Friday, April 23, 2010

The Day After Earth Day

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day and much was said about it in the news. I deliberately watched part of Oprah, something that I don't normally do.

The sight of the Pacific Garbage Gyre was ghastly and disgusting. I have been recycling for years, sometimes grudgingly, I admit, because of the time that it takes to sort everything into separate bags and bins. Sometimes, I am tempted to just pitch it. Lately I have been more careful. The clutter that it makes in the house to have more sorting stations is one my annoyances with recycling. (Not that my house is pristine, in any case.) I think I will learn to live with the annoyance.

I have resisted reusing plastic bags until this year, figuring that it uses water and soap to wash them. I do re-use one bag for dry things over and over until the crumbs get too crumby or there is too much build-up of flour or almond meal or whatever I am putting in its "store" bag into my zippered bag. Switching to cloth bags would not work well, since the contents would not be visible. Switching to hard containers might help but they would be more awkward to handle.

This winter I have saved my plastic bags and now that the weather is warming a bit, I am washing and drying them. Trying to swish the soapy water from one to the next to conserve it is messy, but somehow satisfying. Turning the bag inside out to rinse the interior takes less water--and time--than filling and pouring, especially when I remember to turn the faucet off while I turn. So perhaps it doesn't waste too much water.

I started saving the bags because of the cost. Now I will think of the Garbage Gyres--all five of them, the one I knew about and the other four as I do so. I do think that the problem isn't just re-use and recycle, though. I think it is more fundamental than that.

We need to pick up after ourselves. Dispose of things properly instead of just casting them aside. (I suppose that is recycling, really.) Plastic bottles and bags didn't exist when I was a child. They can be re-used and then recycled to make other things.

That was part of Earth Day coverage too. The things made with plastic bottles. A boat named "Plastiki"; a school in Guatamala. Knitters have used strips of plastic bags for knitting sturdy totes for sometime, although that was not mentioned. I love the fleece fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles. Turning trash into treasure.

We also do need to use less. According to World News last night Americans are consuming less than we did forty years ago. About fifty percent less. But is that because of recycling or merely a result of the recession?

A few years ago, I was pretty cynical about Earth Day, "green solutions" because it seemed as though new companies were simply being started to make the same items that we probably need to use less only out of "green" materials and manufacturing processes.

What if we went back to using thermoses for our coffee and tea? Brought our sandwiches from home in wax paper or re-usable containers, ate in sit down restaurants with re-usable instead of disposable plates and utensils? Turning the clock back to the fifties, I guess, and that is not possible.

While I still refuse to subscribe to the pseudo-religious aspects of recycling, I will grumble less, organize a little more and think of that whale that was beached--dead with plastic items and a golf ball in it's stomach. Not a very good diet for any creature on our small planet.

I am grateful for ways to make my imprint on our planet lighter. Stewardship of the earth is, after all, a way to practice the virtue of humility and any practice of virtue is a good thing.

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