots remained in vogue for folks in the early 20th century for use at night. In the mornings, people would empty their pots in their outhouses and a man would come collect the waste at night – gaining the name “night soil”. This was common practice in urban areas considering outhouses couldn’t be easily moved and were typically permanent structures. So, where did this waste end up? Some ended up on empty lots, but a majority of it was dumped into nearby waterways which traveled to distances both close and far away. 

Fairmont Water Works in Philadelphia above the Schuylkill River

It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that most medical professionals agreed that sewer gases did not cause diseases and the use of outhouses and chamber pots were the actual source of the illnesses given such close contact with fecal material, but even this realization did not make it easy for cities like New York to embrace indoor toilets as building a sewage infrastructure was no easy feat for an already existing urban area. It took more than half a century and some government legislation to bring the toilet inside. The Tenement Act of 1901 states: “In every tenement house hereafter erected there shall be a separate water-closet in a separate compartment within each apartment.” Fast forward to present time when toilets and toilet paper are the norm in the USA and while no one is afraid of the smell of sewage, no one really likes it either.  People realize the benefits of indoor plumbing and it’s not a stretch to say no one wants to live without them, but it was a bit of a journey to get here.  There is much more to this story than my brief history has touched upon regarding the development of sanitation in other countries and in rural areas across the U.S., all which have their own compelling saga.  

Just as any kind of radical social change does, it took time for people to embrace the idea of pooping indoors. Even today, there are other countries who are making their way through these same issues:  misinformation; lack of funding; and simply embracing a new idea which, when done on a societal level, comes with its own challenges. I will continue this discussion of the challenges of implementation in other countries, including the main differences I have seen in Panama and the USA regarding current bathroom practices in the next installment.

Stayed tuned.

Corinna Wang is an environmental engineer and former Peace Corps volunteer. Having built her share of latrines in Panama, she understands the importance of WASH.
Posted in toilet, toilets, Uncategorized, WASH | Tagged , , , , | 24 Comments

The Bread of Life

So many of us are suffering right now. This past year as a result of Covid-19 has not been friendly to us humans and despite the vaccines we are not out of the tick-infested weeds yet. Whether the suffering is acute or chronic, one thing I know: suffering is universal and there but for the grace of God go we.

My grandmother had a saying: “Don’t cry with a loaf of bread under each arm.” As you can guess, it means that we need to count our blessings, or as my mom used to say, “Don’t complain; things can always get worse.”

skunk cabbage — a malodorous wetland plant and one of the first signs of spring

My grandmother came to the United States at 18, leaving her parents and siblings behind to start a new life in an arranged marriage to a man who was more than two decades her senior. She didn’t want to leave, but her father thought that the chances for her success — being married to a man who owned his own little corner store — were greater in American than in Italy where she lived on a farm, growing and raising what they ate each day, always subject to the vagaries of war, weather, and whatever political party was in power. And while I have greatly enjoyed the fruits of my grandmother’s emigration, I can’t say that her life was any better or easier here than it would have been had she stayed put in Italy with her family.

My grandparents did not enjoy a happy marriage. Age was a big factor, plus the depression sucked the life out of most people, but immigrants, as they always will, had it much harder being in the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder. Making a living sometimes meant barely getting by. My mother tells the story of my grandfather who lost his store during the depression and, as a way to keep money coming in, sold Philadelphia pretzels, pushing his cart from one street to the next, starting early in the morning until late in the evening when he would go home, eat dinner, and fall asleep in his chair. There wasn’t much money coming in, but they didn’t go hungry either which was better than many people, and my mother, the youngest of three children remembers that while she didn’t see her father much, every morning there’d be three stacks of five pennies lined up on the sideboard, one for each child, and to my mother, that was an enduring sign of her father’s love.

rainbows follow the rain

My mother and her siblings were my grandmother’s heart and soul. When my grandmother lost her only son to MS she cried and cried, so much that she eventually suffered a brain aneurysm and died at the age of 60. I was 3 years old at the time and had no way of asking the millions of questions that I would have asked my grandmother over the years if I’d only had the chance, and so I make do with the stories I have, piecing my history together like a seamstress sews a quilt.

My husband’s extended family experienced a terrible tragedy this past week, one that has left us all shaken to our roots, one that will take years to recover from, if ever. It’s times like these we question the wisdom: of our beliefs, of our religion, or of God himself. The Buddha would say that the essence of life is suffering. I prefer to think that the essence of life is a journey whose ways and means and end are unknown to us, and like immigrants to a distant shore, all we can do is disembark, take a deep breath and a good look around, and dig in using all the tools God gave us, doing the very best we can every day because that is what we will be judged on: whether we were kind; whether we cared for one another in times of sickness and health; whether we listened with compassion and reached out with arms and hearts wide open to receive whatever might come back knowing that life is an ephemeral stream, just as quickly flooded as dry.

It’s Easter week, the holiest in the Christian calendar, a time of rebirth and renewal. It’s also Passover, and the first weeks of Spring. Everywhere we see the pattern of being reborn running throughout the natural world and ourselves. The daffodils do not decry the snows of winter, but wait patiently for the sun to warm their way back to the surface. Nature’s physical rebirth is our spiritual one because, even when we forget, we are inextricably linked with the mother of us all.

So today, no matter your denomination, take a moment to give thanks for all that life has given you, the good and the bad, and nibble at the bread in your arms and thank life and all its vicissitudes. We are here to learn and to grow. Sometimes our lives are tempered in tragedy and others times in good fortune, and while no one gets out alive, it’s up to us to choose what to do with the time we’ve been given.

May we all be safe;
may we all be happy;
may we all be healthy;
and may we live in peace and harmony with one another,
forever and ever.
Amen.

pam lazos 4.3.21

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 30 Comments

We Are Water Protectors

Stories and prophecies surrounding Mother Earth and Father Sky are abundant in indigenous folklore where Indigenous People have long protected the earth from those who would seek to abuse her resources. That’s why it is so wonderful to see that storytelling tradition carried on using today’s media outlets.

Carole Lindstrom, an Anishinaabe/Metis enrolled as a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Ojibwe tribe located in North Dakota has taken on the fight with her beautiful children’s book, We Are Water Protectors, illustrated by Michaela Goade, which recalls water as “the first medicine,” the place from which we all started, a connecting and unifying force of creation. Today, water is under siege, the young protagonist in Water Protectors says, and inspired by her grandmother’s stories, she stands to lead her people to fight the Black Snake that threatens all of creation. The fight will not be easy but if she wins all of creation will benefit.

The Seven Fires Prophecy from the Anishinaabe tribe talks of two roads before mankind, one a natural path with respect for all living things, the other a paved-over highway that continues to accelerate at faster and faster speeds through technological and other advancements — much like the movie Koyaanisqatsi depicted four decades ago — one where the earth is an afterthought.

The Seven Fires Prophecy says the Black Snake is a result of the hurried path and, if left unchecked, will blanket the world in much harm and ultimate destruction. Indigenous Peoples believe the black snake is the embodiment of the oil pipelines that have spread like ley lines across our world.

In April 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stood up to the Black Snake in an attempt to block the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s been years of picketing, protesting, and legal battles for the tribe and others, the latest being a win before the U.S. Court of Appeals who said a full environmental impact statement was needed before the future fate of the pipeline could be decided. The next hearing is scheduled for April 9, 2021.

Lindstrom’s protagonist says the fight will not be easy, but it is necessary if we are to survive.  

We stand

With our songs

And our drums

We are still here

Carol Lindstrom, We Are Water Protectors

We Are Water Protectors won The Caldecott Award in 2020, given to “the most distinguished American picture book for children,” one of almost a dozen awards won by Lindstrom and Goade for this moving children’s story.

It is hard to imagine what the world would look like without these and other dedicated groups of earth keepers.

By working with native tribes, those who have held the land close to them like a mother holds a newborn, we just may be able to make our way out of our climate change mess.

It’s time to take the ancient medicine and walk the road of the natural path. It’s time to return to our Mother what belongs to her. It’s time to revere that which gives us life.

You can start by reading We Are Water Protectors.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 24 Comments

Pass the PVA, Please

Pass the PVA, Please

When the kids were little I think I did a hundred loads of laundry a week.  Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I easily did a few loads every couple days, depending on their activity levels.  At that time, I was a big fan of the large laundry detergent containers with the built-in spigots.  I positioned the detergent on the shelf above the washing machine, pressed the button and let the river flow right into the machine to the count of three, released the button, shut the lid, and voilà, a great and efficient system with no need to get laundry soap all over the little plastic cup that came with it.  

Enter the manufacturer, in this case Proctor and Gamble (they were first), who, on a constant quest to improve their products and packaging, developed the Tide pod.  Everyone makes them now for laundry and dishwasher soap — a pre-measured dose of detergent, stain-remover and brightener all in one.  So simple.  So elegant.  So easy!  Toss in a pod, maybe two, depending on the size of the load, shut the lid, and you’re done.  No over-pouring or under-pouring, no counting to three, just the correct amount every time.  No fuss, no muss, no spilled liquid detergent, no rinsing out the little plastic cup.  It was fantastic, economical, the most efficient distribution system going, an example of a perfect improvement.

Then it hit me.  The “package” that the pod came in was not a perfect delivery system — it was plastic, and that sure couldn’t be a good contribution to my washing machine’s effluent.  So I did a little research and at first, all I could find were the various manufacturers’ claims that the product was safe.  The outside casing of these pods is made of polyvinyl alcohol, or PVA, also known as PVOH, a synthetic polymer and hydrophilic substance, meaning that it dissolves in water. 

Now excuse me if I don’t always believe what the manufacturers say.  We’ve all been duped before, right? — they said PFAS was perfectly safe and look at the mess that has become — so I asked a couple chemist friends to clarify, but no one could say with certainty although they all promised to look further.  Despite follow ups, I couldn’t get a confirm or deny.  That was about a year ago, and since I was pretty busy at the time, I shelved the topic.  Then a few weeks ago I was talking to my mentee who has a science background and I mentioned my polyvinyl alcohol conundrum.  

“Isn’t that what they make liquid tears from?” she asked.

In fact, it was.  They call it artificial tears, and it’s available over the counter.  Feeling better — surely manufacturers wouldn’t sell a product known as artificial tears if it left a plastic residue in your eyes — but not totally convinced, I dug deeper and apparently, it is true!  Polyvinyl alcohol is a water soluble plastic compound that completely breaks down in water leaving no microplastics residue.  See here and here.

 Given that we now we have microplastics in our tea bags, in every animal that’s been studied, in our bodies, and in our beer, this was indeed good news and something that seems like an environmental asset rather than a liability.  Finally, some good news on the plastics front. Also, good to know that my desire for clean clothes is not adding to the plastics mess.  PVA costs more to manufacture than regular plastic, but we humans and the earth we live on are worth it. 

Kudos to the manufacturers for this great breakthrough.  Let’s keep it going.

Happy Pi Day!

pam lazos 3.14.21

Posted in plastics | Tagged , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Here, There, and Everywhere: The Problem with Microplastics in Water and What Women Scientists are Doing to Solve It

Read all about it in wH2O, The Journal of Gender and Water, Volume 8 (2021) right here.

 

Posted in microplastics, plastics | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

International Women’s Day — The Struggle is Real

International Women’s Day — The Struggle is Real

March is Women’s History Month in the U.S. and March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day whose roots stretch back to places across the globe beginning in the early part of the 20th century when the first such gathering was held on February 28, 1909 in NYC. Women took to the streets seeking basic civil rights such as the right to vote (check); better working conditions (check-lite); equal rights (working on it); and ending sex discrimination (very much still working on it), to name a few. We’ve been at it for awhile now, ladies, but hopefully it won’t take another 111+ years to get across the finish line.  Sadly, economists are now saying that Covid may set women back a decade or more.

Women already held more precarious positions in the work force — working fewer hours, for less money, with shorter tenures and in lower-ranking jobs than men. The loss of child care limited many working mothers’ hours and availability even further, meaning they were often the first to be selected for layoffs and unpaid leave, the report concluded. And it noted that many families appear to be deciding that if they need one parent to give up a job and prioritize child care, it should be the lower-paid parent — usually the mother.

A.Taub, Pandemic Will ‘Take Our Women 10 Years Back’ in the Workplace, The New York Times (9.26.20).

Despite over a century of growth in the right direction, the ill wind known as Covid may have blown us here again, but take heart ladies, as there is one thing that cannot be taken from you and that is your education — and what you intend to do with it.

No one knew that better than the Italian innovator, Maria Montessori, a physician and educator who helped the cause for women immensely when on January 6, 1907 she opened the Casa dei Bambini — the Children’s House — in San Lorenzo, an inner-city district in Rome, for children aged seven and younger. Originally a daycare center, Casa dei Bambini evolved into an education center that would ultimately change the landscape of and traditional thinking behind teaching by developing the “Montessori Method,” a practice of instruction that adapted each child’s individual learning style in creating their curriculum. By letting the child lead, learning came more naturally to each because it was paired with the child’s own inherent learning abilities, allowing children to pursue what interested them, leading to success. Add self-assessment and self-correction as integral parts of the learning curriculum and the result is self-driven, self-aware, and smarter students.

Born to parents that believed strongly in education, Montessori’s own childhood was filled with museums, libraries and other places of learning, and as young as 13, she was breaking down traditional barriers by enrolling in an all-boys technical institute to study engineering. She later switched to medicine and after some false starts, graduated from medical school in Rome in 1896 as one of the city’s first female doctors. Perhaps it was her interest in psychiatry that ultimately led to adopting a manner of teaching that spoke to each child’s cognitive abilities and spurred Montessori to travel extensively in support of the Montessori Method, drafting adherents to the cause wherever she went, or perhaps she was just a natural born visionary and teacher.

My own godmother was not only a Montessori teacher, but a pioneer in women-owned businesses. In the late 1970’s she started her own Montessori school and ran it for decades. I remember as a kid being in awe of her multitasking abilities, raising a family of three children with her husband, himself a principal at an elementary school, while simultaneously running a business teaching other people’s children a new way of learning, to my mind the pinnacle of success. As both a career woman and smart momma — e.g., prepping meals on weekends for the week ahead as a time-saving measure — she empowered other women by example and she did it all before it became de rigueur.

At the turn of the 20th century, hotels, brothels, taverns, retail shops, and other service-oriented trades were the mainstay of the women-owned business, but after WWII, women started more diverse businesses, growing the list from about 600,000 in 1945 to over 1 million in 1950. By the 1980’s, women owned 25% of all small businesses.
Today, that number has risen to 40% and climbing which translates to 12.3 million women-owned businesses.

International Women’s Day may have started a century ago, but we still have a big hill to climb. Until women have equal pay, are represented equally in congress, until there are just as many women entering the workforce in STEM careers as there are men, and — this is the kicker — until we no longer need the #MeToo movement to help put an end to sexual discrimination in the workplace, we will remain vigilant and proactive, paying it both back and forward to our mothers and our daughters, and one of these years, we will laugh as the ill-winds pass us by since they will no longer hold sway over us.

Celebrate International Women’s Day by thanking the women you love.

pam lazos 3.8.21

Posted in women-owned businesses | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Happiest Child

HAPPIEST CHILD

“You’re only as unhappy as your unhappiest child,” my friend who has cancer says.

I believe her.  You have to accumulate a lot of stress and heartache to get cancer.  It’s easy enough to acquire.  A small bad habit, like eating too much sugar, something I’ve done since 5-ever, can morph into a full blown health issue after decades of abuse — despite my overindulgence, so far, I’ve managed to eat enough spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower to counteract all the bad that goes with a daily pocketful of M&M’s and any other chocolate crosses my path — and if you add the passive brain that perseverates over our daily lists of to-do’s and the lack of time to achieve them; the stress of not being able to make your loved ones’ lives the bed of roses that, as parents, we believe we should have planted for them; compounded with a world that has been behaving dizzyingly poorly since we crossed over into the new millennium (as the fever-pitch level of crazy this last year has proven); and faster than quicksilver you’ve fallen into a negative mental groove that could easily manifest into something unwanted without you ever having thought too much about it until one day, pop, the dis-ease has snuck up on you without notice or regard, a fresh daily hell.  Dosed up on that kind of grief, anger or worry, you are walking around unhinged like 20 out of 24 hours a day because even your dreams are addled.  That’s what a seriously unhappy child can do to you.  

All kids are unhappy at one time or other, but it’s the long-standing and life-altering unhappiness that is difficult to navigate, the kind that leaves parents hollowed out from worry and kids frozen by discontent. And whether it’s Covid-related or the stress of modern life or the world inflicting its current manic state upon our offspring, I don’t know, but I currently have several friends who are walking on hell’s coals with, by, or because of one of their children.  We humans are fragile bubbles of emotion, and when the life we are owed is upended by a series of accidents or unfortunate incidents masquerading as seemingly impossible barriers to the happiness we believe we deserve we go “tits up” which those of you in the military will recognize as Total Inability To Support Usual Performance — i.e., flat on our backs.

To have children is to commit to a lifetime of suffering. Their aches are your aches.  Their losses, your losses.  Their victories, only theirs, which somehow doesn’t seem fair but, hey, that’s the way it is.  If my parents had a nickel for every night I came home after curfew and promised not to do it again, or said “yes, Mom,” or “yes, Dad,” and did the exact opposite, or lied through my teeth so I wouldn’t miss the bonfire before the big football game or the fill-in-the-blank thingee, they would have been rich, I suppose, but what does the universe care of nickels?  The universe deals in Karma, and my own Karma has been to house kids who think nothing of curfews or communication as to the where’s, when’s and how’s, who often saw questions such as “what time will you be home” as an infringement on their personal freedoms.  Payback, like Karma, is a big fat bitch.

I remember the time when, still in high school, I cut the headlights and pulled into my parent’s driveway at 4 a.m. after a night out with friends.  The lights in the house were all off and I was home free — woohoo! — or so I thought, until I walked into the living room and saw the red ember of my father’s cigarette glowing in the dark.  I was supposed to be home at midnight.  There were no cellphones then, but there were pay phones and you could always ask to use the phone of whatever establishment or house you were in.  I wonder how many cigarettes my father smoked that night, waiting for me to come home, nervously pacing the floor, smoke, pace, smoke, pace.  So yes, for all those times I kept my dad waiting up in the dark with only a lit cigarette for company, I have been paying it back for years now, my only consolation being that my children will understand one day when their own karma kicks in.

Do you have a child that can vacillate between happy and unhappy from day to day, sometimes minute to minute? If you think the latter is some kind of poetic license, you’ve not been in close personal contact with today’s offspring.  The behavior of today’s offspring is enough to worry even the most robust of parents.  Then again, when I think back to my days at this age, I was probably more mercurial than most.  Karma?  Genetics?  Not enough sleep?  Too much stress?  It’s not like there’s any of that these days, right?  Too much sugar?  Is half the minor population ADD or ADHD and on adderall?  Is it the food?  Have pesticides finally done us in by changing the biology of an entire generation?

The joy and pain of every mother is the labor and the leaving; ten months of having that baby all to yourself and then they pop right out of you and into the world, no longer yours to control.  The joy and pain of every parent is watching that child grow to maturity and then walking right out the door where you can no longer hover about, making sure it all goes according to plan.  The joy and pain of every parent is watching your child become exactly who they are meant to be and not feeling personally responsible for getting them there and not taking it personally when they don’t achieve every last one of your dreams because — their life, their dreams.

You are only as happy as your unhappiest child.  The best we can do as parents then is to raise the happiest children we can.  Then maybe we, too, will have a shot at happiness.  That means letting them lead when life and opportunities warrant so they can test their own limits and abilities.  The trick is not to get hung up on the outcome either way. 

Good luck to all of us with that one.  I, for one, am going to need it.

It is International Women’s month.  Go thank a woman you love — give her a big hug while you’re at it.

pam lazos 3.6.21

Posted in pesticides, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Plastic Bank

[

PLASTIC BANK

Okay, since this is supposed to be a feel-good blog post, I’m not going to bury you in plastic statistics the way we are ourselves being buried in the real thing, but I will shed a dash of light on it by repeating a few plastics facts you may already be privy to:

  • In the 70 years since plastics entered the consumer market, almost 9 billion tons have been created, 92% of which was not recycled and still exists on the planet in some form;
  • two million single-use plastic bags are distributed worldwide every minute — that have an average working life of a mere 15 minutes — are distributed worldwide every minute;
  • the straw you got with your drink at lunch will live for hundreds of years in the ocean, and 500 million of them are used everyday in America alone, enough to circle the world twice ;
  • one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute and only about 30% of them will be recycled;
  • at our current rate of production, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, much of it as microplastics which break down from the original due to photodegradation.

The point of repeating these stats is that we can’t cover our eyes any longer.  The overuse of plastics is a global problem that requires immediate attention.  Yes, yes, every telemarketer that ever calls and every advertisement you read says some version of the same thing — that you need to pay attention now or you’re going to miss out; that the sky is falling but you can avoid the avalanche if you just do this; that everything you ever worked for in your life is going to be wiped out if you don’t follow this — but here’s why this time, this warning is for real, maybe not for you right now, right this instant on this exact day, but definitely for your children and their children, and so on.

Why, you ask?

Because water is finite.  We have all we’re going to get.  And if we keep contaminating what we have with plastics and microplastics, it will eventually be game over for us humans.  Scientists have found that microplastics have crossed the placenta barrier, the beginning of a very slippery slope IMO.

So what’s next for the human race?  Technically, it’s our move.  Enter, the Plastics Bank which is revolutionizing plastics recycling by “build[ing] ethical recycling ecosystems in coastal communities, and reprocess[ing] the materials for reintroduction into the global manufacturing supply chain.”

But wait, there’s more.  “Collectors receive a premium for the materials they collect to better help them provide basic family necessities such as groceries, school tuition, and health insurance.”

And if that wasn’t enough:  “Collected material is reborn as Social Plastic® which is reintegrated into products and packaging. This creates a closed-loop supply chain while helping those who collect it.”

Want to know more about the Plastic Bank?  Go visit their website.

Let’s support that which supports all of us.

It’s the last Friday of the month.  Time to share your good news on the We Are the World Blogfest — #WATWB — a monthly good news trip around the world.  May we all be energized and rejuvenated by such news.  If you’re interested in joining our Blog Hop, the guidelines are as follows:

1. Keep your post to below 500 words;

2. Link to a human news story on the last Friday of each month that demonstrates love, kindness, humanity, support, open-mindedness, all the good stuff, but no proselytizing, preaching or inconsiderateness toward others;

3. Post on the last Friday of the month in sharing the good news.  No story is too big or small;

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar and help spread the word on social media using the #WATWB hashtag;

5. Read and comment on others’ posts, play nice, and make friends;

6. To sign up, add your link to the WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This month’s cohosts are:

https://ericlahti.wordpress.comEric; https://www.godyears.net; http://shilpaagarg.com/; https://gardenofedenblog.com/; https://professorowlsbookcorner.com/.

If you want to share your good news of an uplifting story, follow this link to sign up here: https://bit.ly/3aSG3qL

Thanks for reading!

pam lazos 2.26.21

Posted in plastics, recycling, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

Amid Rage

My friend Joel Burcat is back with a new book, Amid Rage, released February 2, 2021, an environmental thriller about a crazy coal mine operator, an application for a mining permit, and the anti-mining neighbors who will fight as long as it takes to make sure the mine doesn’t get it.  Caught in the crossfire is environmental prosecutor, Mike Jacobs who just wants to do the right thing for the environment.  Who will win is anyone’s guess.  Central and Western Pennsylvania struggles mightily with its roots, especially as they relate to coal, and this story could have easily been ripped from the headlines, but Burcat’s character-driven telling is much more.  Drawing on his experience as an environmental lawyer for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Amid Rage is a tale running as deep and wide as acid mine drainage itself.

Amid Rage is Burcat’s second novel.  The first, Drink to Every Beast was released in 2019.  Go here to read my previous interview with Joel who has been practicing or thinking about practicing environmental law since 1974 — before it was even cool!

Joel and I had a zoom chat a few days ago before participating in the lunch and learn discussion this past Friday (2/19/21) for the Pennsylvania Bar Association Environmental and Energy Law Section.  The topic?   So you’re thinking about writing that novel? Lots of thoughts, ethical considerations, and practical advice.

I don’t usually get many questions about my writing from own work colleagues, so this was a delightful diversion, a back and forth Q&A where Joel and I asked each other questions about our writing, how we both came to be writers and environmental lawyers, where we would like to go with our writing, and whatever advice we could offer for others looking to get started?  Since Joel has a new book out, I thought I’d share some of his responses with you.

So, here we are again, Joel.  And if you’re like me, the biggest question you always get is – how do you find time to write?

 

Great question, Pam. When I was still practicing law, I only wrote after 8 or 9 pm. Fortunately, I had the stamina after a long day in the office to write until 11 pm or midnight (sometimes later) then get up the next morning and go to work. Because I had a day job I felt I could not work during the time I was supposed to be devoting to my law practice. As a result, I did all of my writing at night.

Now that I am retired (disabled, actually) I write from about 8 a.m. until lunch time (determined by my hunger). Then I work on the business of books in the afternoon. Sometimes I will write in the afternoon, too. Often I will write on Sundays, as well.

You’re busy and determined!  I am still working my writing into the interstices of my day, but aspire to someday have the same kind of writing schedule, Joel.  How do you initially settle on your characters and once you do, how do you come up with plot lines?

When I began writing my Mike Jacobs books, I was already familiar with main characters from many thrillers and legal thrillers. I have often read about main characters who had a superpower. Some are unusually big and strong, some have photographic memories, some have martial arts or military skills. I find such characters interesting, but not relatable. I wanted my main character and all the characters in my books to be relatable. I think readers will have an easier time seeing themselves, possibly, as Mike or one of my other characters. I’d like my readers to think, “I could do that.”

My plots are based on a combination of cases or scenarios I read about (mostly news articles and case law), snippets from my own life, stories people have told me, and pure fiction I make up. Even when a story is “ripped from the headlines” (as the cliché goes) I take huge license with the story and make it my own.

They say a good writing is all about good reading.  What are you reading these days and how does that affect and improve your writing?

I read on a 4-book cycle: 1) a thriller, so I stay current with my genre; 2) a Young Adult (YA) novel, since I am branching out into the world of YA; 3) a debut novel or a book written by one of my friends, so I see the exciting things newer writers are doing; and 4) non-fiction. The last four books I read were: 1) SKIN IN THE GAME, by D.P. Lyle; 2) AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, by Sabaa Tahir; 3) BLACKTOP WASTELAND, by S.A. Cosby; and 4) HOMO DEUS, by Yuval Noah Harari. Currently, I am reading ONE OF US IS LYING, by Karen M. McManus, a young adult thriller. Life is all about learning and growing. This is an enjoyable way of doing that.

That sounds like a great approach.  You found your niche in the legal thriller genre and added the environment which makes it even more specialized. Do you think you’ll ever write outside that genre or is it your superpower — and you thought you didn’t have one –so you’re just going to stick with it?

Since you mentioned it…I have written a third book in the Mike Jacobs series, STRANGE FIRE, an environmental legal thriller about fracking. However, the last book I completed was a gritty, post-pandemic dystopian young adult thriller, called LULLABIES AND OTHER LIES. Currently that books is being evaluated by publishers, so we will see. I am at work on an environmental thriller that is not a legal thriller. It is titled (at this moment), PROJECT ICE. It is set in 1988 and is about a 21-year-old law student who walks into and accidentally attends a secret strategy meeting of the energy industry in Washington DC. (Something like this actually happened to me when I was in law school.) The topic of the strategy meeting is how to put the brakes on all research on climate change and prevent the United States from participating in any international meetings on climate change. She gets caught up in exposing the effort at great personal sacrifice.

That sounds like something we would all be interested in reading.  How many more books do you think you have in you?

It took me seven weeks to write the first draft of STRANGE FIRE (after I became legally blind!). It took me less than one month to write the first draft of LULLABIES AND OTHER LIES. Granted, writing the second draft and the editing process takes a much longer time, but once I get started, I write quickly. If pressed, I probably could write three or four books a year (not a typo). Realistically, I think two books a year is do-able. I love writing, so I’m going to do this for as long as I am able to do so. Hopefully, that’s a lot of books.

Ambitious, yes, but also doable from your determinedness.  So tell me, how much of your writing depends on audience approval?  After all, no fans, no books sold.  Do you ever get  discouraged that you haven’t yet entered the “millions of copies sold” arena?  What tools do you use to keep going when you don’t get the massive success for which every writer longs?  Do you keep writing regardless?

Writing has to be an obsession. You can’t do it only between the end of football season and beginning of March Madness or after the Christmas season is over on Hallmark (is it every truly over?). You really need to be drawn in by it and want to do that more than any other activity. My training as a lawyer has helped. That allows me to spend nearly endless time at my desk writing when I wouldn’t mind doing something else. Also, I am really goal driven. If I want to write a certain number of words on a certain day or finish writing a chapter, I will force myself to do it. At the least, I will find something else I must do related to writing that is equally important.

Finally, I live by the Winston Churchill quote, “Never Give in. Never, never, never, never.” That is a good motto for writers!

Thanks for the opportunity to talk!

Joel Burcat
Feb. 15, 2021

Additional info should you want to buy a copy of Amid Rage or Drink to Every Beast, or reach out to Joel.

http://www.JoelBurcat.com

@JoelBurcat

https://www.amazon.com/author/joelburcat

717-215-0236

Thanks for reading!

pam lazos 2.21.21

 

Posted in book promotion, book release, books | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Yes or No?

[eddies in ice © pam lazos]

While we wait for the men and women of the U.S. Senate, the world’s greatest deliberative body, to decide today whether the 45th POTUS incited an insurrection in our nation’s capitol on January 6, 2021 or, alternatively, to allow domestic terrorism to be our new normal — because isn’t the failure to impeach a vote for the latter?! — I leave you with this photo of eddies, frozen at the edge of the river while the maelstrom just below the surface, momentarily icebound, keeps time with the season — just like us.

And so we wait … .

pam lazos 1.17.21

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 25 Comments