Things I’ve learned so far:
1) There are always better alternatives…..you just have to try a little harder to use them. My wife and I have been pretty good about avoiding products that can’t be recycled, but even then there are certain things like styrofoam that are still pervasive in packaging and still found hanging around pots of coffee. Can we completely live without styrofoam? Maybe – I’m struggling with finding a cost-effective product with the same insular properties that could be used to maintain cold-chains for vaccine deliveries or transporting organs for transplants. Could a corn-based product be developed instead?
2) Before reaching for a paper towel to clean-up a mess (which I am very guilty of!), grab a cloth towel. I think this experiment has definitely helped to curb my habitat of squeezing too much of the Charmin.
3) Compost is black gold.
4) When you start counting your waste you will suddenly realize how much plastic we use! Seriously, I’m shocked by how plastics are defining our culture. I remember when I was in Thies, Senegal, my host brother lamented the slow drowning of the city in plastic bags. Those who have visited know how plastic bags drift around like tumbleweed, clogging the street drains and transforming deciduous trees into “evergreens” of various shades of gray, white, and blue when the occasional breeze scatters the bags into the sky like a flock of birds. As my Senegalese brother explained to me, plastic bags replaced traditional ways of packaging food and commodities. Market vendors who wrapped food in paper or banana leaves, now give it to customers in plastic bags. Unfortunately customers were accustomed to tossing the paper or banana leaf on the ground and continued the practice with the plastic bags. Of course paper and organic materials breakdown a lot quicker, unlike their tenacious plastic counterparts. We’re really no different in our own country, but since we have regular trash pick-up and recycling programs we’re not cognizant of the large communal plastic dust bunnies we create by accepting the idea of “one time use” plastics. Whether we recycle or not, we’re still essentially just unwrapping what we just bought from the market vendor and tossing the plastic bag on the ground.
SO what am I saying? I guess I’m learning again that “trash” production (specifically the things we can’t compost, recycle, or reuse) is driven as much by individual consumers as it is by the companies that produce the products and packaging that end up in landfills and along neglected highway exit ramp islands – that little triangular piece of no man’s land surrounded by highway, overpass, and off-ramp. It’s easy to point the finger at the companies that produce the plastic products, but we do have a choice. And perhaps a choice at the cash register is more powerful than the choice we make at the polling station.
Uh-oh…..I’m starting to sound a little preachy. Better start practicing. I still need to do a little research on the trash I’ve produced so far.