environment

Beach Trash: Where Lake Michigan’s Litter Originates

Aug 17, 2018
Gabrielle Powell

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 21.8 million pounds of trash end up in Lake Michigan every year. That number is actually the total for all of the Great Lakes. 

Almost every day since last June, Marla Schmidt has walked along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Bay View. But she’s not lounging around enjoying the beach — she’s picking up trash. 

Each year, Dylan Jennings harvests wild rice from the lakes and rivers near his home in northern Wisconsin. He and a partner use a canoe, nosing carefully through rice beds and knocking rice kernels into the boat's hull using special sticks.

"It's a really long process," he says. "It starts with identifying the area where you are going to go ricing and knowing those areas in a very intimate way."

Slurping up smoothies, sodas and slushies through disposable plastic straws could one day become a thing of the past.

The call to toss plastic straws out of our food system is growing louder and louder. On Thursday Bon Appétit, a large food service company, announced it is banning plastic straws in all 1,000 of its cafes in 33 states, including locations like AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. The company says it plans to complete its transition to paper straws by September 2019.

It's the latest salvo in a growing war against straws.

There’s a lot of talk about the many dangers facing bees in the United States and how important these pollinators are to the environment and agriculture. But when we talk about bees, we tend to focus on just one type: honey bees.

In fact, honey bees and other kinds of social bees make up just 2% of the more than 20,000 different types of bees in the world.

Tamara Thomsen / Wisconsin Historical Society

There are thousands of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes - many of which haven’t been seen by human eyes for more than a century. The area off the coast of Ozaukee, Sheboygan and Manitowoc counties is home to 37 known wrecks, and researchers say there could be as many as 80 undiscovered shipwrecks.

Where once you had to go to a specialty store to find natural cleaning products, they’re now on shelves in places from supermarkets to Target.  And a Wisconsin-based company is ending up with products on an increasing number of shelves around the country.

Rebel Green launched its first product nine years ago - a spray to wash fruits and vegetables.  Ali Florsheim, co-founder and co-owner of Rebel Green, shares why it is important to use something beyond water to rinse produce:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region / Flickr

At last report, more than 21,000 firefighters are deployed around the country, mainly in the west. More than a million and a half acres have been charred by the 62 large fires that are currently burning.

The fire danger is comparatively low in Wisconsin, but the state is not immune from large-scale fires, either. And this time of year, wildland firefighters from the state are dispatched to places like Oregon, Montana and California.

Brittnie Peck

Towering Pines Camp For Boys came to life in 1945. As environmental awareness was on the rise in the 1970s, the northern Wisconsin camp pioneered an environmental immersion program that garnered national attention.

They call it acclimatization.

The campers merge with the natural world – in some unconventional ways. For instance, camp leaders teach the kids what it feels like to navigate the world like a raccoon.

Susan Bence

'Mushroom' Mike Jozwik has been forging in Wisconsin, and beyond, for years. When it comes to foraging, he says there's always something new to learn.

For those looking to get started, Jozwik shares a few tips:

The number one thing on Jozwik's list is to read up on the subject. "As much as people like relying on Facebook forums now, get a good book," he says.

Here are some of his favorites:

Mestic / Facebook

While Wisconsin is known as the Dairy State, perhaps a better moniker would be: the Land of Milk and Manure. With more than 1.2 million dairy cows in Wisconsin, the state is inundated with trillions of pounds of manure every year.

But Wisconsin is not alone. The proliferation of large-scale farming in the United States and throughout the globe has left many communities dealing with a poop predicament.

Dave L, flickr

Today the Milwaukee  Common Council unanimously voted to ban a material called coal tar.  The black, shiny liquid is sprayed or painted on surfaces such as driveways, parking lots and playgrounds.The ban also includes other pavement sealant products that contain more than one percent polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs.

Coal tar sealants have been shown to contain dangerous levels of the cancer-causing compound.

Runoff from pavement treated with coal tar is also impacting rivers and streams.

S Bence

Water policy makers, scientists, corporate leaders and entrepreneurs are all together this week in Milwaukee. And while that’s not so unusual, given global discussions around water security and climate change, the Milwaukee-based Water Council is trying something new as it convenes its 9th annual Water Summit.

Instead of the typical breakout session format, the organizers are trying something called “One Room. One Moderator. One Water.”

Favianna Rodriguez

When people and organizations take to the street to protest an event or policy, you often see many homemade signs and banners. However, Milwaukee artist Nicolas Lampert believes that through creating unique and professional signage, a cause can get more attention and validation.

Daniela A Nievergelt / Flickr

The water slides in the Wisconsin Dells today are a strange, accidental metaphor for the area's geological history. 

An ice dam that broke towards the end of the last Ice Age sent water from a glacial lake down the Wisconsin River, carving the fanatical sandstone cliffs that distinguish the Dells today.

That's one of many reasons why geologist Marcia Bjornerus sees beyond the Wisconsin Dells' water parks, tacky shirt shops, and salt water taffy. 

Susan Bence

 

Grand hiking trails of the U.S. include the Appalachian and the Pacific Coast Trails, but if Melissa Scanlan has her way, there will be another one – a Great Lakes Trail, which would span eight states and two Canadian provinces.

Scanlan now teaches environmental law at Vermont Law School, but her roots are in Wisconsin and Lake Michigan. The idea of a Great Lakes Trail came to her as she was hiking the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin.

Pages