Tools for Undergraduate Research in Environmental Science and Field Biology:
(Note: As of Fall, 2013, only Units II and III are active. Other Units will be added over the coming months.)

I. Scientific Inquiry: How to identify a research topic, question and hypothesis

II. Fundamentals of Field Sampling: How to design a field study

III. Graphing and Statistics: How to interpret your data using MS Excel

IV. Communicating Your Results: Tips for writing effective papers and making clear presentations

  maps of region where we're living

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October 7, from Munsiyari: Planet of Plastic

Pacific Garbage Patch, airborne dioxins from unregulated incinerators, trash barges searching up and down the east coast of the US for a landfill - to most of us, these are just abstractions that we'll never see or breathe (knowingly) or feel.

In India, it's a different story.

Fairly typical ditch near a road:

In the US we're among the world's leaders (if not THE leader) in per capita plastic consumption. Conveniently, we throw the plastic in the recycling or trash bin, and it magically disappears most of us have little idea of our weekly, monthly, or yearly accumulation of plastic waste.

Here we are acutely aware. There is no town, regional or governmental system where we live for getting rid of garbage. The plastic packaging from the tea we buy gets put in our can - but where does it go from there?

We have become hyper-conscious of everything we buy, hoping we can minimize the amount of litter we add to this stream of plastic. Occasionally we do see and use trash cans, but where do they get emptied? Into the streams or burning rubbish piles I fear.

Most of the garbage we accumulated in about six weeks in India BEFORE sorting out the paper and other burn-ables or compost-ables (while not buying food to cook):

The same bin with only plastic remaining:

Because there is no system, people either burn, bury, or simply toss their plastic to the wind. As a result, plastic litter is everywhere. I mean literally everywhere - in the roads, along the sides of the roads, in the paths, in the pastures, in the forests, in the streams, in the rivers, burning along the sides of the roads in the towns. Plastic is everywhere.

Small pile of plastic along a roadside very typical:

Plastic in a stream:

Aftermath of burning a roadside plastic pile:

At the Himalaya Public School, they are trying to minimize litter on campus (with much success) and have even attempted some town cleanups, but with no formal system to deal with trash, there is no realistic way to keep the town clean.

The neat pile of garbage at the Himalaya Public School - unfortunately, there is no good system for getting rid of this:

Recently April and Jordan got caught in a torrential downpour during a storm while out on a hike. They noticed a lot of activity around some of the village houses during this downpour and at first assumed others were caught in the storm too. Soon they realized that people were taking advantage of the water rushing past their houses - they were throwing plastic into these fast flowing streams in order to get the trash out of their yards.

It seems like we have already seen enough plastic litter in our several weeks in India to create another Pacific Garbage Patch the size of Texas - (or however large the current patch is). Though that may not literally be true, you get the point.

A brief video clip of roadside garbage and plastic from our recent trip to Haridwar:

Lest I come across as being on some hyper-critical righteous rant about India (I fear I may have already given that false impression), my point is not to criticize, but rather to share what we've seen, and, pose some questions.

Rather than point the finger at people in India, shouldn't we ask how we can reduce global plastic consumption and come up with environmentally sustainable and biodegradable alternatives? Huge, intractable question, I realize, but worth asking nonetheless.

How can we possibly hope to shrink or avoid future oceanic garbage patches when developing countries like India (soon to have the largest human population of any country on earth) are washing tons of it downriver each year?

How can we avoid literally becoming a planet of plastic?

Even though while living here we struggle daily with the way litter is tarnishing the natural beauty all around us, at least our eyes are wide open to the consequences of human consumption. Is it really much better that we in America are raising future generations to whom these consequences are largely hidden abstractions?

OK, enough about problems I think I'll end with something beautiful, and an image of hope . . .

Admittedly staged, but the piece of plastic for the photo was found in the bin!:

This site created and maintained by
Dr. Rhine Singleton
Associate Professor of Biology & Environmental Science
Franklin Pierce University, Rindge, NH 03461
You can contact me at: singler at franklinpierce dot edu