Discovering Our Big Waste Problem
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A walk on the beach changed Elana Jadallah’s life. Seeing plastic pollution washing up on the seashore opened her eyes to see how her actions were having a harmful ripple effect on the water and lands she loves. Now, she helps businesses and individuals discover this truth too and learn how to reduce waste, eliminate single-use plastics, and live with less.
The Propane Education & Research Council partnered with her to see how propane fits into her sustainable lifestyle.
You are a firm believer in living a lifestyle that is as sustainable and waste-free as possible — what fueled your passion for wanting to live this way?
I was walking the beach, the waves loud in my ears and the sand soft in between my toes. Blue flecks dotted the shoreline. Red, yellow, and pink too. Soon, it’s all I could see. There were more colored flecks than there were seashells.
Plastic … micro particles of plastic. More than I could count or carry.
“Where was it coming from?” I thought.
That question changed my life.
The answer: everywhere. Me. My choices. You. Your choices. Corporations. And our support of them. And that’s where it all started. That experience, and the many that followed, began the process of unraveling and rebuilding. Of blowing my mind. Challenging the way I lived. And ultimately, cracking my mind wide open in the most beautiful of ways.
There are a lot of shocking truths and horrifying realities about our world but feeling wide awake and aware is EMPOWERING because it gives us the opportunity to care. To change. To speak. To vote. To live out of intention, respect and admiration for our earth, all beings that inhabit it, and the beautiful ecosystem we are a part of.
What is the positive impact that one individual or family can have on the earth when they commit to a sustainable lifestyle?
We’ve read the idea that — “It’s only 1 straw,” said 8 billion people — illustrating the power of our individual choices when it comes to negative impact. This same principal applies to positive impact too. Our choices add up, they multiply, and they shift industries. Our demand helps shape the supply.
By downloading & reading your Sustainable Living Starter Guide, we learned that paper grocery bags aren’t necessarily better than plastic ones. Can you share a couple other examples of alternatives we think are helping the environment, but are really not?
Yes — reusable is truly the best option. We don’t need to be cutting down two-hundred-year-old trees so that we can all carry our groceries home. Bring a tote bag! Or a hack that I’ve seen recently is just placing your items in your cart (no bags needed) and keep a basket in your trunk that you can transfer your groceries into in the parking lot. When you get home, just bring the basket inside and unload!
Alternatives that we think are helping that really aren’t — bioplastics. Read more here.
Recycling plastic. I think a lot of people think using single-use plastic isn’t problematic because “they recycle it!” Truth is, only 9% of all plastic EVER CREATED has been recycled. It mostly just gets shipped off to other countries to sit in landfills or ends up in our oceans. Instead, it’s better to refuse, reduce & reuse.
Clothing made from recycled plastic. It’s certainly better than virgin synthetic plastic BUT millions of microplastics are entering our waterways when we wash synthetics, especially recycled ones. If you’re buying synthetic fabrics of any kind, make sure to get a microfiber filter for your washing machine and start buying more organic materials.
You recently switched over to propane to heat your home in Maine and are planning to install a propane stove soon. Why did you decide to make the switch to propane?
We were looking into solar power for the home but learned that in states that experience winter like Maine, you cannot just have a solar-powered heat pump for instance. You need a reliable source of heat for when it dips below 25ºF (which is often) and propane was the cleanest, most efficient option.
Were you surprised to learn about propane’s benefits to the environment? What surprised you the most?
Absolutely! I had no idea that propane burned cleaner and was more efficient until I spoke with our gas company about alternatives to the massive, outdated heating source we had when we purchased the home. Also, I’ve always preferred gas cooking but didn’t realize propane produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than electricity, so this was a win-win!
What choices do you make when renovating your 200-year-old house in Maine to incorporate sustainability and what would you recommend to others doing the same?
Our goal was to reuse everything we possibly could! We’re like this in our daily lives so it was an easy crossover. Plastic sheeting that our mattresses came in became drop cloths for painting, shipping boxes we used for storage, leftover flooring became shelves, etc.
Rather than giving any specific tips, I think it’s adopting the mentality that waste can be a resource and trying to integrate that into every aspect of the process. Try to reuse everything. Don’t just toss things “away” because “away” is a place.
The biggest piece of advice I can give is to use reclaimed / secondhand materials and items wherever possible (we used a lot of materials found in the home and others sourced locally), restore or salvage parts of the home that you can, and look into the companies you’re sourcing any new materials from (what are their business practices, supply chain, etc).
What next reno project do you have planned for your Maine house?
Finishing the kitchen and upstairs bath, then building out our vegetable garden beds and making the backyard with native plants.
You now call Hawai’i and Maine home — two drastically different geographies. What do love most about the natural landscape in Hawai’i, and what do love most about Maine’s?
Oh, this is something I could spend a long time writing about. The two places are drastically different but have a lot of similar through lines — wide open spaces, incredible indigenous cultures, a lot of people invested in regeneration. Each has their unique elements, but I appreciate that life is centered around the outdoors in both places.
In the same vein, what is your favorite outdoor activity in Hawaii and what is favorite while in Maine?
Mmm, anything in the water. In Maine, I’d say either going out for an afternoon sail or taking a dip in a local cove — picnic packed with cold drinks and something yummy from the farmer’s market. In Hawai’i, we love to spend our mornings at the beach before any travelers are even out of bed. The meditative sound of the waves and the wide-open beach deeply inspires me.
Like discovering the immense amount of microplastics infiltrating the beaches of Hawai’i, have you discovered ways that waste is specifically impacting the environment in Maine?
Sadly, yes. This is not just a problem in Hawai’i. It’s plaguing coastal communities all over. There are several research vessels that are studying the effects of plastic pollution along the coastlines in Maine and out on the 4,000+ islands off the coast.
A story that always comes to mind when asked about this is when I was at a local co-op in Maine once and while I was checking out, I was offered a plastic bag which I politely declined. The woman seemed confused so I clarified that I try to avoid plastic waste because of the immense amount of plastic that we witness on a daily basis on the shorelines of Hawai’i. I remember clear as day that she said “Oh, well we don’t have that problem here.”
That hit me like a ton of bricks.
First of all, yes, we do. Second, just because it’s not on your front lawn, doesn’t mean it’s not your problem.
This story reminds me that the understanding of plastic pollution is not widespread and most don’t understand that we all contribute and have a role in this — myself included. Look around, I’m sure you’ll see areas of your surrounding environment plagued with waste. Our waterways and lakes all connect to the ocean. We are all connected and contribute.