Folded Field Notes: MICROPLASTICS

plastic bottles floating on the Hudson River

After a long hiatus, Folded Field Notes is back with a new look and purpose. Your guides on this literary citizen-science adventure will be JS Graustein and Heidi Marshall. Please note the new publication opportunities and submission guidelines at the end of this post. Thanks for your patience!


Introduction

Plastic. It’s everywhere we look. As you read this, you could simply turn your head and see five plastic items. Whether in a landfill or stuck in beachside brambles, these plastics will never decay into bio-available nutrients. Eventually, a fraction will be recycled, but the rest will break down over time into smaller fragments wherever they are discarded.

Read the article linked below for the fate of some of these microplastic particles. This article is the launch point of our exploration.
https://www.npr.org/2019/04/15/713561484/microplastic-found-even-in-the-air-in-frances-pyrenees-mountains

Materials

  • Note-taking supplies
  • Digital camera, phone camera, or sketching supplies
  • Stopwatch or stopwatch phone app
  • Clothing appropriate for the terrain, weather, and wildlife (insects, snakes, etc.) where you plan to walk
  • Optional: binoculars, hand lens or magnifying glass if you want to examine the plastic at length, rubber gloves & trash bag if you feel motivated to pick up the plastic you find and discard/recycle it in an appropriate place.

 
Methods (choose one)

For a quantitative exploration

  1. Select a route you will enjoy walking for 20 minutes. This could be a route you walk everyday on your way to work, or a route you plan as a special excursion. Make whatever preparations are necessary for walking this route.
  2. When you are ready to begin your walk, record the location, date, and time in your notes.
  3. Start your stopwatch.
  4. When you see the first piece of discarded plastic, read your stopwatch and record “elapsed time to first encounter” in your notes.
  5. For this and every piece of discarded plastic you see on your 20 minute walk, record the number of items and approximate number of pieces each item is broken into in a table set up like the sample below. Sample 1 is for a yogurt cup that has been run over by a bus, with the estimated number of pieces it shattered into. Sample 2 is for a trio of intact plastic bags that blew into a nearby park.
Time Item # of Items Total # of Pieces Stuck In / On
10:05 yogurt cup 1 10 road
10:09 plastic bags 3 3 trees

For a qualitative exploration

  1. Select a route you will enjoy walking. Duration of walk is up to you. This could be a route you walk everyday on your way to work, or a route you plan as a special excursion. Make whatever preparations are necessary for walking this route.
  2. When you are ready to begin your walk, record the location, date, and time in your notes.
  3. Start your stopwatch.
  4. When you see the first piece of discarded plastic, read your stopwatch and record “elapsed time to first encounter” in your notes.
  5. As you walk, take a mental note of the discarded plastic you see. When a particular plastic item grabs your attention and inspires more careful observation, stop and record what kind of item it is, how many pieces it has broken into, what kind of surface it is laying on or what plants/animals it is stuck in, whether it is faded or fresh, and any other details that will be important for the writing of your poem/prose. If safe to do so, consider picking up the piece(s) of plastic and looking for anyone that has begun to live in/on/under it.

 
Question

Once you’re in a safe place to sit and think, look over your notes and replay the walk in your mind. If you chose the quantitative exploration, write down the most compelling question you have about the volume of discarded plastic. If you chose the qualitative exploration, write down the most compelling question you have about the origin and/or fate of the plastic item you observed. For this exercise, “compelling” is entirely subjective – i.e. whatever compels you to write, be it funny or madding or just plain odd.

Results

Write a poem, flash fiction, or essay that attempts to answer your question. Feel free to bring in ideas and details from other experiences you’ve had, or even research that you were driven to do after the walk. Be sure to include sensory details that will take us where you were/are.

When you feel you have a finished piece that you’d like to submit, please email it to FoldedEditors [at] gmail [dot] com with the subject line “Folded Field Notes: Microplastics submission”. Please include:

  • Name (and pen name if you use one)
  • Location of your walk
  • “Elapsed time to first encounter”
  • Your website/blog URL and Twitter/Instagram name(s) — if applicable
  • Your country of residence

Embed your submission in the body of your email. MS Word doc or PDF attachments are acceptable for pieces that require specific spacing.

Analysis

Four pieces will be selected for editorial development and their authors invited to a private group on the Slack platform. Deadline to submit for editorial development is 31 May 2019. Other pieces may also be considered for our #WrittenWordWednesday column.

Conclusion

The final versions of the four pieces selected for development will be included in a print eco-lit anthology. Authors will receive a royalty of $10* + one contributor copy per piece included in the anthology, and will have the ability to purchase additional copies at a discount. Target year for publication: 2022.

*Please note: authors must have a PayPal account to receive cash royalty. An extra contributor copy may be substituted if a PayPal account is unavailable to you.

©2019 by JS Graustein and Heidi Marshall

3 Comments on “Folded Field Notes: MICROPLASTICS

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