Thursday, March 11, 2010

What we have.

I want to start this post out by saying that this is NOT me preaching at you, this is me sharing my astonishment and expressing my realizations at how the way I live my life effects the world.

I’m so ashamed. When I actually consider my weekly trash output, I’m so ashamed. I’m someone who has always been, shall we say, ecologically conscious. I remember in the mid-80’s, for instance, long before recycling was touted, much less readily available, and being ecologically minded was PC (long before there was such a thing as PC), I would cart around my empty Coke cans in my bookbag to bring them home to recycle (meaning then later taking them out to a recycling center as home pick-up was unheard of). The last few Christmases I only shopped with reusable bags. Good things. Valuable things. Things I should and will continue. But what about all the trash I was outputting? Recycle or not, why am I using so many things for no more than a few minutes and trashing them?

By now some of you might be wondering what I’m on, as in what I’ve been ingesting mentally. You would be right to assume there was something. In a round about way, an online girlfriend opened up my world. It was a simple link posted on Facebook. A movie review, actually, and one that was just so-so. But she recommended a website, and as she is someone I admire and whose opinion I value, I checked it out.

No Impact Man. Heard of him? He’s that weirdo in New York City who tried to live, along with an 18 month old daughter and his reluctant wife, with no environmental impact for a full year. I was interested in practical ways I could live a more ecologically friendly life – simple things like when I made the resolution at the beginning of the year to only ever use recycle bags, otherwise I must carry the items without anything or simply not get them. Extreme? Perhaps. (Or at least to some.) But, though I’ve been far more ecologically sound than most of those in my neighborhood, I’d never taken that real step of making it an absolute. So far it’s been incredibly easy to live by. But I digress.

Through this simple post by a girlfriend, I discovered many things. One of the most impacting was the short video call “The Story of Stuff.” Wow. I mean, WOW. It really makes you think about what you buy… and even why you buy it. Even more, it opens your eyes to SO MUCH about the process of making, about how we became a consumer society, and so much more. Beyond that video, I discovered other products and possibilities as to change and how I can conserve.

But most of all, and especially after hunting down a copy of the book No Impact Man, I found out just how much waste I am putting out there every day. It’s astounding. I, for instance, had only recently started using handkerchiefs now and then, more as a novelty and a convenience in cold weather. But when I realized that the thousands and thousands of tissues I still use and translate that into trees, I was floored. How about paper towels? It’s so easy to pick up a rag for the dirty jobs and a dishtowel for the drying jobs that might cause me to normally reach for a paper towel.

But then one of the resources pointed out feminine hygiene products. Um. Yeah. Not getting into too much detail here, boys, but I must say I was astounded that there WERE these options. How come I’d never heard of them before now? I’m THRILLED not to have to ever worry about running out. I’m psyched that will not have to spend all that money yearly on products – ever again. For the lifestyle of living abroad and travel which I’m working toward, knowing that wherever I am what I need will be available by the mere fact that I have all I need always with me is revolutionary. And, then also it’s great knowing that I’ll never, ever again add that kind of waste to the environment. (Never mind that I won’t be putting bleached and not toxin free – none are, nor are such things regulated – paper-based wads inside me.) Girls if you are curious to know what I’m talking about, check out DivaCups and LunaPads. Mine are on their way!

So far I’m about a third of the way through the book, and I’ve not yet gotten to the big changes he (they) made. Like TP alternatives. Like only food produced within a certain distance from them. Like… well I don’t know as I’ve not gotten to that yet! But what I do know is that all my take-out waste is absurd; that when I ate at that restaurant last night, it would have been easy enough to have a cloth napkin in my bag so as not to waste the paper; that cutting back – especially my trash output – actually isn’t hard at all.

Most of all, what I’m realizing is that my grandparents had the right idea. Okay, my grandmother was a hoarder in many ways – not like those horrendous shows you see on TV with all the filth, but in the never-throwing-things-away sort of scenario. We cousins still joke about the Styrofoam platter that had the duct tape down the middle, which was used ever time we visited. The water used to rinse our plates had to be taken out and used to water the plants outside in the Nebraska heat. That idea of “waste not, want not…” the idea of being grateful for what you do have, these are good tenants to live by.

[Those positive psychologist have] discovered that happy people spend a lot of time being grateful for what they have and savoring their experience. They don’t rush through “now” to get to later. They don’t make taking care of themselves or their families something they have to get over with so they can get to the good stuff. Instead, they insist that this moment, whatever it is, is the good stuff. – Colin Beavan, No Impact Man

So their idea then, my grandparents and their generation, was that if we treat what resources we have as precious, we understand how this life is precious, too. We have less “need” for things because we are so full up with blessings for what we have in front of us. If that’s archaic thinking, bring on the Ben Gay and Metamucil.

(No offense, gang... but could YOU resist this picture??)


Courtney said...

I love it. I am still not on the bus with the fem. hyg. products (which I should be because the current models are gross and harmful), but otherwise, I think everything you say is SO true. Which is why, even though I am a definite close horse, I try to keep recycling clothes in and out of my house from Goodwill. Sure it takes some hunting, but think of all the clothes we literally trash (or buy new and then donate as we tire of them). Which is why a huge portion of the Gulf of Mexico is dead. I mean DEAD. To all forms of life even bacteria. And not from big bad petroleum, but from pesticides used on cotton. And one silly little Eddie Bauer T-shirt equals something like 20 pounds of that stuff. So here is to all of us finding our own ways to start living with less and less impact on the environment. Great post WP!! (Can I borrow No Impact Man when you are done? I could buy it, but I hear a tree in Argentina begging me to stop).

Courtney said...

Close? I meant clothes. Does no impact mean no assistant to correct me when I am an idiot?

gbpackergirl76 said...

I completely agree with you. We have SO MUCH stuff, and we can't take it with us when we go. I never use paper towels (old t-shirts make great rags), need to start using hankies, shop at thrift stores instead of buying new. It's all little steps, and I am so glad to see how great it is catching on with everyone. Reduce, reuse, and recycle!