Monthly Archives: October 2019


My last post was pretty depressing, I know. The issue of plastic overtaking our environment, killing off wildlife, and affecting our health IS depressing. This post comes to you with hope for the future. As an ex-partner of mine would say, “Science created it and science can un-create it.” I’m counting on that.

Well, now, there is a lot out there about a “natural” remedy for the problem. Is it really possible that nature has provided “plastic-eating bacteria?”

“Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles,” a headline from The Guardian touts:

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. “What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It’s great and a real finding.”

The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic – far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.

From another The Guardian post:

Nature has begun to fight back against the vast piles of filth dumped into its soils, rivers and oceans by evolving a plastic-eating bacteria – the first known to science.

In a report published in the journal Science, a team of Japanese researchers described a species of bacteria that can break the molecular bonds of one of the world’s most-used plastics – polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or polyester.

The Japanese research team sifted through hundreds of samples of PET pollution before finding a colony of organisms using the plastic as a food source. Further tests found the bacteria almost completely degraded low-quality plastic within six weeks. This was voracious when compared to other biological agents; including a related bacteria, leaf compost and a fungus enzyme recently found to have an appetite for PET.

Here in the U.S., Morgan Vague, Clinical Research Coordinator at Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine in Portland, Oregon, presents a TED Talk about her research. She talks realistically about the problem we face and how “my bacteria” can help.

How about the solution presented here in an article from Fast Company discussing the enzyme used by bacteria to digest plastic and how it can be developed?

Around the world, several research projects are exploring the potential of enzymes, the part of the microorganisms responsible for digesting the plastic, to help. In the U.K., scientists studying the Japanese bacteria accidentally created a version of the bacteria’s enzyme that worked even better, breaking down plastic bottles in days rather than weeks. At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S., scientists are also working on the enzyme—called PETase, because it can eat PET plastic—to make it work faster. Researchers in Germany studied the structure of PETase to optimize it. And in France, a startup called Carbios has developed its own enzyme, which can fully break down PET plastic so it can be recycled into new, consumer-grade plastic of the same quality as virgin PET. Major corporations including PepsiCo and Nestlé are now partnering with the company, which plans to begin building its first demonstration plant this fall.

Like some other new recycling technology, using enzymes has advantages over traditional methods of shredding up old products. The plastic doesn’t have to be clean, and can be broken down completely. “We take these plastics back down to some of their precursor components, and then they are maybe in a better position then to be reused and reincorporated into new materials,” Hallinan says. Creating precursors for making plastic, rather than recycling whole plastic into a lower-grade material, might incentivize more recycling because there’s a better market for the final product. “There might be more economic appetite, more industrial appetite, for those types of materials.”

Then, there are the two students, Jeanny Yao and Miranda Wang, who have been studying and have invented bacteria that “eat plastic from the ocean and turn it into water.” Seeing a headline with their work is what got me looking deeper in this possible “miracle” cure.

I’m certainly not convinced these bacteria are the silver bullet we need, but, combined with limiting plastic production, returning to the days of re-usable materials like glass, and the biodegradable, sustainable materials paper and cardboard, even recyclable aluminum, we may be able to get some control of the situation. At least, we can hope.

About Jan Schim

Jan is a singer, a songwriter, a licensed body worker specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, and a teacher.  She is an advocate for the ethical treatment of ALL animals and a volunteer with several animal advocacy organizations.  She is also a staunch believer in the need to promote environmental responsibility.

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Navigating through Nashville is difficult these days with all the construction projects in various stages of completion. The skyline of downtown Nashville is dotted with more than a dozen giant construction cranes.  New hotels, businesses, apartments and condos are opening on a daily basis.

Growth is good. But there’s one thing the city’s cheerleaders aren’t talking about. Waste disposal.

New construction projects must include some infrastructure, such as waste water lines that tie into the sewerage system.  But the city’s sewerage system is outdated. Ancient water mains collapse with depressing regularity.  More pipes will collapse by next spring as the soil contracts over winter and expands with the spring thaw.

During the Great Flood of 2010, only one water treatment plant remained functional.  Since then, the city’s population has increased by tens of thousands of people.  With all that growth, the city should have built more treatment plants but hasn’t.  Meanwhile, thousands of new residential properties and hotels are tying into our decaying system.  Usage is expanding but the system isn’t.

I was reminded of these depressing facts of life recently when I received a notice from Metro Water Services saying that they would be asking for a rate increase.  As someone who grew up in rural areas where cesspits and outhouses were the only options, I place a high value on flushing toilets and safe drinking water.  This is one time I don’t think I’ll protest paying higher taxes.


About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle ( which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (

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No Going Back

I’m a news junkie and an avid historian so I feel compelled to read the news. I read a variety of sources in print and on-line to get different viewpoints.  Recently, I realized that the headlines are uniformly depressing.

Hate crimes are on the rise.  White supremacists continue their terrorist attacks on women, Jews, immigrants, blacks, school children, and any politician who denounces their racist beliefs.  Democratic governments are under threat around the world as their apathetic voters fail to vote and their elected leaders undermine their own governments for personal gain or to save their political lives.   International alliances are being sabotaged by politicians with dubious agendas, breaking down the support system that has saved us for 70 years from another world war.

But then I saw a news story that broke through the gloom.  Three cities just elected black mayors: Montgomery, Alabama, Danville, Virginia, and Richmond, Virginia.  What’s the significance?

All three cities were capitals of the Confederate States of America.   The CSA was formed to defend “states’ rights”, meaning the right to continue enslaving black people. White supremacists often wave Confederate flags to show their desire to return to a mythical past unsullied by multiculturalism.

White supremacists, corrupt politicians and haters have always been a part of history.  But on some level they know they can’t win.  Corrupt politicians are always replaced by reformers who strengthen democratic institutions.  The CSA lost the war in 1865 and the white supremacists have been losing the battle against equality since the 1950’s.  Violence is all they have left.

Then I thought of the scene in Stars Wars when Peter Cushing’s character refuses to leave the Death Star.  “Evacuate in our moment of triumph”, he asks a few moments before the Death Star explodes.

The headline stories about terrorism, failing democracies, and hate are like the Death Star just before it explodes.  Behind those grim headlines are a fresh batch of Luke Skywalkers, taking aim at government corruption, terrorist massacres, and the haters.  They are the types of people who just elected black mayors in three cities that were a symbol of a dead past.

There’s no going back.


About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle ( which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (

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The Other Side of the Couch – Taking Care

Image result for nursing caring

I have spent the last several days in another world – a world that some enter by choice, some by necessity.  This world has its own rules, its own norms, its own expectations.  The rules of the world that most of us inhabit without thought are suspended here.  In this world others are in charge. In this world those who enter are dependent on the knowledge and kindness of those who are here by choice, rather than by necessity.

Those who enter this world by choice are an unusual species.  They come from all types of backgrounds, ethnicities, levels of education, gender.  They work at a tremendous variety of different jobs, from the simplest to the most complex.  They work long hours, and they often provide backup for others even when they are not actually on the job.

Those who are best at this share one unusual quality.  Above and beyond their training, education and experience, these people are givers.  They experience meaning and fulfillment through the process of Taking Care.

When I was a child I was a peripheral member of this world, born into it by virtue of my father’s profession.  I walked the halls of the places where these givers worked.  I often felt an unusual sense of belonging – perhaps because I felt that I was an insider.  As a child I had little understanding of the world I walked, but I knew that at some emotional level I recognized it.

The world I have been inhabiting is the world of the hospital.  The givers are the doctors – chief surgeons, chief residents, residents, interns, nurses, student nurses, LPNs, bringers of food trays, cleaners, transporters – all the amazing parts of a teaching hospital that work together to give care to those who are fighting for life, for health, for a future.

I am grateful for these men and women who make meaning for themselves and support life for their patients.  The ability to take joy in the process of healing, to see the worst and see it improve, or sometimes to see the worst and know that there is nothing to be done, to live with the daily intensity of facing life and death in all its reality – there is nothing else like it.

So today I say thank you to the lovely nurse who worked with my husband, to the LPN who dealt with bodily fluids in an eternally cheerful way, to all the various helpers who came and went and who made a difficult week tolerable.  You are givers – and I am thankful for each of you.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at

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Happy New Year: Asking for Forgiveness


As I sit writing this month’s post, I am in a contemplative mood.  The Jewish High Holidays are around the corner, in fact as of the publication date, it is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  And the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, are also called “The Days of Awe.”  These are the holiest days for us and an opportunity to reflect on the past year, to take stock of ourselves and our lives and to think about how we can grow into better versions of ourselves in the coming year.

One of the most important things we do at this time is to ask forgiveness of those we’ve wronged or hurt during the year.  It is customary to do this in person but in these days of electronic communication, many accomplish this task via social media.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe it is always appropriate to ask forgiveness in whatever fashion is available.  But much like sending an email thank you note, to me it falls in the “better than nothing,” category.  In other words, not as personal and seems like the easy way out.  But…better than nothing.  There is also the mandate that if you are the person who is being asked for forgiveness, that you must try to accept.  If, after three attempts you cannot accept, the person doing the asking is “off the hook,” so to speak.

Why all this focus on forgiveness being asked for and granted?  I don’t have a rabbinic answer, but I do have my answer.  To be honest, I have a very difficult time admitting when I’m wrong.  I know I inherited this from my dad and try as I might, it’s probably the thing I struggle with the hardest in relationships (ask my husband for more on that).  But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that admitting you’ve been wrong and asking for forgiveness is one of the strongest things a person can do.  Taking responsibility for our actions, I believe, is fundamental to fostering and maintaining healthy relationships.  Not only that, but granting forgiveness when asked is also fundamental.  These behaviors serve to level the playing field between people.  Recognizing our basic, common humanity, moving beyond our mistakes and even loving each other in spite of it all is perhaps the trickiest, and yet, most rewarding thing in a relationship.

This coming year, I hope to become better at admitting when I’m wrong, asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness to others.  And while I can’t actually ask each of you in person, I’ll take advantage of this forum to ask for forgiveness if I’ve hurt or wronged you in any way.  To those I can ask in person, stay tuned.  And to everyone, here’s wishing a happy, healthy and sweet New Year, whatever your faith, tradition, practice or belief.  Because who couldn’t use a little more happy, healthy and sweet?

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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