Grid Magazine January 2019 [#116]

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Dangerous toys to keep from your kids

Mindfulness and meditation in Philly public schools

p. 26

p. 18



DUMPSTER FIRE Why is the City of Philadelphia burning half our recyclables?

Looking for the perfect gift? Our guide to quality gifts made by Philly artisans


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Innovation, In A Week Seven days from idea to prototype to patent When Scott Keeley learned about Airbnb Experiences, immersive classes where people share their skills and expertise, he was inspired to apply the idea to inventors, and invite them to NextFab. Scott, a NextFab member and resident patent advisor, began to work on an intensive program that would start with an idea, and a week later, culminate with a working prototype and a provisional patent. “I considered that many inventors would enjoy the experience of diving into a professionally equipped shop...In general, once an inventor has a Looks-Like, Works-Like prototype and a provisional patent, they are ready to present the idea for a licensing offer,” says Scott. Most Airbnb experiences are geared toward an afternoon or a day. Scott needed a longer commitment. This meant vetting potential participants, and eventually, selecting Shirley Garrett, from Atlanta, GA. “Shirley was a perfect fit. She is self-employed so she was able to schedule a full week...It was important that her invention was of the level of complexity that allowed it to be prototyped within one week.” Shirley’s invention, the Tuck It, is a tool to help with tucking in a sheet on a hard-to-access bed corner. The idea was born from the frustration of making beds with inaccessible corners. Shirley and her companion Barry arrived on a Friday. Scott was already wrapping up the first prototype on Saturday. Shirley and Barry jumped right in for the next iteration. “It was most helpful that they had their hands on their prototypes through the entire process. They weren’t just sitting back...The armchair inventor can easily ask for something that doesn’t comply with the laws of physics. The inventor in the woodshop finds out quickly why it isn’t going to happen,” Scott says. Shirley instantly fell in love with NextFab. “From the moment we entered the facility, we were awed by the resources for bringing ideas to life…[W]e quickly realized that NextFab was more than a building filled with machinery. It is a community of generous individuals who support the creative process.” By Thursday, Shirley and Barry had a provisional patent drafted, and a prototype ready for molding. By the following Tuesday, Shirley had a licensing offer. Scott says, “As you can guess, we’re thrilled, and would like to continue on this success. We’re offering the next immersion experience through Airbnb for January.”

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alex mulcahy

All Fired Up

publisher Alex Mulcahy associate editors Vince Bellino Timothy Mulcahy art director Michael Wohlberg writers Bernard Brown Constance Garcia-Barrio Alexandra Wagner Jones Emily Kovach Randy LoBasso Maurice Sampson Samantha Wittchen photographers Kriston Jae Bethel Natalie Piserchio illustrators Hannah Agosta James Olstein advertising Santino Blanco 215.625.9850 ext. 112 distribution Alex Yarde 215.625.9850 ext. 107 published by Red Flag Media 1032 Arch Street, 3rd Floor Philadelphia, PA 19107 215.625.9850 G R I D P H I L LY. C O M J U M P P H I L LY. C O M



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here are few tasks I will dodge more willingly than cleaning out an empty peanut butter jar. It’s tedious and yucky, and I don’t want to do it. Yet when it’s time (or maybe a day or two later) I grab a butter knife and sponge, and scrub the bottom and the sides of the container. Since you are probably one of those people who lugs recyclables (and maybe even banana peels) around until you find a proper bin, or researches whether or not some random item is recyclable, you probably share my indignation knowing there’s a 50 percent chance that what you are trying to save will be incinerated. But that is the case in Philadelphia right now. The Streets Department, which handles recycling, argues that they are victims of the global market. China stopped taking recyclables, and now it’s difficult to find a taker for collected materials. Critics note that the Streets Department allowed their contract to expire with their processors, and without a backup plan in place, they had no leverage in negotiating. They were left with two unpleasant choices: 1. Pay 10 times the rate they had been paying with their current hauler, or 2. Use another vendor who charged 5 times the rate they were paying but only had the capacity to recycle half of what the city collected. They chose option 2. But another explanation is that there is—and has been—a lack of staffing and leadership in the recycling department, and this indicates something bigger: Recycling is not a priority. Unfortunately, it isn’t a priority nationally, either. While much progress has been made in the last 40 years, when zealots on Saturday mornings drove sorted materials to drop-off destinations, there is still a staggering amount of recyclables that end up in the trash. According to a 2017 study, 91 percent of all manufactured plastic is not recycled. Another study says that 10 percent of all plastic winds up in the ocean.

Right now, the best thing we can do (other than scrupulously avoid plastics) is to apply pressure on our local government to prioritize recycling. That means demanding an end to incineration, and advocating for a fully-staffed recycling department capable of increasing education efforts. There are other policy measures that would help. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, in the last nine years, the city collected $3.7 million by ticketing residents for recycling infractions, but only $108,000 from businesses (“Philadelphia should step up recycling,” July 30, 2018). If the city got serious about enforcement, we suspect businesses would improve their efforts. On a larger scale, we need to question the use of packaging (and products themselves) that we take for granted. At the heart of our recycling efforts is an unpleasant truth: For sustainability, we cannot just improve our recycling habits. There aren’t enough (plastic) blue bins in the world to change the predicament we are in. But there is hope in recycling, too. If it helps us to acknowledge that the materials we use come from something, often an oil-based process, and that these materials must go somewhere when we finish with them, then we are making progress. There’s a connection between what we create and consume, and what ends up in our soil, air and waterways. If the gravity of our waste problem has you fired up, flip to page 22 for a body scan meditation. As Maurice Sampson reminds us in this month’s Dispatch, take care of yourself so you can take care of others and fight the good fight.

ALEX MULCAHY Editor-in-Chief

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randy lobasso

Invisible No More Local organizations aim to include poor and immigrant cyclists in the biking community


ho do you picture when you think of a cyclist in Philadelphia? For many, it’s a young white man, and if you aren’t a fan of cyclists, you might attach the pejorative “hipster” as a descriptor. But the cycling population is actually very diverse, especially if you look beyond biking advocates, who are often white. “In the bike world, we use the term [invisible cyclist] to refer politely to the individuals out there riding who have not made their way into policy-oriented bike advocacy,” notes a 2014 League of American Bicyclists study. “[This term has] given us a way to talk about low-income cyclists, immigrant

populations or other groups that bike advocates have found hard to reach.” And these so-called “invisible cyclists” represent a greater share of the cycling community than most casual observers (or commenters) may understand. According to U.S. Census data from 2014, the largest household income group that relies on bicycles for commuting fall into the “$1 to $9,999” range. The second highest? “$15,000 to $24,999.” And recent arrivals to the U.S. are 41 percent more likely than native-born residents to commute to work by bicycle, according to a 2010 University of California, Los Angeles study. For example, when Brenda Hernandez-

Torres and her family immigrated to Philadelphia, cycling was central to their lives. “Once we arrived from Mexico, it felt like a privilege to have transportation of your own, like a bike,” says Hernandez-Torres. “So, everyone in my family has always had a bike. That was the majority of my family members’ ways of getting to work.” Hernandez-Torres is an undocumented citizen and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient. She, like many in her family and community, regularly rode a bike from her Pennsport home to a food service job in West Philadelphia. Today Hernandez-Torres works with the Better Bike Share Partnership, which teach-

Brenda Hernandez-Torres knows from personal experience the importance of bicycle advocacy and education for immigrant populations.



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es classes about bike safety and street laws to underserved communities around Philadelphia. Ultimately, the organization’s goal is to build equitable and replicable bike-share systems, beginning with Philadelphia’s bike share, Indego. Partners in the effort include the City of Philadelphia, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (where I work), the National Association of City Transportation Officials and the People For Bikes Foundation. Waffiyyah Murray works for the city as the program manager for BBSP. Her goal is to make sure that the benefits of cycling are available to everyone. “Before bike share launched, we knew that in order for our bike-share system to be successful in Philadelphia, it needed to be accessible to the residents of Philadelphia, regardless of background and income level,” Murray says. Equity was a goal of Indego’s from the beginning. When it launched, a third of all stations were placed in low-income communities. BBSP’s ambassadors then worked with those communities, neighborhood groups

Once we arrived from Mexico, it felt like a privilege to have...a bike. So, everyone in my family has always had a bike. That was the majority of my family members’ ways of getting to work.” —Brenda Hernandez-Torres and other stakeholders, to ensure bike share would be a useful tool in those areas. “Before we rolled it out, we did a lot of surveys, focus groups, listening and learning from community members and residents, asking how they feel about bike share and biking in general, and we used what we learned to create new initiatives,” Murray adds. Among those initiatives: a cash-payment system, discounted memberships for those citizens with ACCESS cards, bike (and other) education classes and having a presence at community festivals. This work helps the city and the Better

Bike Share Partnership build a network of partners, strengthen relationships with neighborhoods and listen to where communities want (or don’t want) new bike-share stations, bike lanes or other infrastructure. “It’s not about the bike,” says Murray. “It’s about how the bike can be a tool for access to something else; if a community has a big need around the workforce and jobs, we figure out how can Indego be an easy, affordable way to get to and from a job. If a neighborhood is located in a food desert, we can show residents how Indego can be a resource to access urban farms or healthy food resources. Bikes can be a tool for bridging gaps.”

randy lobasso is the communications manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

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urban naturalist

A Natural Time Machine The Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis Project is saving old plants, one upload at a by bernard brown time



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walking ferns and pink lady slipper orchids collected in the Wissahickon Valley Park, none of which grow there today. Skema says herbarium collections help us learn about the impact of climate change by showing, for example, how flowering dates might have shifted over time. The challenge is sorting through all the data, says Tatyana Livshultz, curator of botany at the Academy of Natural Sciences and professor at Drexel University, which is participating in the MAM Project. “You can imagine if you wanted to know all of the species that have occurred in a particular place over a period of time, it would take you

quite a long time to go through specimen by specimen and get that data.” The MAM Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, seeks to make that research a lot more efficient, says Livshultz. “So what we’re doing is getting that data for everyone who might want to ask questions about plants, plant communities [and] how species composition of the Mid-Atlantic might have changed.” The MAM Project, now in its second year, currently includes 13 partner organizations with about 1 million plant specimens collected between Washington, D.C., and New York, says Skema. Phase one is taking



rive from new york to Washington, D.C., and it might be hard to imagine that there was once anything there other than cities and suburbs. Today a vast landscape of brick and asphalt, concrete and lawn stretches up along the I-95 corridor, broken only occasionally by marsh, farmland or forest. You might wonder what grew in the megalopolis before, well, before it was a megalopolis. Luckily, we have a way to go back in time. For hundreds of years naturalists have collected and documented plant specimens. Many of the plants collected were preserved by being pressed, dried and arranged on sheets of paper. A collection of these plant specimens is called an herbarium. “[It] is like a library of dead plants,” explains Cynthia Skema, a botanist at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania and lead principal investigator for the Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis (MAM) Project, which is digitizing these herbaria. “Herbaria are the closest thing we can get to a time machine,” says Skema. “We know that this plant was growing in this place at this time, and this person picked it up and put it on a sheet of paper.” The Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis is the oldest urban corridor on the continent, Skema notes. “Let’s see what we can learn from plant specimens…and get some idea of what has happened to plant diversity in urban areas.” She points to examples of certain trillium species (spring wildflowers),

Septa_Grid_23Page_FollowTrain_Final_20181217.pdf 1 12/17/2018 12:24:35 PM

Cypripedium acaule, known commonly as pink lady’s slipper, is an orchid that was recorded in the Wissahickon Valley Park in 1950. Although it no longer grows there, the specimen is now available in a vast digital database.

high-resolution images of the specimens, phase two is transcribing the collector’s notes on each page into a database and phase three consists of assigning coordinates to the locations described in the notes. Machines might be great at digitizing images, but they aren’t as good at reading handwriting. Skema explains that they tried optical-recognition software to read and transcribe the notes in the plant records, ranging from cursive handwriting from the late 1700s to modern computer-printed labels. “We figured out early on that it was faster for a human to sit down and type it into the database.” About 160 volunteers, such as Susan Hepler, a master gardener and retired professor of children’s literature in northern C Virginia, have assisted in preserving these vital records. “I can have my scotch and sit M here at the counter and listen to NPR. Two Y hours later I’ve entered some records and CM I’m ready for dinner.” MY “I love the natural history and the history of the collectors,” says Hepler, who points CY to the example of a prominent Philadel- CMY phia-area botanist named Bayard Long. “So K this guy had a ton of records. I’m picturing him out in the woods with his loupe, his notebook and his pressing equipment.” He started in 1905, Hepler says, “and by 1920 he had 23,000 [records], in 1944 he had 62,000 and in 1956 he had 81,000.” These old plant records remind us that nature lovers of today walk in the footsteps of their predecessors. Livshultz mentions the plants preserved by Benjamin Smith Barton, a prominent Philadelphia physician, naturalist and botanist active during the turn of the 19th century. One specimen, a blue vervain, catches her eye. “He indicates it was collected at Bartram’s Garden. It’s a place I love to go today to enjoy a bit of nature in the city, and I find it really fascinating to think about all these people going, 200-plus years ago, to all the same places where I go to look at plants today.” Want to get involved? Send an email to to volunteer, and check out the digitized and transcribed records at JAN UARY 20 19



black history

The brave women of the abolition movement and the burning by constance garcia-barrio of Pennsylvania Hall


n the morning of Monday, May 14, 1838, a small group of black women from South Philadelphia, home at that time to many of the city’s African Americans, made their way north, past Market Street’s smelly fish stalls and dye shops, to Pennsylvania Hall. The Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women would soon start in the stately new building, on 6th Street between Mulberry and Sassafras (now Arch and Race Streets), about where WHYY stands now. Besides excitement about the convention, only the second of its kind in U.S. history—the first had taken place in New York a year earlier—the women felt wary. Conflicts over race, gender and anti-slavery activism had stewed in Philadelphia for years. In December 1833, men formed the American Anti-Slavery Society. This group barred women. Undeterred, mere days later, a handful of black and white women did the unthinkable. The brazen witches—as many Philadelphians would have seen them—launched the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (PFASS). The women not only took a break from their kitchens and sewing parlors to have a say in the nation’s toughest political issue, but they also did so as an interracial group, a thing rare and scandalous in the 1830s. Their move “turned the world upside down,” as one observer put it. Many of these smart, courageous women had the backing of supportive, well-heeled husbands. Quaker matron Lucretia Mott, wife of wool merchant James Mott, assumed a leading role in PFASS, as did Charlotte Forten, wife of rich black sailmaker James Forten, and the Fortens’ daughters, Sarah, Harriet and Margaretta. All the women risked their safety with their radical stance, but the black women perhaps more so. Competition for jobs fueled the anti-black feelings. In 1834 a white mob destroyed the homes of many blacks. 8


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Fearless, PFASS pushed its projects. The women provided money to support a school for black girls. They also collected clothes for fugitives spirited through Philadelphia on the Underground Railroad. PFASS financed those and other activities through fundraisers like its annual Christmas anti-slavery bazaar. For that event, the women made and sold items like baked goods, anti-slavery alphabet books for children, and potholders embroidered with the words: Any holder but a slaveholder. Due to many Philadelphians’ pro-slavery sentiments, PFASS and others opposed to slavery often scrambled to find places to hold events. That roadblock led abolitionists, including some women, to pay to build an edifice where they could discuss ending slavery. Two thousand shares at $20 each paid for the $40,000 cost of that building, Pennsylvania Hall. It was “…one of the most commodious and splendid buildings in the city,” according to “History of Pennsylvania Hall,” published in 1838. The anti-slavery The grand Pennsylvania Hall hosted the second Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women. Just days after opening, it met a fiery end.


Forged in Fire

convention would take place just a few days after construction was complete. The interracial gathering of 203 delegates from northern towns and cities turned up the heat on the already hot issue of women, including PFASS, seizing a role in abolition. Philadelphia’s mayor tried to cool things off by asking that only white women attend the convention, according to Laura H. Lovell, in “Report of a Delegate to the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, Held in Philadelphia, May, 1838.” Convention leaders turned him down. The black women from South Philadelphia and other places may have sensed the city’s simmering resentment. Then again, seeing the luxurious details of Pennsylvania Hall could have swept away their anxiety, at least momentarily. Desks and other items “were made of Pennsylvania walnut of the richest quality,” Laura Lovell wrote. “The chairs were lined with blue silk plush.” A letter of support from former President John Quincy Adams may also have reassured the women. By the next day, Tuesday, May 15, rumors flew around the city that the convention was promoting “amalgamation,” as race mixing was then called. This fake news infuriated some Philadelphians, especially white men. Meanwhile, convention speakers stressed abolitionists’ political clout. “The abolitionists are already in some states sufficiently numerous to control the elections,” Laura Lovell reported one speaker as saying. The

convention also passed a resolution that delegates would…”neither vote for, nor support the election of any man to any legislative office…who is opposed to the immediate abolition of slavery.” As the convention forged ahead, threats against it grew. By Wednesday, May 16, two days after the gathering began, ruffians started shouting and smashing windows. In addition, “a number of colored persons, as they came out, were brutally assaulted …” Laura Lovell wrote. By Thursday, a raucous crowd of white men and boys surrounded Pennsylvania Hall. Alarmed, the building’s managers asked Lucretia Mott to deliver “...a message…desiring the Convention to recommend to their colored sisters not to attend the meeting to be held in the Hall this evening because the mob seemed to direct their [sic] malice particularly toward the colored

people.” The evening session was called off. That night, the mob swelled to thousands. “The police were...ineffectual,” Laura Lovell wrote. Men—dockworkers, according to some historians—smashed Pennsylvania Hall’s doors with axes, then piled up wooden benches, opened the gas jets, which were used for gas lighting, and lit fires. When flames roared through the building, the mob blocked the fire trucks. “By 9 o’clock, the whole building was in one sheet of flames!!!” abolitionist Israel H. Johnson, of the Johnson abolitionist family of Germantown, said in a letter to his brother, Elwood, dated May 25, 1838. “The light was so great that it…[could be seen] at Germantown. Fire companies with engines came to the city, as did one from Chestnut Hill.” “A fiend-like cry...went up as the roof fell in and Pennsylvania Hall burned to a

shell,” according to “History of Pennsylvania Hall.” Hungry for more destruction, the mob attacked the Shelter for Colored Orphans, 13th and Callowhill Streets, but the building was saved. Some delegates, undeterred, met Friday, May 18, in a schoolhouse belonging to a PFASS member. In fact, anti-slavery women convened the following year in Philadelphia. The mob did not destroy the PFASS. The women disbanded only in 1870, after Congress passed the 14th and 15th Amendments, which recognized African Americans as citizens and gave black men the right to vote. But Philadelphia had lost forever Pennsylvania Hall, one of its most beautiful buildings. A plaque at 177 N. Independence Mall W. (aka 6th Street) marks where the hall so briefly stood. JAN UARY 20 19



bicycle gear

Abraham Dubb takes a spin with his BikeBox, a lightweight pannier made from corrugated plastic.

A Balancing Act Is the world’s best pannier designed in Philadelphia? by

emily kovach


early every cyclist has had this experience: You’re at the Reading Terminal or the farmers market to grab a few things. Five impulse buys later (beets were on sale!) and the ride home becomes a precarious one. Straining under a stuffed backpack, you swear you won’t make this mistake again. And yet, you almost definitely will. That is, unless you’re one of the early adopters of the BikeBox. This ingenious bike-cargo solution is designed to take the load off your shoulders and put it onto the back of your bike. Designed to take the place of unbalanced panniers and flimsy milk crates, the BikeBox might be a key to unlocking the future of urban bike culture. After researching and developing prototypes for a decade, Abraham Dubb, 47, 10


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a former primary-care physician, left a 15year career in medicine to pursue this as a business. “I am a diehard urban cyclist—I don’t currently own a car—and Philly’s geography and elevation make it one of the most bike-friendly towns around,” the Center City resident says. “I’ve always wanted to do things from my bike.” Dubb is also a musician, and the BikeBox idea was born after many unsteady rides bringing his instruments and gear to shows. After trying a few different bike-mounted boxes, Dubb had a breakthrough in 2011: coroplast, the corrugated plastic that is used to make political-campaign signs. “Corrugated plastic is a material of the future: It is very light, durable, waterproof, impact resistant and cushioned,” Dubb

says. “Plus, it’s [made of] polypropylene, so it can be recycled and sourced from recycled materials.” Working out of NextFab in South Philly, Dubb uses computer-aided design (CAD) software to develop the boxes virtually and then a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) cutter to finish them. One of the first BikeBox iterations (the BikeArrow, with boxes on the front and back of the bike) was field-tested by Dubb on a 550-mile bike ride between Philly and Charlottesville. Packed inside his BikeArrow was bottled water, a drone, his computer, two pairs of shoes, clothing, a tent and tools. “It performed amazingly well,” he reports. “I rode through torrential downpours and on flooded paths, and everything was kept nice and dry.” The BikeBox, which fits neatly over a standard rear rack on a bike, comes in two sizes: the Standard, a good size for groceries, and the smaller Bike Purse, with a more streamlined silhouette and a bit less cargo space. Both are available on BikeBox’s website and are assembled by the user at home. Dubb says P HOTO G RAP HY BY KRISTO N JAE BETHEL

he’s working on getting the BikeBox on the shelves of local bike shops, a goal for 2019. He can also use his design and technology to make custom BikeBoxes, which opens up many possibilities. “My vision is to revolutionize how we use our bikes,” Dubb says. “Couriers, food delivery services, bike touring…even in developing countries where people just don’t have cars, there are tons of DIY solutions, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s found a large-scale solution.” He envisions people and businesses getting creative with how to use the BikeBox, which can be branded, outfitted with speakers, GPS or other electronics, offering bikebased medical services or vending food. One of the first local businesses Dubb has worked with is Jezabel’s, an Argentinian café, formerly located in Fitler Square, and now with a location at 45th and Walnut in University City. Owner Jezabel Careaga wanted to use her folding bike to make deliveries of her famous empanadas, especially on the UPenn campus. “I’m a pretty environmental conscious person, and I thought, ‘How can we make this work without a car?’ ” she says. “[Dubb] custom-built a box that can fit ‘fish flats,’ a commonly used food tray in the restaurant industry, to fit on my foldable bike.” Careaga, who met Dubb at NextFab, where she makes furniture, says the toughest ride she’s taken her BikeBox on was a trek to the Art Museum with 90 empanadas. “The way that he builds them, the box is slightly U-shaped, so that helps with stability,” she says. “I think this is safer because you’re not carrying it on your body. It’s a lot less stress, and you can carry more food. It’s definitely an awesome product.”

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JAN UARY 20 19




WAS 12


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story by

photography by

samantha wittchen

kriston jae bethel


Philadelphia’s understaffed Recycling Department was unprepared for a shifting global market. As a result, Philadelphia now burns 50 percent of its recyclables.


hen america recycles day was celebrated on November 15, the Philadelphia Streets Department held a pop-up event, complete with recycling quizzes, games and prizes, in the basement of the Municipal Services Building. But here are some trivia questions that were undoubtedly not being asked:

Waste Management now processes half of Philadelphia’s recycling. Their Philadelphia Material Recovery Facility in the Northeast is one of their local facilities.

Q: How much recycling collected in Philadelphia is actually recycled, and how much is incinerated? A: About 50 percent is recycled and 50 percent incinerated. Q: Who has served as the city’s recycling director for the past two years? A: No one. The position was vacated over two years ago, and while there was an interim recycling coordinator, the director position was just filled in December. It’s a stark contrast from what you might expect from a city that was recently trying to position itself as the greenest in the counJAN UARY 20 19





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it,” says Maurice Sampson, the director of Clean Water Action for Eastern Pennsylvania, alluding to the fact that, at the time, the Streets Department had only an interim recycling coordinator but no recycling director or other senior-level staff. From 1985 to 1987, Sampson was Philadelphia’s first recycling coordinator.

K E E P ‘ E M S E PA R AT E D Surveillance footage of recycling being commingled—with trash.

The city argues that the reason for the delay was that it was (and is) seeking a longer-term contract than its previous one, which was structured for one year and could be renewed for three subsequent years on an annual basis. The city says that it’s struggling to secure a longer-term contract at a favorable rate.

Yet the recycling industry sources Grid talked to say that recycling processors are eager for the guaranteed business that comes with longer contracts, even if the markets are fluctuating, especially if they need to make investments in facilities or equipment to accommodate the materials they receive. In addition to lackluster recycling markets, the city blames contamination for its difficulties in securing a longer-term contract with acceptable rates. Contamination is the recycling industry’s term for unclean or non-recyclable materials in the recycling stream. The higher the contamination rate, the more processors must charge to process materials to an acceptable quality for the markets. According to a recent study of the city’s residential waste that was commissioned by the Streets Department, Philadelphia’s contamination rate was 19.2 percent in 2017, in line with a national average that gets placed between the low teens and 25 percent. “Curbside recycling has gotten very good with quantity but not with quality,” observes Miller. Contamination may play a role in finding a processor, but some say not in the way that city officials claim. “The materials have been filthy for years,” contends Sampson, and the same recent residential waste study shows that Philadelphia’s 2010 contamination rate was 14.6 percent. Contamination isn’t a new problem. What’s more likely is that contamination is finally catching up with the city. Because China accepted huge quantities of materials, regardless of their quality, it artificially bolstered recycling market prices. As a result, the city had no economic impetus to fix contamination, and it didn’t plan for a day when the markets might change. Miller indicates that this bullish outlook is naïve. “If you’re a private-sector scrap dealer, you know you’ll be losing money one out of every four years,” he observes. “So you plan for rainy days.” He says that cities need to do the same. “Cities and their private-sector partners should set aside rainy-day funds. It’s commonplace in private recycling companies. If cities are going to be successful with their recycling programs, they need to start


try. But longtime recycling advocates maintain that this pattern has replayed itself for years. The city sets lofty goals for managing its waste sustainably, while its actions say something different about how committed it is to fundamentals like recycling. How did this current recycling crisis occur? The Streets Department contends it was brought on by a highly unfavorable economic climate wrought by China’s move to stop the import of recyclable materials from the United States. In an email, Streets Department Commissioner Carlton Williams says that “the current state of recycling is a global issue related to challenges across the global economy.” Yet this tough recycling economy is just the latest in a string of downturns that have happened over the last few decades. “There have been about a half-dozen downturns since 1990,” says Chaz Miller, a 40-year recycling industry veteran and former director of the National Waste and Recycling Association. In essence, a tight commodities market for recyclables is nothing new. Philadelphia has survived tough times in the past without resorting to burning half of its recyclables, a practice that, according to a letter sent to Mayor Jim Kenney on November 16 from State Senator John Sabatina, is in violation of state recycling law. What’s different this time? Amid this downturn, Philly’s recycling contract expired, leaving it with no rate guarantees. The price the city had bargained with recycling vendor Republic Services was $16 per ton, but when the contract expired in September, the new interim rate offered was $170 per ton, over a 1,000 percent increase. The city enlisted Waste Management to take half of its recyclables—all they had capacity for—at $78 per ton, still almost five times what the city had been paying. Knowing the contract was set to expire when the outlook for recycling markets was grim, the city could have started the process for awarding a new contract well before the old one expired. It didn’t, and critics argue that it just wasn’t a priority for the Streets Department. “The request for proposals didn’t go out because the city delays on everything. They just don’t have the bandwidth to handle

From 1985 to 1987, Maurice Sampson was Philadelphia’s first recycling coordinator.

“We have repeatedly gone years between recycling directors. This is a pattern.” —maurice samp son,

Eastern Pennsylvania Director of Clean Water Action

adopting some of these [practices].” To solve the contamination issue, city officials say that residents must play a big role. According to Commissioner Williams, “The Streets Department is developing education and outreach programs to encourage residents to recycle correctly.” To make meaningful change, though, Miller says that cities need to engage citizen input on those programs, something that Sampson says Philly fails to do. “Instead of asking for input, the Streets Departments presents what it wants to do and takes that presentation as endorsement,” he argues. Even if the city mounts a successful education campaign to curb contamination, Miller says it may not be enough. “You’ll never totally clean this stuff up. People are people, and people are imperfect. Even the best-educated people can sometimes be confused.” Pinning all your hopes on better resident behavior may be a losing proposition. Michael Brady of Real Recycling Philly, a grassroots coalition pushing for a comprehensive recycling plan for the city, believes

that the city’s emphasis on a resident-only solution is wrong. “Since we’ve been raising the issue [of recyclables being burned] and asking people to write their council member, the Streets director’s response has been to write an op-ed [Philadelphia Inquirer, November 12, 2018] telling people to do a better job of cleaning their recyclables. I understand what he’s trying to do, but it seems to us his priorities are misplaced.” To make matters worse, the Streets Department’s own operations may also play a role in those contamination rates. Residents throughout the city, like Cat McManus of Fairmount, have reported collection crews combining trash with recycling. “When I asked the workers, they replied that our trash...was generally ‘clean’ they could commingle recycling with trash,” says McManus. Williams says that the Streets Department “prohibits this type of behavior and does take disciplinary action when verified” and encourages residents to report this behavior to 311. But when Meenal Lele

of South Kensington reported to the city the practice of garbage and recycling being collected together, it fell on deaf ears, despite the fact that she had video evidence. “I reported it to 311 repeatedly for weeks, and they just kept marking it resolved even though it wasn’t,” says Lele. “I eventually called my councilwoman’s office, and they were kind but said there was nothing they could do because the Streets Department wouldn’t return their calls.” She eventually reached Nic Esposito, Philadelphia’s Zero Waste and Litter director. He was sympathetic to her pleas, Lele says, but didn’t solve her problem, either. “What finally appeared to solve the problem was getting a bigger blue bin from Home Depot,” Lele explains. The two major recycling players in Philadelphia, Waste Management and Republic Services, may be hesitant to enter into a longer-term contract with the city, knowing that the city’s materials have high contamination rates when compared with private customers, and that the Streets Department has no real plan aside from a nebulous, to-be-seen education program to address the issue. Planning, some say, is not the city’s strong suit. “The Streets Department has no capacity for planning whatsoever,” explains Sampson. “We are the only major city in the country that does not have planning as part JAN UARY 20 19



of our recycling department.” Its planning problem is exacerbated by a Recycling Office starved for staff. This has been an issue ever since the Streets Department took over the Recycling Office in the late ’90s under then-mayor Ed Rendell. The office lost 80 percent of its senior staff and has never really recovered. At times during the last decade, there have been just one or two people focused on recycling for a city of 1.5 million people. For comparison, the City of San Antonio, whose population is comparable to Philly’s, boasts a recycling staff of twenty-two people that perform planning, outreach, and customer service functions similar to Philadelphia’s Recycling Office. When asked about the meager number of people devoted to recycling, Williams says, “[O]ur Recycling Office is supported greatly by other units within the Sanitation Division to aid in the development of policies, programs and implementation of plans…[I] t has been the Department’s experience that integrating...various units within the Sanitation Division is a more efficient management approach and allows for a wider range [of] personnel with different areas of expertise to work together in a team environment.” While the Recycling Office may have access to these resources, it is also competing

A Streets Department recycling truck at the Waste Management Philadelphia Material Recovery Facility.



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with the department’s other demands on these unit’s time. It’s not the same as having a dedicated recycling team. But not only has the city had few people within the Recycling Office, it has had prolonged lapses in leadership, which draws into question the ability to effectively plan and carry out recycling initiatives and respond to issues that arise, such as impending contract expirations. “We have repeatedly gone years between recycling directors,” says Sampson. “This is a pattern.” The most recent lapse was from March 2016 to December 2018, but there have been other lapses in the past couple decades. Philadelphia’s new Recycling Director, Kyle Lewis, is an internal hire who most recently worked in the Office of the City Representative, the special events arm of city government, and has little direct experience in the waste and recycling industries. Ultimately, city departments operate at the pleasure of the mayor, and the Streets Department has no imperative from the mayor to do anything differently from the way it’s been operating for decades. “I don’t believe anyone in the system is acting with bad intentions,” argues Sampson. “Ultimately, this is the responsibility of the mayor. Until he is willing to say, ‘This is what I want, and I’m going to back that,’ nothing is going to happen.”

Even under the mayoral administration of good-government champion Michael Nutter, who brought single-stream recycling to Philadelphia, there was no substantive change in the leadership or structure of the Streets Department. Under Nutter, Clarena Tolson, a holdover from the recycling-hostile John Street administration, kept her job as Streets Commissioner, and the Recycling Office remained understaffed. Brady says that the solution to Philly’s recycling problem will require the efforts of multiple branches of city government. “We’re not trying to put any city agency on the defensive, we just believe there is a better way for Philadelphia to recycle,” explains Brady. “If the mayor, the council and the Streets Department embrace the idea that we can do better and put the time and resources behind a comprehensive plan, I think they’ll have strong support.” Time will tell if Mayor Kenney has the political will to mandate that the Streets Department make the necessary changes to fully empower Philadelphia’s Recycling Office to achieve his vision of zero waste. “If they want this to change, the pressure point is the mayor,” says Sampson. “It is the mayor that has to deliver.” In the meantime, the city has no specific timeline for when it will stop burning half of its recyclables, and it looks like it may be business, and government, as usual.

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Students at South Philadelphia High School meditate in the Re-Set Room.



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Peace of Mind A program brings mindfulness techniques to Philadelphia high schools story by

alexandra wagner jones •

photos by

natalie piserchio

JAN UARY 20 19



Quiet. It’s a word you don’t often associate with high schools, where hallways and classrooms are usually bustling with the excited conversations of teens. But Bodine High School in Northern Liberties is quiet. Very quiet. In the foreground is a class of 25 seniors who sit still, focusing on their breath. Eyes closed. Legs uncrossed. Hands resting calmly in their laps. After a few seconds of stillness, a gentle voice cuts through the silence. The voice belongs to Julie Coopersmith, who is standing in the middle of the classroom in a blue shawl. In her hands, she holds a set of meditation chimes with three bells. “The beautiful thing about mindfulness is you can’t get it wrong,” she says. Looking out at the desks, arranged in a circle around her, she paces back and forth. One by one, she rings the bells, letting each chime fade across the room. The first bell is to settle, she tells them. The second, to quiet the mind. The third, to focus. Through it all they must pay attention to the air their lungs are pumping in and out. When her students breathe intentionally, they’re tapping into a part of the human nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system, one of three divisions of the autonomic nervous system. Sometimes called the rest-and-digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. “It’s responsible, dually, for focus and calm all at the same time,” she says. “It puts us in the present and it resets us.” It’s the root of mindfulness meditation, a practice the Buddha began teaching 2,600 20


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years ago to help people achieve clarity and peace of mind. After three minutes, Coopersmith tells the students to open their eyes. “Raise your hand if it feels a little quieter in here,” she says. Every hand goes up.

All in Your Head Amy Edelstein is the founder and executive director of the Inner Strength Foundation—a teen empowerment program currently operating in eight high schools, including Bodine, across Philadelphia that,

according to its website, “aim[s] to support the youth of today through mindfulness and the perspective cultural development to be the great leaders of tomorrow.” This year, around 2,000 students will experience its curriculum. Teens need the skills Inner Strength teaches for cultivating calmness and selfcare more than ever, Edelstein says. Whatever’s going on in a student’s life—family hardships, standardized testing, bullying— can impact their ability to learn or even attend classes. So stress management is crucial. “Everybody thinks that there’s a system that everybody else has,” Edelstein says. But that’s not really the case. Most struggle with the emotional weight of balancing social, academic and extracurricular commitments. Turning inward, they can start to understand the factors that shape their everyday lives and become interested in, rather than victimized by, their experiences. Take Kaylah Santiago, a 17-year-old high school senior. As she applies for physical therapy programs this year, she’s enrolled in rigorous college-level courses, all while being a three-season athlete, playing soccer, basketball and softball. Practicing mindfulness, she says, is

something that’s making her senior year a little more manageable. “It releases all your thoughts and… gives you a sense of relief,” she says. Santiago’s favorite meditation so far is “the bubble method.” She describes it as closing her eyes, pretending all her stressful thoughts are in a bubble, and then letting them float away. It’s a mechanism she can see herself using next year in college, where things will be new and probably hectic, she says.

Food for Thought Back in class, Coopersmith is passing out Hershey Kisses. She gives each student a choice between milk and dark chocolate. For a student who doesn’t like chocolate, she offers a spoonful of raisins. After dispensing the food, she asks a

Amy Edelstein is the founder and executive director of the Inner Strength Foundation, which teaches mindfulness techniques to high school students.

question. “How much of what you do every day is brand new?” she asks. “Do you think it’s more than 50 percent?” Most of the students nod. “How do you stay engaged if everything is kind of the same?” Coopersmith continues. She encourages them to think of it like watching a movie or reading a book more than once. A student named Summer pipes up. “You can pay more attention to detail the second time,” she says. “You gain more insight,” a student named Zieyra adds. They’re about to find out, with a little more prompting, that Coopersmith thinks eating can be like that, too. She tells the students that they can find nuance and freshness in eating the same food—similar to


“People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: You can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful— more free of interruption—than your own soul.” —Marcus Aurelius Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the present moment. It’s about becoming as aware as you can be, using your breath and your energy as vectors. HOW DOES IT WORK?

When you focus on controlling your breath and channeling your thoughts, you’re tapping into a specific region of your body’s nervous system. You’re tapping into a part of the system you normally don’t consciously control, one that takes care of involuntary actions like breathing, sweating and digestion. Within this involuntary system is a division responsible for your body’s fight-or-flight reaction, called the sympathetic nervous system, and another responsible for your body’s rest and recuperation, called the parasympathetic nervous system. Your fight-or-flight response kicks in when your body senses something potentially dangerous. A few common symptoms include a racing heartbeat, tensed muscles and shallow, rapid breathing. While our ancestors needed these instincts to protect themselves from predators, most of the “threats” that trigger fight or flight today can be considered negligible—at least in comparison. Consider the overwhelming feeling of stress that comes from a big project at work or school, or dealing with an uncomfortable social situation. Your body reacts as if these are truly threats to your existence. It stimulates a rush of adrenaline, which can ultimately cause greater anxiety, tension and fatigue. Studies on meditation have suggested that it’s an effective tool to reduce symptoms of anxiety and can even reduce the density of brain tissue associated with worrying. When you meditate, much of the focus is on your breath. This slows down your heart rate, your blood pressure and the activity of your sweat glands. It allows you to reverse your body’s unconscious fightor-flight reactions to stress.

JAN UARY 20 19



revisiting a familiar book or movie. She tells them that the latest research suggests people only really taste the first and last few bites of what they are eating. Coopersmith has them stare at the chocolate for a while. “Take one bite,” she says. “Close your eyes and let it melt in your mouth.” As they do, the students talk out of turn and laugh with each other. The idea of eating a piece of chocolate no bigger than a coin in 10 bites makes them giggle. “What do you do in life that you just go through on autopilot?” she asks. “How do you take the same actions every single day and give a different perspective to it?”

Designed for the Mind Edelstein began thinking about complex physics concepts before she was even in kindergarten. Her father, a particle physicist, would explain at the kitchen table to Edelstein and her siblings the process of searching for atomic particles and how everything was made up of them. “I only really realized how much of an impact that had more recently,” she says. She recalls pressing her little hand into the table, trying to figure out where the particles in the table ended and the ones in her hand began. If we’re all made up of the same thing, she thought, then objects aren’t really as fixed as we think of them being. Everything is constantly moving. Constantly changing. Including people. Especially teens. This is where the idea to teach teens mindfulness stemmed from, she says. Their lives are in a state of flux as their self-image, interests and responsibilities shift. All this change causes stress. And teaching them methods to manage this stress can help them reckon with the emotions that come with it. “The emphasis is on how to understand your experience in context,” Edelstein says. Quieting their minds can help them take the time to think more clearly not just about their situations, but their identities as well. “We’re made up of so many different qualities and experiences,” she says. “We show up so many different ways depending on the circumstance.”

Taking the Tools When the school bell rings, students get up from their desks and begin to file out of the class—many handing Coopersmith home22


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BODY-SCAN MEDITATION Interested in trying meditation but unsure where to begin? Here is an Inner Strength technique you can use to get started. Begin by sitting in a comfortable, upright position, straightening your spine and neck, and letting your hands rest gently on your thighs or on the table in front of you. »» Direct your attention toward your feet. Focus on the contact your feet make with the ground. Notice the subtle differences in the weight pressing against different parts of your feet, and then shift your attention through each of your toes. »» Visualize yourself breathing. Visualize the air traveling through your body. Imagine when you exhale that you are exhaling all of the toxins, all of the tiredness, all of the strain out of your feet. Let it all seep into the floor below you. »» Now inhale. Take this deep breath and send it into your lower legs. Notice the long bones of your shins and your calf muscles. Consciously relax this part of your body. Let the tension melt out of your muscles. On your next breath, take a deep inhalation and send your breath again to your lower legs, letting all of the strain in this area trickle into the ground. »» Move your attention into your knees. Let your attention wash over this part of the body, noticing

any tension or sensitivity. Inhale and send your breath toward that area. Pretend you can remove any stress or pain by washing your breath over it. Exhale and expel all of this energy down your legs, out into the floor beneath your feet. »» Shift your attention into your thighs. Bring your awareness to the long muscles and solid bones. Breathe in deeply, and send your breath toward your thighs, letting it rejuvenate that area of your body. »» Next, send your focus to your hips becoming aware of where you connect with your chair. Feel gravity pulling you downward. Send your breath into each one of your organs, your stomach, your intestines. Let your breath fill your lungs. Let it massage your heart. Imagine you’re exhaling out all of the fatigue and tension and worry and fear in your body.

Consciously relax your forearms, your wrists, and each of your fingers. »» Now draw your attention to the base of your neck. Breathe into that area. Draw space where you can, relieving any compression or tightness. »» Bring your attention inside your head. Imagine that your breath is giving your brain a gentle massage for all of the work it does every day, helping us move, helping us think. Inhale and consciously expel out tension, mental fatigue, concern. Turn your attention to the muscles in your forehead, to your eyes, down to your cheeks. Let each of them soften. Unclench your jaw. Let your tongue rest gently. »» Take a few breaths at your own pace. Inhale and exhale. Sense your whole body. Sense the softness. Sense the relaxation.

»» Bring your awareness to your spine. Send your breath down each vertebrae. Let your attention go to your arms, noticing where your elbows bend.

work assignments from the week before. Her hope is that they use the tools she teaches outside of the classroom to destress, that these practices become a part of who they are, and they understand that their thoughts are not them—they get to pick and choose the thoughts they engage with. “I can teach it, but they have to learn it,

and then they have to practice it,” she says. Over the last few years, she’s learned that kids are really interested in this kind of thing. They’re curious and ready to be empowered. “Calling it mindfulness doesn’t give it [the credit] it deserves,” she says. “It’s not only mindfulness skills, it’s self-understanding.”

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William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was a firm believer in silent worship.

Pennsylvania founder and silent worship practitioner William Penn

Enjoy The Silence

Quaker schools continue the long tradition of quiet reflection. by

alexandra wagner jones


p ow e r f u l l i t t l e b e i n g. That’s how Hannah Caldwell Henderson describes a tiny toddler who stood up during a silent Quaker meeting to say, “Be brave!” Henderson is the chief advancement officer at Germantown Friends School, a private Quaker school that practices unstructured silent worship. Much like meditation, silent worship is a personal, contemplative activity. Unlike the 24


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traditional Eastern practice, however, that silence can be broken. If someone—and it can be anyone—feels they’ve connected with “an inner truth” or “an inner God,” they speak. Our state and city’s founder, William Penn, was a firm believer in the practice of silent worship, once saying, “True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body.” At Germantown Friends, moments of

silence seem to crop up everywhere. Classes and faculty meetings begin with them. Sometimes teachers use silence to give students time to reflect in the middle of heated debates or complex lessons. “It’s a very natural and familiar practice for them,” says Henderson. “They begin to learn, as soon as they hit this campus, their own relationship to silence and how they might use it in ways that create a connection to an inner light or an inner voice.” Young students are given something to think about in silence for a short period of time—even as little as 30 seconds. As they progress from elementary to middle and high school, students eventually work up to sitting in silence for 45 minutes sessions. At the Westtown Friends School in West Chester, another school where silent worship is practiced, members of the faculty agree that the practice is powerful. It helps students better connect with both themselves and others in their congregation, they say. “What is said in that Meeting House is treated differently than anything else that is said on this campus,” says Betsy Swan, co-clerk of Westtown School’s Spiritual Life Committee. “Teaching them how to handle being entrusted with someone’s deepest thoughts changes them dramatically.” “It’s a test of courage of standing up to speak,” a Westtown School sixth grader wrote about speaking during silent worship, “of listening, of staying still, of being respectful when you don’t agree with someone.” And it may continue to affect them long after they get out of school. Nathan Anderson-Stahl, a 24-year-old Quaker living in Philadelphia, says the practice continues to help him to understand others in his congregation. There have been countless times where others’ messages have taught him something or given him a new perspective. “It’s a place for you to share your concerns, your joys,” he says, “the things in the world that matter to you.”


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Privacy-Invasive Toys

Misfit Toys The toys that poison and data mine your children by alexandra wagner jones


dam garber pushes a stroller into a pediatric care center on his way to an afternoon press conference on toy safety. The little passenger, his four-month-old son Elon, is a reminder of why the work he does is so important. As a consumer watchdog for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (founded by Ralph Nader), one of Garber’s goals is to protect kids from dangerous toys in the marketplace. This includes toys that are potential choking hazards, contain toxic chemicals or violate privacy. This year Garber and his colleague Tano Toussaint co-authored PIRG’s annual re26


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port: Trouble in Toyland. The report summarizes PIRG’s survey of 40 toys—over a third of which pose safety threats to children. With hundreds of new toys hitting the market every year, this survey of only 40 toys suggests it’s worth keeping an eye out for potentially dangerous toys in your house. The U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that 251,700 toy-related injuries resulted in trips to the emergency room in 2017. When the holiday season is in full swing, it can be easy to get lost in the chaos. Take inventory of the toys your kids received last month now and look out for the following products and categories.

Be smart about “smart” devices. Nearly every internet-connected device collects some kind of user information, and the rationale companies use to justify that practice is that they are trying to improve their products. But consumers should be aware if a company is sharing or selling personal information. Especially in the case of children, where disclosing personal information like name, date of birth and address, which are typically provided when creating user accounts, can raise concerns for privacy and physical safety. “A lot of these toys are also sharing data about consumers,” Toussaint says, “and potentially violating the privacy of children.” They may have the ability to record your child’s conversations, real-time physical locations and internet use—which means they can learn information like your child’s name, school and interests. When the Mozilla Foundation investigated newly released toys and games to see if they met their minimum security and privacy standards, Amazon’s Fire HD Kids Edition tablet and Wonder Workshop’s Dash robot failed the test. Both products’ policies allow them to share the data they collect with third parties for advertising purposes. The popular children’s tablet Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition, which allows children access to books, videos, educational apps and games, was flagged for data collection because it stores and saves user data. Wonder Workshop’s Dash is an interactive robot designed to teach kids about programming through hands-on play. It connects to tablets and phones via Bluetooth, so a child can program its motions. When the toy is turned on, it “listens” to what is going on around it; this could mean conversations your child has directly with the toy—or just near it. Dash also has a microphone that allows children to record and playback their voice. IL LUSTRATIO N BY JAM ES OLSTEI N

Clockwise from top: L.O.L Surprise! comes with no choking warning; Wonder Workshop’s Dash can collect and share data about your child; slime is packed with boron, which can be toxic to humans.

TOY SAFETY LAWS Small Parts Ban, 1979 Prohibited sale of toys or balls intended for children under 3 that either contain small parts or can easily break into small parts. The Child Safety Protection Act, 1994 Enacted a law that toys that pose choking hazards must be labeled. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act - 2008 Gave the CPSC the power to speed up recalls and set stricter bans on lead, phthalates and other toxic chemicals in children’s products and required third-party testing of toys at CPSC-approved laboratories. The number of children’s products recalled on a yearly basis has declined since this law was passed; before the law, recalls were on the rise.


Choking Hazards According to the PIRG report, from 2001 to 2016, 116 children died from choking on a play item. The most dangerous of all? Toussaint says balloons. “Latex balloons actually cause more childhood suffocation deaths than any other product,” he states. In its report, PIRG flagged balloons sold by online retailers that do not abide by federal standards and display explicit choking hazard warnings. Children can suffocate by sucking or chewing on uninflated balloons or by accidentally inhaling while blowing them up. A rule of thumb is that anything less than 2 inches long may present a choking hazard for children, especially those under the age of three. Take magnets, for instance.

“Latex balloons actually cause more childhood suffocation deaths than any other product.” —tano toussaint of u.s. pirg

Between 2009 and 2013, the CPSC estimates that high-powered magnets caused approximately 2,900 injuries that required treatment in an emergency room. In one case in 2013, a 19-month old girl died after seven small magnetic balls perforated her intestines, leading to infection. According to the PIRG report, nearly 80 percent of non-fatal ingestions require invasive medical intervention for removal, typically via endoscopy, surgery or a combination of both. In comparison, only 10 to 20 percent of other foreign-body ingestions require en-

doscopic intervention; almost none require surgery. For this reason, you should be careful about giving toys that use magnets to young kids—especially magnetic novelty toys. “Buckyballs”—magnetic marbles children can use to build structures—are a wellknown example of such a product. This magnet set is dangerous because young children can mistake the magnets for candy and older children can use pairs of magnets to imitate lip or tongue piercings—putting magnets in a position to be accidentally inhaled or swallowed. JAN UARY 20 19



Chemically Concentrated “In recent years an increasingly popular toy has been slime,” Toussaint says, pulling a bowl of glittery blue slime out. “Unfortunately, our testing found that several popular slimes contain toxic levels of boron.” He notes that PIRG testing found that slime toys sold to children in the U.S. with

“If you...engage with your child or play with them, you will get a better understanding of the safety of the toys that they are playing with.” —dr. amanda micucio, assistant profe ssor of medical pediatrics at sidney kimmel medical college

boron concentrations as high as 4,700 ppm, more than fifteen times the European Union’s limit for boron in sticky/liquid toys. According to the EPA, “studies in both humans and animals show that boron is readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.” While case studies have shown humans are asymptomatic when they ingest volumes of boron less than 3.68 ppm, moderate to high doses of ingestion can cause nausea and vomiting and may have longterm negative effects on the consumer’s reproductive health. No policies in the U.S. currently regulate the levels of boron permitted in toys, but

From 2001 to 2016, 116 children died from choking on a play item.

4,700 ppm Boron concentration found in slime toys sold to children in the U.S. VS

300 ppm Boron concentration limit set in European Union for sticky/liquid toys



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80% of non-fatal high-powered magnet ingestions require invasive medical intervention for removal; 10 to 20 percent of other foreign-body ingestions require endoscopic intervention; almost none require surgery.

PIRG is calling on policymakers to require labels for boron in children’s products and to investigate setting clear limits for manufacturers. The European Union has set limits on boron concentration to 300 ppm for sticky/liquid toys and 1200 ppm in “dry, brittle, powder-like or pliable” toys. If your children have received a do-ityourself slime kit, be careful to make sure they do not ingest the slime or the borax packet.

Policing the Fun Identifying what toys are safe for your child can be a daunting task, especially tracking, as Garber puts it, “the unseen dangers that are harder to identify—that are lurking beneath the surface.” But fixing regulations and labels could make it simple for parents to buy good toys for their kids. If the report suggests one thing, it is that toy manufacturers must do better to ensure that toys are safe before they end up on store shelves. “There is trouble in toyland, and this is something that we should not take lightly,” Congressman Dwight Evans (D-PA-3rd) said, referencing the report. “It is something that we need to talk about.” Dr. Amanda Micucio, assistant professor of medical pediatrics at Sidney Kimmel Medical College and a pediatrician at Nemours duPont Pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, says that pediatricians see children put small items and toys where they don’t belong all the time. She says one of the most important things parents can do for their children is to make sure toys are age appropriate for the child, and to inspect these toys firsthand, so you have an idea of what’s in your child’s toy chest. “If you as an adult or a caregiver engage with your child or play with them, you will get a better understanding of the safety of the toys that they are playing with,” Micucio said. For more information visit:

G R A P H I C DATA S O U R C E : U . S . P I R G

While a single magnet may pass through the body without incident, if two or more magnets are swallowed their attractive forces can pull them toward each other. This may result in pinching or trapping of digestive tissue. PIRG also flagged several other toys without warning labels that contain small parts. Two toys missing choking warnings include the popular L.O.L. Surprise! toys, pocket-sized dolls that come in peel-off disguise cases with wrapped accessories, and Hatchimals Fabula Forest toys. When Hatchimals eggs break apart, the eggshell pieces are under two inches in size.

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Local grass-fed beef, pastured pork and chicken

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january 2019

January 5

January 11

January 14

Winter Bird Census

Coffee With a Keeper

Political Geometry

Birds are easier to spot when the leaves have fallen, which makes January a great time for beginner birders. Birders will observe and collect information on the various birds at the Schuylkill Center, which will be shared with other citizen scientists.

The Penn Museum hosts this event with a collections keeper, conservator, educator, exhibition designer or other Museum staff member to discuss their work. Bring your own mug and get your coffee for $1.

The Franklin Institute’s first Speaker Series of the year looks at how geometry, computer science and statistics affect the drawing and re-drawing of Congressional districts. Mathematicians Moon Duchin and Dr. Jayatri Das lead the event.

WHEN: 8 to 11:30 a.m. COST: Free WHERE: 8480 Hagys Mill Rd

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. COST: $5 WHERE: Penn Museum, 3260 South St.

January 6

January 11-13, 18-20

Three Kings Day

Philly Home Show

The Mexican Cultural Center and the Mexican Consulate host Three Kings Day at the Kimmel Center, which includes a retelling of the story of the Three Wise Men, plus traditional food, activities and more.

Almost 200 vendors and exhibitors will be in attendance for the Philly Home Show, which takes place across two weekends (January 11-13 and 18-20). The show has a focus on both DIY options and “celebrities” in the world of home design.

WHEN: 5 p.m. COST: Free WHERE: Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St.

WHEN: 1 p.m. COST: $3-13 WHERE: Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St.

January 7

January 12

Insects: The Little Things that Run the World

First Monday Writers Group


Regardless of your level of experience, Writers Group meetings provide support and staff to offer help with technical writing skills in addition to information on how to get your work published.

AIDS Fund Philly returns with another bingo game hosted by the Bingo Verifying Divas. All who appreciate campy humor are welcome to attend and win prizes. Proceeds benefit HIV/AIDS services in the Philadelphia area.

As part of Mt. Cuba Center’s ongoing lecture series examining landscapes and native plants, learn how insects play an essential role in their ecosystems, how to protect them and more.

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. COST: Free WHERE: Oak Lane Library, 6614 North 12th St.



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WHEN: 6 p.m. COST: $36 WHERE: Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 North Broad St

WHEN: 6 to 7:30 p.m. COST: Members free, non-members $10 WHERE: Franklin Institute, 222 North 20th St.

January 19 Volunteer Restorations Workday Help the Schuylkill Center improve the health of the forest by removing invasive plants, planting native varieties and improving the conditions of the trails. Equipment is provided and the event is open to people of all experience levels. WHEN: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. COST: Free WHERE: Schuylkill Center, 8480 Hagys Mill Rd

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. COST: $19 WHERE: Mt. Cuba Center, 3120 Barley Mill Rd, Hockessin, DE

January 21

F ebruary 2

F ebruary 6-9

Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service

Lunar New Year

2019 PASA Sustainable Agriculture Conference

Organized by Global Citizen, people of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to participate in service projects and activities in the Greater Philadelphia area. Last year, there were over 1,800 projects.

Celebrate the Lunar New Year and learn about Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese cultures as they observe the Year of the Pig. There will be demonstrations in martial arts, calligraphy and drumming, in addition to a number of hands-on activities. WHEN: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. COST: Included with cost of museum admission WHERE: 211 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd.

WHEN: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. COST: Free WHERE: See site for specific projects

Philly Materials Science & Engineering Day

January 27 Global Guide Tour: Middle East Galleries Immigrants and refugees lead this tour of the Middle East galleries, which gives attendees a chance to learn about the cultures from people who grew up in them. They combine historical information with personal experiences and stories.

Take part in a variety of sessions that will educate you, regardless of previous experience or knowledge levels, in a number of food and farming topics. The conference includes a trade show, educational activities for children K-8 and the opportunity to explore Lancaster’s food and farming scene in addition to workshops. WHEN: Times vary by session COST: $10-340 WHERE: 25 S. Queen St, Lancaster

Materials engineering is the “study of stuff”—how everything we wear, own and do affects the world around us. For the ninth year in a row, this event engages attendees in hands-on workshops to gain an understanding of how specific materials affect the world. WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. COST: Free WHERE: Bossone Research Enterprise Center, 3126 Market St

WHEN: 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. COST: Included with admission WHERE: Penn Museum, 3260 South St.

Perfect Marriage Locally minded, seasonally inspired

Transporting you from urban surroundings to a serene, lush landscape

Weddings • Social Events Corporate Functions

JAN UARY 20 19




Sage Advice A veteran environmentalist offers some words of wisdom for young activists by

maurice sampson

Dear Millennials, I am in awe of your enthusiasm, optimism and relentless quest for justice. When I work with you, I am reminded of my own feelings, at the age of 16 in 1969. It was the dawn of the environmental movement. I made a commitment the next spring—the first Earth Day—to a lifetime of work for justice and environmental stewardship. Early in my career I worried, as many of you do now, about the fate of the country. In my day the president was Richard Nixon, and we were not so sure we would survive him. We did, and so will you survive the current president, and you will be better for it. I also worried about the fate of the planet. While crossing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge on the PATCO High Speed Line, I looked down on the City of Philadelphia, thinking it was once wilderness. I envisioned William Penn sailing up the river seeing the wilderness, envisioning the city he would call Philadelphia. In a flash, I realized humanity is but a passing phase, and as sure as the grass grows in the cracks of the sidewalk, Philadelphia will one day be covered in vines, consumed by the wilderness from which it came. I understood then that we can alter nature, but we cannot destroy that of which we are a part. However, we can, in our ignorance, eliminate hundreds of species—including ourselves. I found an odd sense of contentment that my job—our job—is to work together to save humanity. After doing this for close to 50 years, I understand that, even though you are just starting up, you might feel anxious or over-

whelmed at times. But I want you to know that I remain more than hopeful. I am enthusiastically optimistic for our future. Here are some tips I’ve learned, and I pass them along in the hopes that you will find some truth in them. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. There is a difference between self-interest and selfish interest. I have found that being clear about my self-interest is a source of power. Paramount in this work is to understand and respect the interest of those with whom I disagree and sometimes consider the “opposition.” Always work in teams and have a good time. The great American myth is that one person saves the world, and it is never true. Someone may get the credit, but success is always the work of many. We must not only work together, we should enjoy ourselves in the process and party together as hard as we work.

Decide what your work is based on your interests, and define your victories. The work to save the planet is not a marathon, it is a relay race, and the scope of what needs to be done can be overwhelming. My process is to pick and understand an issue and decide what a victory looks like. I then define what needs to get done and organize people to make it happen, one project at time. I always work to build on what others have done and leave so it can be passed on to those who follow. Pace yourself, be patient and don’t quit. We need to approach the work with intent and perseverance to succeed. Some projects take weeks, others take years. Be steady. So, Millennials, take care of yourselves so you can take care of each other. Working together for justice and sustainability, let’s make it happen, one step at a time. Let’s plan to be successful, enjoy the work, celebrate our victories and remain steadfast and diligent. It’s the job of a lifetime.

maurice sampson is the Eastern Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action, and an environmental activist for nearly fifty years. 32


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Caring for the Commonwealth’s community trees A Penn alumna teaches diverse Pennsylvania populations how to value trees Shea Zwerver (Master of Environmental Studies ’12) wants to teach you how to care for your trees. As the Community Engagement and TreeVitalize Program Coordinator for Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Forestry, Shea helps deliver arboreal assistance to more than 2,400 municipalities across the state. Whether strengthening community partnerships or raising awareness through public outreach, Shea draws on the diverse studies she undertook in Penn’s Master of Environmental Studies program. “I was able to create my own curriculum according to what interested me,” she reflects. “The program prepared me to be pretty versatile in my work.” Shea Zwerver, MES ‘12

VIRTUAL CAFÉ Join the MES program director from 12-1 p.m.

Shea recently piloted a vocational training program in arboriculture at a State Correctional Institution. With lessons in tree biology, preservation, pruning and climbing safety, the five-week program provides inmates with more than 30 hours of instruction designed to prepare them to enter the tree care industry and pursue Arborist Certification. “There’s such high demand for the work,” says Shea, recalling alumni who were hired shortly after release. “This course positions them to work in a well-compensated career.”

on the first Tuesday of every month, beginning in February, for an online chat about your interests and goals. Log in with us. @Penn_MES_MSAG

To learn more about Shea’s tree tender trainings and community conservation efforts, visit: