Refuse, reuse, and reduce plastic!

Back in the day, supermarkets didn’t sell bottled water.

Most of us got our water directly from the tap.

Water just wasn’t something people thought about buying from the grocery, anyway.

Those were the days, my friend, when milkmen (no women that I can recall) delivered fresh milk daily or every other day to those milk boxes — now sold as “antiques” and “collectibles” — next to our front doors. Similarly, Louie Armet delivered a case of seltzer water (carbonated or “tonic” water) to our house weekly. Soft drinks (soda or pop, depending where you lived) were sold in groceries. But that’s before we became health-conscious and learned that soda was bad for us, while, for the most part, milk and water were good.

Nonetheless, most beverages came either in glass containers (jars and bottles) or metal cans.

You paid a deposit on them at the check out and many a youngster earned extra cents (sense?) foraging, gathering, and returning this glass and aluminum in exchange for the deposits.

I don’t know when — exactly — it happened that plastic became the packaging of our lives … but I do vividly remember the black and white “Plastics Make It Possible” television commercials in which plastic was heralded as the scientific “miracle” that would improve our lives.

Think about it: just try to go an hour without touching something plastic.

Greenpeace partnered with Protecting Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) and Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) to do a beach cleanup and brand audit at Kanapou beach on Kaho’olawe Island, Hawaii. Trash washed up on the beach.

The stuff is everywhere: from our toilet seats to the electronic devices we constantly use (sometimes, it’s safe to ass-u-me, while likely sitting on said toilet seat) are made of plastic. In fact, try as we might, there’s not much in our day-to-day lives that doesn’t contain plastic.

“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word … Plastics.”

Remember that line from The Graduate?

More recently, however, plastic has begun to bother me in its excess.

If these words weren’t about a former boss, they could aptly apply to plastic: “Some is good; more is better; too much is just enough.¨

Maybe for the producers, vendors, and plastic distributors, but definitely not for us and our world.

Why must water be sold in single-use plastic bottles? And those plastic bottles then wrapped in layers of plastic? And, again, as we check out, those plastics inside of plastic put in plastic bags?Why is there so much hard plastic packaging around razors, cds and dvds, tooth brushes and floss? Almost everything that now hangs from retail store shelves?

It’s bad enough trying to remove it to begin with … but, time and again, I cut myself and end up bleeding from the plastic shards.

But, I’m being self-centered here. There are communal and global reasons why we need to reduce our dependence on disposable plastic. Primarily because they’re not disposable!

Plastic, undoubtedly, has revolutionized society, introducing a huge amount of convenience and affordability, and allowing for the development of things like computers, cell phones and many modern medical devices.

But our obsession with it also comes at a steep cost. Although originally hailed as a miraculous innovation that could reduce a rapidly industrializing society’s reliance on scarce natural resources, plastic has also created a monumental environmental mess. Worldwide, more that 400 million tons of the stuff are churned out annually, generating a huge amount of waste of which less than 10 percent is recycled. The rest either ends up in landfills, where it will take an average of 500 years to decompose, or in waterways and oceans. 

A study by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), concluded that every year, eight million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. What is more concerning is that, according to the study, the cumulative input for 2025 would be nearly 20 times the eight million metric tons estimation.

One of the most concerning problems that our oceans are facing nowadays – if not the most important – is plastic pollution. Plastics are the cause of increasing ocean pollution, which in turn affects marine life and, consequently, humans as well.

Did you know:

  • Plastic causes many adverse effects in wildlife because chemicals include reproductive abnormalities and behavioral effects.
  • All sea turtle species, 45% of all species of marine mammals, and 21% of all species of sea birds have been affected by marine debris.
  • Plastics can absorb toxins from surrounding seawater, such as pesticides and those in the class of chemicals known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). They can also release harmful components.
  • Plastics can be ingested by many organisms. This can cause damage to their health.
  • The main cause for the increase in plastic production is the rise of plastic packaging.
  • The drilling of oil and processing into plastic releases harmful gas emissions into the environment including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, benzene, and methane (a greenhouse gas that causes a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide) according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA estimated that five ounces of carbon dioxide are emitted for every ounce of Polyethylene Terephthalate produced (also known as PET – the plastic most commonly used to make water bottles).

What can we — you and me — do about all this plastic pollution?

The solutions are simple and can be applied by everyone, everywhere.

The best way we can all help is to reduce new litter entering the environment. This may sound naïve, but it is a fact. To do that, there are three Rs that can remind us to do this:

  • Reduce: Choose products with less packaging, or shops where you can refill your own container.
  • Reuse: Use reusable products.
  • Recycle: Separate items that can be recycled (i.e. plastic, paper, cardboard).

Short of lobbying for government intervention in plastic packaging, there’s lots we can do to reduce our individual plastic pollution footprint: Have three receptacles in your kitchen–one for recycling, one for compost and one for trash. Collect all your plastic trash for one week just to see how much you actually use. It may make you think twice about how much plastic you buy. Stop buying single use plastic bottles and fill a reusable bottle, instead. Notice how things are packaged and opt for items packaged in cardboard vs. plastic whenever possible, for example laundry detergent. Minimize your use of plastic bags. Keep reusable bags handy. Use a thermos for your morning cup of coffee and bring it with you to your local coffee shop. Don’t buy disposable razors. Swap out or minimize all those plastic food storage containers you’ve collected over the years, especially those without lids or bottoms. Use glass or metal containers. Buy from bulk bins. This doesn’t mean buying in bulk. Bring your own reusable cloth containers or bags. Stop using disposable plastic plates. Donate plastic household items or decor you don’t love or are no longer using. Don’t just throw them out.

Don’t just throw them out!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Much Ado about Nothing? Opening a Business in Portugal or Spain

Starting a business anywhere isn’t easy … or cost-efficient … and we began to question the wisdom (and value) of opening a small “snack bar” outside of Castelo Branco that sells small-plated food: Tapas Americanas.

In addition to rent, utilities, furnishings and/or fixtures, merchandise (or whatever you are selling), to be factored into one’s business costs in Portugal we’re told are:

–LEGAL FEES to start up the business. Good lawyers — and we have a great one! — are worth their time and fees. In addition to all the government “red tape,” we understand that that “council” of our municipality must approve the request to open a new business;

–LICENSE FEES AND PERMITS

–BUILDING CODES & CONSTRUCTION

–INSURANCE (Health). With or without owning a business, to be granted long-term residency in Portugal, one must have, at minimum, given health coverages. Our health insurance for the two of us is about €200 per month;

–INSURANCE (Liability). The business will need coverage to protect itself and its owners (us!) against possible “injuries” suffered by customers and bystanders;

–A REGISTERED ACCOUNTANT is absolutely required. Add another €50-150 each month;

–EVERY EMPLOYEE, INCLUDING YOURSELF, AS OWNER, MUST BE PAID AT LEAST THE MINIMUM SALARY. Currently, we’re told that’s €665 every month … for 14 months each year

–SOCIAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTIONS. Each employee, including the owner, must contribute @ €184 per month to Portugal’s Social Security system.

–DEBIT/CREDIT CARD FEES. 4% of gross sales. Actually it’s O.9% with BPI, Millennium and Novobanco; 0.75% with CGD and up to 1.5% with BIC. Minimum payment taken back by the bank is usually 0.05c

–FINANCAS and their ‘connected’ cash register(s). So, even before you open the door (assuming you have one) or invest in inventory or stock or ingredients for food to sell, one must cover monthly costs of at least €850!!!!!!

If we sell our “Tapas Americanas” at the very reasonable rate of €4 per plate (or dish), we would need to sell over 200 tapas per month just to meet our essential expenses … not counting other overhead (utilities, etc.), salaries and Social Security for each additional employee, and taxes.

Profits?

LOL!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wtbQUaC9mE

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Fado & Flamenco: Evocative and Provocative

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but nothing expresses the soul of a people quite like their music. Perhaps nowhere does this resonate so clearly as with the Portuguese fado and the Spanish flamenco. Those seeking to familiarize themselves with the unique character and personality of Spain v. Portugal need only wrap themselves in these two existential music genres.

Even if you don’t know a word of either language and haven’t studied its culture, you can still experience it profoundly as you listen – no, engage – with the primal emotions aroused by the music.

Spain is quixotic, teasing and tempestuous, outgoing and flirtatious. Portugal, on the other hand, is sadly melancholic, holding tenuously onto a yearning sense of nostalgia.

Fado is traditional folk music, a form of Portuguese singing that is often associated with pubs, cafés, and restaurants. This music originated in Portugal around the 1820s, although it is thought to have much earlier roots. Fado is known for its profound expressiveness and melancholy. A musician – often a woman — will sing about the hard realities of daily life, balancing resignation and hopefulness that a resolution to its torments can still occur.

Best described with the Portuguese word saudade, an impenetrable word which encompasses more than “longing” and stands for a feeling of loss, fado was brought to mainstream music by Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999), known as the Rainha do Fado (Queen of Fado). Acknowledged throughout the world, Amalia’s charisma, extraordinary timbre of voice, and beauty made her an acclaimed artist. She became one of the most important personalities for the genre and the main inspiration for contemporary and modern fado.

I first heard Amália Rodrigues in my elementary Portuguese classroom, singing one of her best-known fados through a downloaded file on a decrepit laptop computer. Nonetheless, I was enthralled. Much as I’ve come to enjoy other fado singers and songs, nothing will ever compare for me to “Uma Casa Portuguesa” as she delivered it:
 www.youtube.com/watch?v=RU-Z0SiQKgU

The only non-Portuguese singer I am aware of whose music – especially her song La Llorona — comes close to the Portuguese saudade inherent to fado is Chavela Vargas, a  Costa Rica-born Mexican singer known especially for her rendition of Mexican rancheras, although she is also recognized for her contribution to other genres of popular Latin American music. Hailed for her haunting performances, she was a muse to such figures as Pedro Almodóvar and called la voz áspera de la ternura, “the rough voice of tenderness.”

Here is Chavela singing La Llorona (The Weeping Woman):
www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP2R-kqtkJo

If the Portuguese fado is evocative, Spain’s flamenco is provocative.

Sultry and seductive, flamenco brings together distinctive chirping, cooing, “come hither” voices with dance and instrumentals (mostly guitar) responsive to the speakeasy Spanish spirit. Flamenco features the call and response known as jaleo, a form of bravado involving hand clapping, foot stomping, and audiences’ encouraging shouts. clapping, finger snapping, and foot stomping.

Though somewhat mysterious, the roots of flamenco seem to lie in the Roma (gypsy) migration from Rajasthan in northwest India to Spain, between the 9th and 14th centuries. These migrants brought with them musical instruments – tambourines, bells, and wooden castanets – as well as an extensive repertoire of songs and dances to Spain, where they encountered the rich cultures of Sephardic Jews and the Moors. Their centuries-long cultural intermingling produced the unique art form known as flamenco.

In the U.S. and elsewhere, flamenco is a pervasive Spanish national identity marker. For proof of its pop culture currency, look no further than Toy Story 3: Buzz Lightyear is mistakenly reset in “Spanish mode,” and becomes a passionate Spanish flamenco dancer.

Indeed, the world outside Spain often stereotypes the country as inhabited by flamenco dancers, singers, and guitar players so “passionate” that they have little time to engage in the day-to-day world of the mediocre and mundane.

Much like our soap operas (telenovelas in Spanish).

Flamenco performance was once ostracized, considered a vulgar and pornographic spectacle. Over the years, many Spaniards considered flamenco a scourge of their nation, deploring it as an entertainment that lulled the masses into disorientation, hampering Spain’s progress toward modernity. Flamenco’s shifting fortunes show how Spain’s complex national identity continues to evolve to this day, where it is widely enjoyed as performance art.

This brief clip hardly does justice to the flamenco genre, where a single song can go on – with audience participation – for hours:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNhfV_53W7A

Spain and Portugal.
Flamenco and Fado.
Spirit and Soul.
Yin and Yang.
Salido and Saudade.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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