REDUCE, REUSE, recycle. There are two whole R’s before recycle yet that seems to be the one many people focus on. Recycling is wonderful but it’s not a fix-all. It’s not a cure. The amount of plastic garbage built up on our planet is disgusting. It’s not just an empty bottle rolling down your street on a windy day. It’s pooling in in the oceans. It’s dragging along lake beds. It’s swimming through streams. It’s inside of animals stomachs!
It’s human nature to seek convenience. It’s actually tied into what drives us to be innovative. Like any animal we strive to achieve more while conserving energy and resources. The first problem is that (historically) we assumed those resources were infinite. We went from scarcity to a boom and never looked back. Like when you’re so hungry that you get home and eat everything in sight, but then you get a stomach ache. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. The second problem is that we don’t like to be wrong and taking ownership of our mistakes doesn’t come easily. Every new generation is attacked by the old for trying to make changes. Good or bad. “It’s the right thing, because that’s how I grew up” is a common argument. “When I was a kid…”
When I was a kid it had already been 40+ years since the first reports that cigarettes caused cancer. Smoggies and Captain Planet were on tv. Our school had a “green” initiative. That was in the 80’s/early 90’s! Yet, there are still folks acting like all of this is news. When you think of hippies your mind congers flowery images of a time lost, but the truth is that there were a lot of hard working people back then, trying to stop this thing from snowballing. The Birkenstock wearers. The baby-carriers. The gardeners. They were dismissed by their peers. Lumped in with the flighty ones to make them seem less credible. People who never wanted to utter the words “I told you so” and yet have us dead to rights.
So what can we do? Let’s start with single-use items. For the most part they’re the easiest to cut down on. Many of these items had an original version that we gave up for “convenience”. Plastic straws, paper/styrofoam plates, paper napkins and towels, baby wipes, coffee cups, water bottles. These items are the easiest to cut back on/eliminate, especially now that people have come up with even better versions! A lot of these items can be cut down significantly or repackaged in a more eco-friendly way.
I’m not oblivious to distinct needs of specific populations either. People with certain disabilities need a straw to drink, I know, but there are alternatives to single-use plastic. I recognize that some things are better and safer as plastic like medical equipment. People without clean running water are going to NEED water, and maybe the easiest and safest way to transport that is still plastic BUT, I don’t. You probably don’t. If clean water comes out of your tap when you turn it on, but you’re buying (largely unregulated) water in a trash bottle, you have a problem (also, you’re a little bit ungrateful). If you have a washing machine and dryer/clothes line and you’re still buying paper-towels, you have a problem. If you leave your house every morning to hit up a coffee shop and you can’t be bothered to keep a cup in your bag, shame on you. The most waste doesn’t come from the people who grabbed something on the fly, it’s the people who have an everyday routine of waste.
I am not perfect. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not living that glorious zero-waste life. I try where and when I can to make a better choice. If we ALL did that our footprint would be reduced significantly. I’m telling you the same thing I tell me kids, you don’t have to be perfect but you do have to try your very best.
Let’s change the routine. Let’s lead by example. Captain Planet is our hero, so let’s take our pollution down to zero!
Earth Day is around the corner and I’ll be sharing some of my fave eco-friendlier switches and products throughout the rest of the month! Keep an eye-out.