I first met him near Devil’s Punchbowl, screening beach debris — microplastics — during one of his weekly Otter Rock shore cleanups. On this day, 12 volunteers were genuflecting and prostrating themselves using shovels and screens to tease out the white and bright-colored particles of modern man’s disposability from sand and organic detritus.
That was his role with the non-profit, Surfrider, when he used to be the Newport chapter’s chair.
Scott Rosin’s now on a different mission — getting all of Lincoln County’s plastic out of the waste stream and pollution vectors and into our road-surfacing materials.
We’ve met a few times since, in addition to me being recruited by him to be a captain for one of the cleanups sponsored by SOLVE and Surfrider.
During our first farewell handshake, he handed me a 2018 book of his poetry, “Tell ‘em We’re Surfing — The Surf Poetry Collection.”
The 71-year-old Rosin has been hanging ten and riding waves since age 12 while growing up in Torrance, California, and he has seen the Oregon Coast horizon from the tops of Doug firs as a tree man for almost a half century.
He has felled tens of thousands of trees.
Having migrated from his birthplace in Redondo Beach to the Oregon Coast Range, he’s now in yet another evolution as co-founder of a recycling non-profit, Plastic Up-Cycling (converting discarded plastic into useful durable products).
He’s in both a personal (two years, met her on OK Cupid) and professional partnership (she helped write the grant and spearhead Plastic Up-Cycling — founded Sept. 2019) with Katharine Valentino.
For this Deep Dive, Scott submits to unadulterated stealth probing into both his personal narrative decades before co-leading Plastic Up-Cycling with his partner Katharine, and now as a crusader for mitigating the disgusting plastic waste in our landfills, on the land and in oceans.
An alternative headline might read, “The Little Dutch Boy (Old Jewish-Scots-Irish Man) Puts Ten Fingers in the Bursting Dike!”
“Approximately eight billion tons of plastic are in our oceans now, along with unknowable megatons in our landfills and scattered throughout our environment,” he said. “Today, plastic is found in almost everything we eat. Even more disturbing, the stuff floats in the air. We’re all breathing it. There is growing evidence that toxins associated with plastic are responsible for human health problems such as cancers and brain, reproductive and cardiovascular damage.”
It’s the Ocean, Stupid — not the economy
Scott and I swap stories about each of our own crusades fighting rampant despoilment of ecosystems and human settlements — societies that were once much more reigned-in, tamer consumer-wise and less impacting with much smaller ecological footprints.
Life on the planet today — with 7.5 billion people, many of whom want unregulated, unmitigated, unlimited consumerism — is a discombobulated shadow of its old self: increased traffic gridlock, regular water pollution warnings, stagnant air advisories, housing costs, chemical and pesticide contamination, water restriction and more. Welcome to the party!
We’re talking about the little town of Newport, not just Shanghai or San Francisco.
While Scott has proverbially risen from the ashes a few times in his life, his credo for decades has been “clean air, clean water and clean soil.” He believes regulations like the clean air and water acts should be expanded, strengthened and policed more vigorously.
This inevitably puts him at odds with some of his neighbors, who are vehemently out of touch with how a democracy works: we need collective rules, regs, laws, permits “to ensure health, safety and welfare for humans and non-humans alike.”
Corporations have a history of not being good neighbors.
From sick bed to fast track
Scott’s life changed when he was young, aged 11, sick and bed-ridden for months. Another time of significant emotion catalyst occurred when his mother divorced her physically and emotionally abusive aerospace engineer husband.
Juxtapositions count: After more than half a century of manual labor, some might think it unusual Scott Rosin spent time at El Camino Community College and then San Fernando Valley State working on an English degree.
“I’ve been writing poetry and short stories since I was a kid.”
Maybe that love of surfing, coupled with love of rhetorical and philosophical grounding enhanced his ability to see the big picture(s).
And a drive to get involved.
The systems that are interconnected to the gargantuan plastic pollution problem include the rise of fossil fuel extraction/production/use; the infusion of natural gas into the plastics industry; the marketing of a throwaway society; and the insistence on single-use plastic bags and packaging to fuel capitalism.
However, this concept of “better living through chemistry” (DuPont’s marketing campaign starting in 1935) has created more than an unsightly mess of waste covering the globe (even a single-use plastic bag was photographed by an ROV — remote operated vehicle-- at the bottom of the Mariana Trench at a depth of 36,000 feet).
More concerning to Scott, Katharine and legions of people like me is the death of phytoplankton tied directly to microplastics suffocating them. (Phyto) plankton serves as the lungs of the ocean — releasing oxygen in the process of photosynthesis, which facilitates ocean health. It provides the mechanism wherein sunlight gets converted into food stuffs. It serves as the basic building block and food for all other marine creatures.
Easily, half of the world’s oxygen comes from plankton. “The remainder is from trees and plants on land, which are also severely stressed by global climate change, massive fires and logging.”
One person’s trash is another’s cause: Part II
“It is an eccentric and uniquely human approach to resources: like plowing under your farmland to make way for more lawns, or compromising your air quality in exchange for an enormous car.”
— John Vaillant, “The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed”
While Scott Rosin has logged thousands of acres in his lifetime, he has also been a sort of Johnny Appleseed of fir trees: “I figure it’s been three hundred thousand trees I’ve replanted over my lifetime.”
It was 1971 when “I just wanted to get out of LA so I applied for a job fighting forest fires in Oregon.”
His first gig was in the Fremont National Forest, in south central Oregon. He was a smoke jumper, and in 1973, after a brief hiatus in California, he ended up on 20 acres near Bly with a new woman in his life — “a gymnast, a dancer, who was self-motivated, selfish and too short to be hired as a professional dancer.”
Then, they ended up on a hippy commune 10 miles from Toledo. He now lives on 61 acres of heavily wooded forest that is more than 50 years in the making.
That’s 47 years as a smoke jumper, logger, reforestation expert, construction consultant living the life he seemed to always dream of during those early years in California.
“I would have loved this life growing up,” Scott says about his two children thriving in the woods with the closest neighbors more than two miles down the road. Chris, 37, and Leah, 40, had the best of many worlds, according to Scott — the forest, smarts, athleticism, a small town and small schools, plenty of opportunity to be involved in school activities.
Chris is in Salem, working as the Director of the State's Guardianship program, overseeing and advocating for the care of the old and mentally disabled who have no one to speak for them. Leah is in Eugene working for a global events and publications group headquartered in London.
Grandfathers, father, destiny, memory
We are venturing into a serious discussion at Nana’s Irish Pub to get a handle on Scott’s life.
Scott Rosin has been on many boards in the Newport arena: his ex-wife was one of the originators of the Newport Farmer’s Market, so he was involved with that. He was on the boards of the Forest Seedling Cooperative, Small Woodlands Association, Nye Beach Writers Series and Oregon Coast Council for the Arts.
Interestingly, he was affiliated with the Red Octopus Theatre Company in Newport, where some of his one-act and full-length plays were produced.
“All my jobs were physically demanding. I did smoke jumping for five years, was a faller for eight years, had my own reforestation business for four years.” Then logging, construction, tree servicing. He started Family Farm Enterprises in 1990 and did that for 27 years. His old partner continues the business just focusing on construction.
Scott stopped climbing trees at age 67, after a series of shoulder surgeries.
We page back into his life as I ask more about his upbringing.
His father worked for Northrup Grumman as a fuselage engineer for the historic X-15, once the fastest jet most famously piloted by Chuck Yaeger.
His mother became an English teacher, at the same South High School in Torrance where Scott was a sophomore. “There was no bussing, no black kids. One brown kid came during my senior year. He wore barrio clothes, he had an accent, he was brown. The first Latino in that school.”
Scott said he knew nothing of marijuana while in high school, but that all changed when he entered El Camino Júnior College in 1966. He was against the Vietnam War, but wasn’t concerned about being drafted. He said he had an awakening in a philosophy 101 class, where he had to research and write on a section on censorship using Plato’s “Republic.”
He and his then girlfriend went to a board of trustees meeting to challenge the college’s declaration that no peaceful protests would be allowed on campus. He said that violated the First Amendment.
“One guy stood up, got angry and then my girlfriend and I were physically escorted out.”
One influential school board member was a higher up at DuPont, manufacturer of many war materials, including Agent Orange.
The legacy of one side his family goes back to Ellis Island, when his dad’s parents ended up there from Russia, as Jews, in 1905. His grandfather, William/Willum, ended up in the Borscht Belt in LA, and he was a very Orthodox Russian Jew.
Scott says his grandfather spent 20 years bringing Jews from Russia to the United States.
Willum’s wife Hilda, from Norway, was not a believer in this faith. Scott’s mother, on the other hand, claimed her side traces all the way back to Scots-Black Irish closely following the Mayflower’s landing.
Christmas and Hanukah were part and parcel elements in his childhood. Then there is the story of his grandfather’s father being a barber in Kansas. He lived to be 97. Scott’s great-great grandfather was the first marshal in Texas. He got splayed in a gunfight at age 29.
Two versions of the story persist — The marshal was breaking up a domestic dispute and was killed in the process. Or, he was having an affair with this woman, the husband came home, and the woman picked up the marshal’s gun and shot him.
“My brother has this pistol. He’s very, very right-wing. Lives in Nevada. He believes the first story.”
Dickens, Twain and kidney failure
No one knew why the 11-year-old Scott came down with acute nephritis, but his kidneys suddenly become inflamed causing kidney failure.
The treatment: two months in the hospital with an IV of water, sugar and vitamin C. He got taller but was down to 80 pounds. “I had no muscles when I tried to walk.” He was not allowed to eat, even with a feeding tube.
He reiterates that he was in bed for seven months, and at that early age, he realized how precious life was. “There was a time when I said to myself that I was going to die.”
He missed sixth grade, but all he did was read, read, read. Twain, Dickens and many other classics.
In his book, “Tell ‘Em We’re Surfing,” Rosin writes in the ‘about the author’ section:
“At age 11, he survived a near-fatal illness that lasted most of 1959. Besides keeping him bedridden during a long recovery, the illness afforded him an opportunity to read a year’s worth of classical and modern literature — Homeric sagas, Norse and Greek mythology, Renaissance poets, Dumas, Dickens, Twain, Steinbeck, Hemingway, McCullers, and poets Cummings, Ferlinghetti and Marquis. Later he tried his hand at writing but abandoned the effort because he felt he hadn’t lived enough.”
Once back up on his feet, the young Scott was in for a rude awakening: “I was six feet tall, weighed a hundred and ten pounds and I missed the socialization part of school. It made me a loner. It was profound. I knew that this life is short. It can go at any time. If there’s work to make it better, then it should be done.”
Bloated whale and pelican bellies
At the Otter Rock cleanup, Scott told me he’d never seen it so bad — all the colorful microplastics spread along the beach are unstoppable. He has been surfing on the beach for 50 years.
He and Katharine worked hard to start this non-profit. Many non-profit environmental organizations did not want to “do the right thing and sponsor us.” The couple was in search of a non-profit — 501 (3) c — to be put on their shirttails. That’s where Recycling Advocates out of Portland (established 1987) comes in.
Scott rushed to Portland, “did my spiel about plastics-to-fuel, precious plastic, plastics in roads.” They approved the relationship, with Scott agreeing to be a member of the board (which was dwindling). The board has since grown to 10 members largely because of the new energy Katharine and Scott’s non-profit has fueled.
“There are so many amazing things that can be done working on this plastic problem. I know it won’t solve the plastic pollution problem, don’t get me wrong.”
But the couple’s simple proposition is to divert all the plastic waste stream in Lincoln County to the roads project and other upcycling processes. Scott reminds himself that “nothing about capitalism is altruistic . . . it’s got to make money for them to want to be involved.” For-profit solid waste management and disposal companies are no longer accepting recyclables as the so-called Chinese market for recyclable goods bottomed out years ago.
“Everything goes to the landfill,” Scott said. “So, all this plastic disposed there is staying in the landfill which ends up seeping into our water.”
Right now, Plastic Up-Cycling is embarking on a $100,000 crowd-funding campaign to test this road- building aggregate which utilizes plastic to determine if it’s safe and won’t leech into soil or water. An OSU chemical engineer has been slated to conduct the tests.
A Scottish company wants to be the world’s largest paver of roads using plastic waste. We know that more than 90 percent of the plastic we use ends up in landfills, or in the world's oceans. Scott brought up MacRebur in our interview.
Plastic flakes are mixed at a plant in Scotland with what MacRebur co-founder Toby McCartney calls a “secret ingredient.” It's then bagged up and shipped to asphalt manufacturers.
Rosin says this activator is what binds the plastic’s potential bad effects of chemical leeching. Once the plastic aggregate goes into the black oil-based bitumen, roads then get the seal of Up-cycling approval.
"For every ton of bitumen we replace, we save a ton of carbon emissions," McCartney said, "so for the environment, it's the way forward.”
Rosin points to America’s millions of miles of roads that constantly need repairing, patching, surfacing and rebuilding. The process MacRebur utilizes is pretty clear-cut — replacing some of the bitumen (which is a dirty distillate of oil) with plastic pellets or shavings. While bitumen is between 15 to 20 percent of the actual paving aggregate’s volume, plastic can easily make up six percent or more, Scott said.
Plastic Up-Cycling touts flexibility, strength and durability of plastic roads compared to traditional aggregates. North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey and California are pushing this plastics-in-roads process to tackle “some of the plastic pollution problem.”
The mayor of Los Angeles has approved a recycled plastics road to run right up to the famous Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Rosin ends with how the new non-profit works so well since he’s throwing in with his partner Katharine: “She was a preemie. Very sick but survived under the excess care of a mother, grandmother and others. In an earlier time, we both would have not lived with our medical issues. We laugh a lot. We’re both Scorpios. I get along better with Katharine than with anyone in my life.”
Paul Haeder is a writer living and working in Lincoln County. He has two books coming out, one a short story collection, “Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam,” and a non-fiction book, “No More Messing Around: The Good, Bad and Ugly of America's Education System.”