Recycling and keeping plastic out of the oceans are both crucial things to do – and as a non-swimmer afraid of deep water (to say nothing of the fact I don’t live anywhere near an ocean), the recycling area is where I can have an impact.
I’ve recycled bottles since I was a child – the magic of getting money back from someone else’s discarded bottle or can was magic then, and I’ve never been one to throw those away because it was like throwing money away. On recycling other things, I admit I’m coming late to the party.
Sure, when my kids were growing up – when they would come home from school, extolling the virtues of buying dolphin-friendly tuna, I got on board. But barely. Because buying dolphin-friendly tuna has minimal impact unless you are buying a lot of tuna. Lately, I have been buying more tuna; I’ve switched from cans to foil pouches because the quality and flavor are superior at comparable cost.
Back to recycling – and this is where we boomer-age folks can probably have the most significant impact. I grew up in a small city; we had prescribed burning days by neighborhood – which meant burning your trash in a barrel was OK, as long as you weren’t burning the same day as the next subdivision. There was no fleet of garbage trucks. Everybody did that.
As part of my 2020 plan, recycling is part of that, but my more significant focus is on food quality – what I buy, what I cook, and what I discard. We all discard food and packaging. For more than a decade now, I’ve been harvesting all vegetable cuttings – they go in a bag in my freezer until stock-making day. Packaging has always gone in the trash. Lately, I’ve been recycling paper, plastic, and cans – and I’ve become far more conscious of how much I use. Result, I buy fewer things in cans, packages, and plastic. Stores are focusing us on using fewer (or none) of these single-use plastic bags.
I’ve found, with my focused shopping smarter/healthier at the same time I’ve started recycling, I internally recite this recurring message/mantra with every purchase I make: whatever I buy goes into the atmosphere as emissions (exhaust pipes, chimneys, farts), into me for processing (food, beverages) which is circulated back to a river via plumbing, or into a landfill if it isn’t a consumable. I’ve concluded that this is a double whammy for the environment – each time I don’t buy something, don’t buy packaging, don’t buy something I’ll throw away – I’m saving my environment, becoming healthier and putting my retail spending into more carefully considered purchases. If we all do that, we have a massive impact. Now maybe this equates to a 17yr.- old Swedish girl saying the house is burning – but I don’t think so.
Maybe I’ve been asleep on these issues most of my life; I was raised in an era where these concerns were neither universal nor dire. In one generation, I’ve gone from garbage burner to conservationist – and we all can do that while we are still here. Our children are way ahead of us on these issues – which is not to say they cannot improve too, cannot waste less, etc. and our grandchildren can to so much better in their lives.
The world is moving toward a lower-carbon economy; I’m not convinced we’ll get to zero, or even some concoction of net-zero in our lifetimes, but I know the power to take back our air, land, and water – to return it to healthy and productive essential ingredients in sustaining life as we’ve known it – this is possible. Likely the end result is already assured because people like me recycle and have become more careful. For each person who starts recycling, that’s someone who stops – a net change of the balance by 2; when two people switch, a net change of 4, and so on, and so on …
Not shopping for food when hunger pangs are in full force is a start. Not buying things we don’t absolutely want to use and keep forever is a start. Keeping things working, keeping cars on the road and out of landfills, buying based on need and function more than fashion and trends, living and working smarter, smaller, more efficiently, and consuming less is a start.
Some would say the only way to make the massive change in the world we need right now is by having governments force compliance on corporations, consumers, and taxpayers. They might be right, but given the current political climate, I don’t see ubiquitous progress on those fronts…
We can all start.
Start with dolphin-friendly tuna. Then move on to other easy changes – these are not huge sacrifices in lifestyle, but together we might spend less, waste less, spoil less and live better, more responsible lives. That’s an idea worth spreading.