Folks, this is about my "consumption" of plastic over the next year. I'm looking at what I have, what I buy, and why I seem to need this hundred and fifty year old man-made concoction more than my mother's fried chicken.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Week 22/23: Dancing with the Devil

Surrounded by tropical beauty in the tapered off winter sun, I pretend to know something about plumbing. PVC, in all of it’s value-ridden evil comes calling again. Team Aquaponics (aka, Patrick & Sunnye) begin to plumb in the first phase of new tanks for the tilapia expansion. Recirculating the additional 3,000 gallons of water through this system requires about 300 feet of 2” pipe with a grab bag of valves & couplings just for kicks. And we drizzle all the end bits with cleaner and PVC cement (Aka, cancer on a stick).

We have 4 other tanks to plum (3,000 more gallons) and new grow bed space to create and connect to eventually. This will employ the use of an additional 850 feet of polyvinyl cancer. This is all ballpark, of course...

As I was fiddling with the PVC snow left over from the pipe cutting, I asked Patrick, “How can something so helpful be equally as toxic?” This PVC is absolutely vital in keeping these 1600 or so tilapia jumping and the grow beds popping. Considering the fact that construction accounts for 75 % of PVC use and the pipes account for 50% of the PVC production in the US (even though we’re talking about the Bahamas right now).

What would this place be like without PVC? There is only one person to ask...the sultan of systems, prince of plumbing, cistern czar, maharishi of maintenance, ruler of repair, and capitán of construction. If this man had a blog, it would be called “”. He is a walking library of knowledge and experience. And on a precious day off, he granted me an interview AND shared his carrots. What a guy.

What is your official title?

Director of Facilities

What do you oversee at the Island School/Cape Eleuthera Institute?
All the power & water systems, vehicles & boats, overseer of IT, Biodeisel, wood shop, “bush mechanics”, waste management, repairs & maintenance, supply orders, hiring for operations positions, research tech advisor for aquaponics & aquaculture, project manager for new construction & basically just making sure the technical aspect of this place runs smoothly.

What would this place be like without PVC?
No indoor plumbing, no hot & cold running water & working toilets. No wet lab or hatchery, no aquaponics, no indoor electricity b/c the wires are run through PVC conduit.

What are the top 5 plastics make your job (and not to mention Island School life) possible?
1. Plastic windshields in the airplanes that bring everything over here.
2. Food packaging because hardly anything here is grown locally.
3. Casing for all computers & electronics that make communication with the outside world possible.
4. Plastic that covers all the plumbing & the drains that transport all of our potable water.
5. Insulation on the wire that provides all of our electricity—so no lights, communication, or refrigeration.

How many feet of PVC do you think runs through IS/CEI…roughly?
• 500 in the well field (2 miles from campus)--the piping that runs to campus id HDPE.
• 5000 feet for CEI & Island School
• 1000-1200 feet (pump, drain, & air blower line)
(But the seawater in-take system and where the water pumps into the wet lab is HDPE.)

From where is most of the PVC sourced?
JM Eagle in Nassau--a subsidiary of a US corp.
So we’re not paying duty on the pipe since it’s manufactured here in the Bahamas. And, alas, we have a budget, so...actually… I think it’s 350 BTUs per ton per mile to get things here by ship. (This is the part where Geoff walks away and grabs the book Let my People go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard) Yeah, it’s 400 BTU’s for ships, 3,300 BTU’s per ton for truck freight, air cargo uses 21,670 to move a ton of goods a mile.

What other feasible options do we have for PVC?
Aquatherm is used at CEI. It’s an Polypropylene alternative to PVC and it costs 4 times as much. There’s PVC in certain places, but most of it is PT—in the dorms & offices, but not in the wet lab, but it’s a mix of both PVC & PT in the dry lab.
PVC is a catch 22 and it’s a material that doesn’t really jive with our mission, but the alternatives are limited and we do what we can. Not much PVC gets wasted around here—even if you take it to the dump, people come and pick through the mess to salvage.

There it is folks. Any thoughts? This week has beat me down. I'm brain dead and as our resident shark guru, Edd Brooks says... "I'm tired."


kate said...

Hi Sunnye! I love your PVC glue nickname! "Cancer on a stick"! I'm going to think of that every time I plumb!! I don't even want to think about how much of that I've inhaled over the years. My baby seems far!

I had forgotten about your blog until I just wrote a rant defending cloth diapers over plastic ones. I have to take some time and catch up with your experiment. Have you left NEAq for good or are you just on sabbatical? I've completely lost track of you! -Kate B.

Sunnye said...

Kate! So glad you're tuning in--I've thought of all my favorite aquarists throughout this process of learning--wondering how often you folks fiddle with PVC.

I'll be back at NEAq in June!

breeamal said...

Aquaponics! I have lost days of my life here,

Aquaponics must wait for the completion of Crazy Insane Garden Project... also known as the open grave.