Thursday, April 22, 2010


So it happened over February vacation. I was at a Panera with the kids and a friend. I had one of THOSE MOMENTS where just for a second, you look up, look around, and SEE something. Trash. Lots of it. And Panera is hardly a wasteful establishment as American capitalism goes. They have reusable flatware, mugs, and silverware for their eat-in customers. But fountain drink cups, napkins, chip bags all get thrown away. Yes there's recycling for bottles, but in the moment I asked an employee where I could recycle Isabella's juice cup, and she respnded that there wasn't a place for that, I looked around. And I was horrified. Think about it. That was one twenty minute shot of what goes on in hundreds of thousands of resturants EVERYDAY. That made me start to think of exactly how much garbage (much of which could be recycled) goes into landfills minute by minute. And then I thought about the needed paradigm shift. People bringing a reusable cup with them to more than just a coffee joint. Not just a few people, EVERYONE.

Now, don't get me wrong, recycling is important. But it is also a carbon-heavy, inefficient, imperfect PART of the solution. It is not the answer. In our culture, so much of our economy depends on the manufacture of disposable items that really MUST be replaced by reusable items. Our enviromental survival depends on breaking the conumerist attitudes that say we can buy new things cheaply and more easily than reusing what we have. There are lobbies that prevent the government from creating incentives for us to ensure that our children will have a home to live in at all. But I can't change those things all by myself, or change them right now. But  today, on Earth Day's big 4-0, I'll tell you what I can do: REDUCE consumption, REUSE what I have, RECYCLE as much as possible.

I've always identified as a 'crunchy' type, even in 6th grade, before I knew what recycling was, I'd doodle 'peace, love, recycle' symbols on my notebooks. I was raised to compost, to be frugal, to revel in the natural world. So as an adult, I already did alot of the 'obvious' green things: energy efficient lightbulbs, composting, carrying a mug and water bottle around. Bridger is in cloth diapers (LOVE OUR CLOTH!!), and our town charges for trash but recycling is free, so we recycle like crazy at home. Last year we joined a CSA, to support local organic food, and reduce the carbon-footprint of our diet.

Since my MOMENT though, I've made a few more changes. Like stopping using paper towels. I cut up receiveing blankets and we use those instead. I'm buying as much clothing second-hand as I can find. We are buying whole melons and pineapples and cutting them at home instead of buying the pre-cut, pre-packaged fruit at the store. I'm using alot less 'help from the store' - it really doesn't take that much more time to make things from scratch, there is so much less packaging, and it tastes better too. And this might be TMI, but I switched to sea-sponge tampons. In at least 25 years of monthly cycles, feminine products have got to make a huge enviromental impact. The eww-factor is really not that bad. No worse than wiping a baby's shitty behind...

At one point Rob asked if I thought not using paper towels was really going to make a difference, and I was reminded of that story about starfish on a beach. Thousands of starfish were tossed up onto a beach after a storm. A person is walking on the beach, throwing them back into the sea, one by one. A passer-by asks why, what difference could it possibly make. And as another starfish is returned to the sea, the person says simply, 'it made a difference to that one'. Alone we can not change world. But we share this earth with 7 billion other people. If each one of us took personal responsibility for our actions and the impact we have on the earth and each other, we could alter the course of the future. If we each examine our lives, and find one thing a month, week, even day to change that will reduce consumption, reuse what we have, or recycle what we no longer need, we will make a difference. We must make a difference. The time is now.


  1. I like that. I get a kick out of seeing you describe yourself as "crunchy," as i would certainly agree. I've always liked to think of myself as rather crunchy, though i'll admit my job makes me a little doughy, in more ways than one.

    I don't know if you saw it, or if you get there often, but there was an art exhibit at the Museum of Science (i saw it in February) that was showing how many plastic bottles were used in a day in the state of California, how many paper bags were used in the country in a month, etc, etc. It was amazing what people use.

    There was a place for people to put their comments to be posted on a bulletin board, and I made the comment that as someone who (at the time) was picking up residential recycling, it was amazing what a culture of consumption we live in. I wrote about how i can't believe how much STUFF people manage to go through in just two weeks. Wouldn't it be better to reuse glass bottles? Wouldn't it also be more cost effective? On the other hand, it's a giant, time comsuming pain in the ass. But seeing as i manage to wash the baby's diapers, clean her bottles (now sippy-cups), it's the kind of thing that maybe poeple should do in this day and age to make the earth a little more livable.

    There's a whole lot of cultural differences that could stand to be made in these regards. Think of how society would be if we all were heading home, not to head back out, but to clean up the stuff we will need to use for the next day, week, month, whatever. But, in the age of cell phones, crackberries, 649 channels on your cable box, and ADD, no one wants to do the stuff that makes the earth sustainable. So we buy disposable shit, use it, throw it away, and some poor guy comes and picks it up to take it to the dump where they will burn it, making energy out of the waste. At least that's something. Oh, but then we run into the carbon going into the atmosphere. Shit. Ok, so instead we recycle the stuff. Some other guy (in another truck -- twice as much diesel being burned now, lovely) is going to come and take this stuff to a plant where they are going through MEGAwatts of electricity per hour to clean the glass out of the paper, the paper out of the plastic, the tin out of the glass, etc. Then comes the actual recycling of the goods. More megawatts. And do you think this place has solar panels or wind turbines on the roof? HA!

  2. I got way off my original point there, which was the cultural thing. People are in such a giant rush to do everything these days that they would rather do the thing that's faster, more time-effective, possibly cost-effeicient, and will let them get on with their lives faster. In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Brooks says, "the world went and got itself in a big damn hurry." He was right! It's crazy out there. And it's a very vicious cycle. Just look around you the next time you sit in traffic (ok, unlikely in Boxford, but work with me here). Look at all the people that are losing their minds because they can't get to somewhere else at the moment. No one wants to live in the moment, enjoy each breath, stop and smell the roses (pick your shitty cliche to follow mine). There's 14 other things that "I have to get done today!!!" No, you really don't. And it's toxic to live like that. And it's toxic to the people around you too. And that's the kind of thing that really rolls downhill.

    I do my best to reuse containers and the like, and i also do my best to recycle. I like to think that i have earned a little karmic relief in that department, but it's all a cycle, i know. My small amount of relief won't last me very long now that i'm a chauffeur. But at least now i'm only burning 5-12 gallons of gas a day, rather than the 35 or so of diesel i was burning as a trash guy.

    Maybe George Carlin was right. The planet brought us in as an experiment, and the experiment is winding down, and we'll all be shaken off like a bad case of fleas. Because it ain't gonna last like this, that's for sure.

    As for your TMI moment there, that made me laugh. I didn't even know there was such a thing.

  3. sorry. i was apparently too long-winded to leave that all as one comment. So there ya go.