Thursday, May 17, 2018

Environmental Writing 2018

Ramapo College, April 2018
(photo/Jan Barry)

The world as classroom. That’s ever more so these days as global climate change raises crucial questions around the world and in our own lives.  A wide variety of global and backyard environmental issues, from farming in the Garden State to world sustainability, caught the attention of 14 student-journalists in the Spring 2018 Environmental Writing course at Ramapo College. The cross-curriculum class drew a lively mixture of juniors and seniors majoring in environmental studies, science, communications and literature.

Ramapo College environmental studies students speak at Ramapo River
Watershed Conference, April 2018  (photo/Geoff Welch)

The class was honored to host a distinguished visiting professor—Thilmeeza Hussain, who teaches World Sustainability at Ramapo College; she is a former deputy ambassador of the Maldives to the United Nations and a 2018 Aspen Institute New Voices fellow—and a number of distinguished speakers. These included Ramapo River Watershed Keeper Geoff Welch, Secaucus Environmental Director Amanda Nesheiwat, Alexa Marques of Teaneck Creek Conservancy, Elliott Ruga of the NJ Highlands Coalition, Josef Corso of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Ramapo College Environmental Studies Professors Chuck Stead, Howard Horowitz and Harriet Shugarman. 

Elsewhere in Bergen County: Bald eagles' home in Ridgefield Park
  endangered by mall construction behind riverside grove of trees, April 2018
(photo/Jan Barry)
The styles and formats the class participants used to engage and enlighten readers range from poetry to press releases, letters to the editor to literary analysis to scholarly essays, magazine feature stories to blogs and specially created websites. The broad range of their concerns are conveyed in several headlines for work posted on the class website,

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sustainable Tips and Other Stories


By Kristie Murru

This year, due to my Senior capstone campaign “REALIZE Your Environmental Impact,” I have been researching sustainable habits and have become more aware of my own individual impact. Although recycling one plastic water bottle won’t necessarily stop climate change, it instills a sense of routine and awareness for how much plastic is actually discarded each and every day. This understanding is the hardest part to me. It’s incredibly difficult to get people to change their routines and so introducing small tips can be a great way to see a greater impact as time passes.

Want to introduce sustainable practices to your everyday routine but confused about how to actually do that? It’s incredibly easy; below on my blog you can find just a few examples.

Kristie Murru is a senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts with a concentration in Global Communication and Media. “For my Senior Capstone, I have been working with other students to host sustainability based events on campus under the name REALIZE Your Environmental Impact. The goal of this campaign has been to not only promote sustainability but highlight better recycling practices and minimizing waste.”

The Green Report: A Capstone Project Dedicated to Sustainability

By Chris Bernstein

In the Fall 2017 semester, a senior communications capstone group of four highly motivated and passionate students set out to create and execute a year-long project to raise awareness and educate the student body, faculty and staff at Ramapo College of New Jersey of the environmental and sustainable initiatives going on at the college.

I had no idea what kind of sustainable initiatives were going on within the school. I had seen the solar panels begin to be put up in the commuter parking lot, but that’s about it. As my group and I set out to begin this campaign, I began to learn just how much was going on in the efforts to label Ramapo as a zero-waste campus and to educate students, faculty and staff on how to live sustainably. I also learned just how much a college campus contributes to waste and how easily it is to reduce the amount of waste a student produces.

For Environmental Writing class, I created a website to share what I learned from this project and other environmental studies:

Chris Bernstein is a graduating senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey studying communication arts with a concentration in global communication and media. After graduation, Chris will continue to work with his company full-time as a Digital Marketing Strategist.

New Jersey Highlands: Water, Wildlife and Wilderness Face Development Threats

Monksville Reservoir, Ringwood  (photo/Jan Barry)

By Eileen McCafferty

Do you know where your water comes from? Do you know the threats made towards your water every day? Do you know who is protecting your water? Chances are you have answered at least one or more of these questions with a “no.”

For over six million citizens who live in sixteen counties in New Jersey, they rely on the New Jersey Highlands for their water supply…and they are unaware of the relentless threats the Highlands face. They are also unaware of the people who work tirelessly in order to save the land that provides them with this basic necessity. It is crucial that these threats be taken seriously since water is essential for survival and there is no downplaying that fact.

The New Jersey Highlands is an 860,000-acre area that’s part of an Appalachian mountain  region stretching from Connecticut to Pennsylvania known as the Highlands. It consists of farmlands, forests, small towns, some commercial areas and a huge variety of wildlife and plant life. Drinking water provided to millions of people from Vernon to south of Trenton comes from Highlands streams and reservoirs.

But new development constantly threatens the water supply, wildlife and all over greatness of the area. Population size is increasing, which is making for wider areas needed to house all these people. Also with more people comes more developed areas to install grocery stores, schools, and shopping complexes. Unfortunately, some of these plans for development are not well thought out and create contamination or destroy forests that filter rainwater.

Besides the water supply, many creatures call these forests their home. Many people also enjoy these woods for leisurely pleasures and it would be a shame to shut these enjoyable places down to develop a shopping complex.

Forests reduce flooding 

Exploring the threat to water, it is important to know that when roads are developed, water no longer finds its natural path to sink into the ground, in turn reducing the supply of water that reaches wells and reservoirs. Not only does this create an issue for homes, but this is also an economic crisis. There is more flooding that comes from over development and with flooding comes damage. Many more people in and around the New Jersey Highlands would face flooding damages if they were to rip out all of the trees and vegetation that helps the rainwater be absorbed by the ground. With nothing to block the water, floods are more likely to happen. 

When we think about building homes, many of us do not think that us building homes causes other creatures lose their homes. Due to the over destruction of the Highlands, creatures like the elusive Bobcat have been put on the New Jersey Endangered Species list.

Another loss that comes with the development threats is when farmland is lost. Many people in the area of the Highlands rely on farming in order to provide for their families, and many other citizens rely on that farm production for their food. Over development destroys the security of farmers to provide for their families and other families in the area.

Highlands conservation network 

So who is going to protect this land that millions of people and millions of creatures rely on for life? That’s where the New Jersey Highlands Coalition steps in. This non-profit group, based in Boonton, is made up of dedicated individuals, civic groups and conservation organizations who aim to keep the Highlands protected and the water supply safe for future consumption by area citizens and businesses.

Keeping track of state environmental regulations, regulatory oversight by various agencies, and development proposals, the Coalition does various actions to help safeguard the water supply and biodiversity of the Highlands. They create public education projects in order to bring about awareness for this resource for millions of people. The New Jersey Highlands Coalition also assists local, state, and federal government to raise money for preserving key parcels of forest and farmlands in the Highlands region. The Coalition gives their research findings and opinions to law makers, the New Jersey Highlands Regional Council and other important government officials who decide what happens to the Highlands.

The next time you turn on the water tap, think about this: where does the water come from? Chances are, if you’re north of the Jersey Shore, it comes from the Highlands. 

Eileen McCafferty is a senior majoring in environmental studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

Rooney Mara Makes Fashion Debut with Vegan Line of Clothing and Accessories

By Kerry Hadrava

Award-winning actress Rooney Mara has shifted her focus away from films to concentrate on her newly sprouting fashion line. The seven-year vegan has vowed to provide aesthetically pleasing attire that will not put stress on the environment as many “fast fashion” companies do. Her line Hiraeth resonates in sincerity and is 100% vegan.

The name Hiraeth, delicately written upon all her labels, is an old Welsh phrase that roughly translates as homesickness or a curious feeling of nostalgia. 

“In our world today, there’s such an extreme disconnection from everything we do—from the earth we live on, from each other, from the food we eat, from the clothes we wear,” Mara expresses. “We’ve grown so disconnected from everything, and I think it creates that feeling of wanting to return to someplace that maybe we’ve never even been before, but deep down, we know we’re missing something.”

Mara’s new line is simplistic yet stylish...elegant and unique. Her garments are designed to be worn “forever,” therefore reducing the use and waste of valuable resources.  

Her greatest inspiration came from personal experience, says Marra. 

“I realized there aren’t many [faux leather] options available for someone like me who is interested in design and wants high-quality pieces, In fast fashion, you can find faux leather boots that are really cheap, but while it’s cruelty-free in the animal sense, I didn’t necessarily know where those things were made, or if they were cruel toward humans,” she says.

Pieces in this collection will range from $160 to $1500. Please visit for more information.

Kerry Hadrava is a junior at Ramapo College of New Jersey studying for a BA in Communication Arts with a concentration in Global Communications and Media.   

An Unconventional Assessment of Social Impacts in a Contaminated Community

By Andrew Herrera

The borough of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey has had to grapple with a contamination problem which first emerged several decades ago. A local weapons and munitions factory known as the Pompton Lakes Works, owned and operated by the DuPont Corporation between 1902 and 1994, released unknown quantities of heavy metals and toxic solvents into unlined lagoons that migrated into the town’s lake and groundwater (O’Neill and Fallon 2018).

The contamination of surface and ground water in Pompton Lakes has impacted residents’ health, especially those living in homes above the toxic groundwater “Plume” of solvents and chemicals which have migrated into their basements as vapors. Residents have been fighting for a complete cleanup of the Lake and the aquifer, as well as a thorough mitigation of the danger posed by vapor intrusion into their basements, often without adequate government support. Therefore, Ramapo College’s own Turtle Island Consulting, created as part of a senior environmental studies class’s capstone course, has been in the process of preparing a comprehensive environmental assessment of the impacts caused by the contamination. As part of that class, I have contributed a unique perspective to impact assessment which is not normally considered: organizational impacts.

Environmental impact statements have developed an almost codified rubric of different impacts that are supposed to be researched before a development can begin. Different environmental assessments may include additional topics particular to their project, but this group of impacts generally applies to most statements. These impacts, or indicators, typically include physical, ecological, and socioeconomic effects such as air quality, biodiversity, and local economy. My indicator, however, looked at organizational impacts, which is not a widely recognized one.

Organizational environmental impacts

Organizational impacts, broadly speaking, include effects on the political and social fabric of a community. It is not covered in guides to environmental impact statements, such as Betty B. Marriott’s Environmental Impact Assessment: A Practical Guide (1997) and Charles Eccleston’s Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Best Professional Practices. In this report, I am going to discuss the methodology of an organizational impact assessment as well as the findings I made regarding the situation in the borough of Pompton Lakes.

Because the organizational indicator is not a formally recognized category of impact, it can be difficult to define its research parameters. It is a broad and inclusive category of issues. An early task for me was to work with the firm’s advisors, Drs. Michael Edelstein and Ashwani Vasishth, to delineate the actual questions I would need to ask as the organizational impact assessor. We ultimately reached a fairly comprehensive list of concerns. That list focused on the behavior of the responsible parties, regulatory agencies, and citizens of Pompton Lakes. It included questions such as: how have DuPont, the EPA, and the NJ DEP communicated with the community on the health risks associated with contamination; how capable, exactly, are citizens’ groups of negotiating for themselves in disputes over cleanups; and what has local government done in response to the contamination? In order to answer these questions and many others, I needed to consult news investigations, technical documents, and residents of Pompton Lakes.

This work was buoyed by a few prominent sources. One was an expose by The Record titled “Toxic Secrets.” That piece, written by James O’Neill and Scott Fallon (2018), is a thorough investigation of the history of contamination in the community, the resultant health effects, and a variety of communiques, letters, and memorandums sent between the DEP, EPA, and DuPont and its spinoff, Chemours. “Toxic Secrets” was so valuable to my work because O’Neill and Fallon used the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to obtain those documents which the agencies had kept stored away from the public. Using FOIA and OPRA can be a lengthy, time-consuming process. O’Neill himself commented that it sometimes took months of asking to see important documents detailing how DuPont frequently delayed the DEP in its inquiries into whether the toxic contaminated groundwater in the borough was migrating as a vapor into peoples’ homes (James O’Neill, personal communication, April 2 2018).

“Toxic Secrets” uncovered previously unknown information on DuPont’s consistent priority of stalling any cleanup of the contaminated area, and it brought information to my attention that I had not even thought to ask. Even if I had, I might not have had the time to obtain the information myself. Between “Toxic Secrets” and its spiritual predecessor, “Toxic Legacy,” which I used when discussing the Ford Motor Company’s contamination of Ringwood, New Jersey, and Ramapo, New York, my work made me realize the importance of an active news media. Without the work of dedicated career journalists, I would not have been able to address nearly as many questions in my assessment.

My findings were also largely dependent on the cooperation of local activists. Individuals such as Lisa Riggiola, founder of Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes and the Pompton Lakes Community Advisory Group, and Jefferson LaSala, board member of Pompton Lakes Residents for Environmental Integrity, provided more information on local politics and debates over how to clean up the polluted Pompton Lake and aquifer than any official documents I had seen. As local leaders of the community response to news about contamination, Riggiola and LaSala possessed reports, technical documents, and firsthand accounts of the politics of remediation in Pompton Lakes, and I could not have found those resources anywhere else. Even though the EPA had a fairly extensive list of documents and community updates pertaining to Pompton Lakes on its website, I truly needed to have personal conversations with involved residents to learn what I needed to learn to write about organizational impacts.

Community impact

Although I began this assessment unsure of exactly what significance my indicator held for the overall state of the community of Pompton Lakes, my findings have taught me how important the “organizational” impacts of any project can be. For one, I have learned that the citizens of Pompton Lakes are severely disadvantaged by a lack of communication and support from the EPA and the DEP. DuPont and its spinoff, Chemours, which is now overseeing the site, have consistently proven to be opposed to open and timely correspondence with the community about their factory’s contamination of the water in Pompton Lakes. 

But the government agencies have not supported the citizens either, meaning that, for a collective of concerned residents with no background in environmental science, it is nearly impossible to analyze and criticize the polluters’ plans for cleaning up the borough’s surface and ground water. When they previously had the funding to hire independent engineers who could do so, these citizen groups were appalled but perhaps not surprised to learn that DuPont and Chemours’s plans have largely failed to effect a satisfactory cleanup of Pompton Lake and the borough’s groundwater. Since the dissolution of a Pompton Lakes citizens advisory group which the EPA had organized in 2012, residents have had no consistent communication with the public agencies that possess the resources and expertise needed to challenge DuPont and Chemours’s stubbornness. While the EPA could possibly better enforce a cleanup if the site was added to the Superfund list, the borough council has actively opposed that measure because it fears the stigma of being a Superfund site would depreciate property values and investment.

This disempowerment of the community extends to other prominent social issues. City dwellers feel they do not have a voice as they are being forced out of their homes due to rising rents and property values. Native American communities continue to see their ancestral lands damaged by extractive industries such as oil and gas, because they cannot rally a popular movement large enough to protect their sacred spaces. And, in the borough of Pompton Lakes, residents fatigued from protesting the contamination of their homes for decades are struggling to advocate for themselves when they lack the money and time to do so.

Organizational impacts should be included in every environmental impact statement. They figure into the most critical aspects of development: social harmony, civic engagement, and honest government. As such, organizational impacts hold larger implications for a community than what is dictated by a typical environmental assessment. They can determine whether the residents even have the proper mechanisms in place to ensure active public participation in determining the fate of their community.

Eccleston, C.H. Environmental impact assessment: A guide to best professional practices. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
LaSala, J. (2018, April 8 & 2018, April 19). Personal communication.
Marriott, B. B. (1997). Environmental impact assessment: A practical guide. New York: McGraw-Hill.
O'Neill, J. M., & Fallon, S. (2018, March 02). Toxic Secrets: Pollution, evasion and fear in North Jersey. Retrieved April 09, 2018, from
Riggiola, L. (2018, March 21). Personal communication.

Andrew Herrera is a senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey majoring in environmental studies.

Recycling Clothes In Style


By Mary Waller

Thousands of pounds of garbage is disposed of every year, clogging up landfills and ultimately hurting our environment. There’s one thing hurting the environment more than people may know; which we can all address: fashion.

Many Americans give clothes to organizations that help those who need it and throw out clothes that are too old, worn-out or in bad condition. Yet only 15 percent of textiles are reused and tons of clothes end up in the garbage.

Textiles include shoes, carpeting and stuffed animals, but clothes make up a major portion of the 15% mentioned. The more we waste, the more we buy and this constant production of textiles hurts the environment, so the more we can reuse and recycle the more we can help the environment.

“The EPA estimates that what we do donate each year, that 15%, is like taking over a million cars off the road,” said Bret Jaspers, from the WSKG station in Binghamton, N.Y. who reported that just tossing your clothes in the trash is not the best way to dispose of old clothes. About 5 to 10 percent of landfills’ makeup is textiles, according to Greg Ernst, who runs the Cortland County Landfill in upstate New York.

Only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled, according to the clothing company H&M’s development sustainability manager, Henrik Lampa. H&M has begun to make sustainability in fashion a priority in their company by starting the Conscious Collection, which are sustainable clothes. The company has been encouraging its consumers to pack up old clothes from any brand and bring them to H&M bins worldwide.

Some fast facts about the impact old clothing in landfills and how they impact global warming are in the illustration below.

While this is a great effort from a popular and trusted company, this initiative is not enough. Americans alone throw away 85 percent of their clothes that they do not want. But almost everything can be reused or made into something else instead of taking up space at landfills and cluttering up Mother Nature.

Besides the space they take up, throwing away old clothes has a bigger impact on the environment than you may think. The clothes you throw away that end up in landfills start to decompose and release toxic air pollutants, including the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane.  Jon Powell, a doctoral student in chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University, explained that there are about 1,200 municipal solid waste landfills, and about 900 of them have vacuum systems that collect landfill gas to produce electricity or to burn. 

Yet most of the landfill gas is let go into the atmosphere, making landfills the third largest source of methane emissions. Powell explains that methane emission are more than 28 times efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, in turn massively contributing to global warming. Even though people do not see it, their old clothes can be seriously impacting the global warming problem.

Recycling clothes helps reduce greenhouse gases and also gives landfills more space, with potentially 100 million fewer pounds of waste (old clothes and textiles) taking up space in landfills.

Besides Mother Nature, who else may benefit from recycled clothes?

Those in Need
Clothes donated to well-known organizations who help those who need clothes often provide more than a good shirt or business suit. Goodwill uses 82 percent of its revenues to help disabled people with training for employment. A good portion of the Salvation Army’s revenues goes to local homeless shelters, rehabilitation centers and family emergency services.

Natural Disaster Victims
Donations also help those who have been affected by natural disasters. Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), clothing donations are given to victims by organizations like the Salvation Army that help distribute your old clothes to disaster survivors.

“We gather donations, resources, and volunteers in a predetermined staging area so we're ready to help as soon as the federal, state, or local government declares the area safe to enter,” according to the Salvation Army’s website, in regards to disaster victims. 

Those With Disease
Donating clothes helps those with disease. The National Kidney Foundation accepts donations and the donations go to fundraising for the foundation to help fight kidney disease by planning early screening and education programs.

Your Own House
Donating old clothes makes more space in your closet, drawers and helps you stay more organized. 

Donating old clothes is a great way to help prevent the global warming epidemic that so many are trying to stop. There are many organizations that one can consider to find out where and how to donate. Goodwill stores, for instance, will gladly accept donations. They have prevented from over 75.7 million pounds of clothing and textiles from resting in landfills, not to mention the 11,653,240 pounds of material recycled by the company itself.

The Salvation Army is another organization that has committed to taking donations and consequently has helped the environment. They have taken a pledge, outlining 6 points the company has made in regards to sustainability and environmental aid, which can be found here. The Salvation Army pledges to help all living life forms, not just humans, live a sustainable life and look into the future to foresee how what we do today impacts our tomorrow.

People also recycle old clothes for homemade projects that can brighten up their house. An old tee shirt can be made into produce bags found here, an old sweater can be made into a fashionable pillow with the tutorial here, and a bunch of old tee shirts can be reborn into a fashionable, colorful rag-rug with the how-to shown on the side.

The website Pinterest has a lot of tutorials and craft ideas to give old clothes a new life. Other websites that users have created also explain ways to reuse old clothes. Not only average citizens are promoting this eco-friendly fashion, but so are A-list celebrities.

Emma Watson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Olivia Wilde are just some of the celebrities that are starting eco-friendly fashion lines to help live a fashionable and sustainable life. Emma Watson, a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, launched her Feel Good style site, encouraging women to embrace natural beauty and promote eco-friendly fashion. In 2011, Watson was quoted saying, “I will work for anyone for free if they’re prepared to make their clothing fair trade and organic. It’s really hard to get people interested.”

Gwyneth Paltrow has teamed up with Amour Vert to create Goop, her eco-friendly fashion line that’s composed of organic fabrics, silk dyed and printed with low-impact dyes. Every time a tee-shirt is purchased from Goop, the company ensures that a tree be planted in the Tahoe National Forest, promoting sustainable practices. 

Olivia Wilde teamed up with H&M to help support their sustainable fashion line. As a co-founder of the online marketplace Conscious Commerce, Wilde hopes to show that ethical fashion, or fashion that is both sustainable and gives employees fair-wages, is not, “a fashion fantasy but an attainable reality.”

Wilde makes an excellent point. Sustainable and ethical fashion is not a fantasy, but something that is slowly making its way up the fashion-chain and into everyday lives. Reusing old clothes and living a more sustainable life is attainable for almost anyone. Recycling old clothes does not cost money, does not fill up landfills and helps those who need clothes on their backs. This is a trend that will not go out of style any time soon.

Mary Waller, a senior at Ramapo College, is studying for her BA in Communication Arts: Journalism with a minor in Political Science. After graduation in the Fall 2018, she hopes to work in broadcast journalism or public relations.