It’s been 44 years since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 and millions of people have been taught to protect our environment. Despite this, pollution and disregard of the planet has reached a truly disturbing level.
During an interesting but challenging moment in my life about 15 years ago, I temporarily moved from San Diego to Boston. The culture shock was stunning, but the biggest impact the cultural differences made on me was Boston’s lack of recycling. In a town full to the brim with educated people there was a complete disinterest in the concept of separating trash. This meant that I, too, was tossing paper, bottles, or anything recyclable right into the waste bin where it would head to an already crowded landfill. It hurt to do it.
Recently I met someone from Boston who told me they still don’t do curbside recycling! Is it true? Unbelievable! I did a little research and found that, yep, it’s still true. However, environmental advocates are on it and you can read about it in The Boston Globe.
We’re all aware by now that our waterways are filthy. Marine and other wildlife life suffocate on our trash. There remains little respect for the earth, a disregard for the sanctity of nature, and a lack of concern for the health and wellness of living creatures. Yet, the most conscientious find it nearly impossible to have no negative impact on the environment. There is the ubiquitous use of plastics we can’t seem to avoid. Even the gentlest of souls among us are hard-pressed to live without contributing to our collective plight.
I believe one solution is for each of us to take personal interest in cleaning up our sphere. In my region we load up our recycle bins with any and all paper, glass, metal, and plastic. All of nature’s scraps go in the yard waste bin. Home composting is encouraged. This leaves very little trash in the actual trash bins.
Aside from stepping gently on the earth and raising our own awareness, here are some practical ways we can do more:
- When traveling, visiting a park, getting on a boat or an airplane, we can manage our trash. Pack it out for later recycling or don’t create any. If you live in an area that doesn’t recycle, complain loudly to your town officials.
- Rethink grocery shopping. Purchase food that isn’t prepackaged. For the omnivores, you can get meat, fish, and chicken wrapped in paper. If you’re at the meat counter, tell them to skip plastic bags. Paper is fine for wrapping meats. And if you’re in a regular grocery store, avoid purchasing items that come on polystyrene (Styrofoam) trays. Polystyrene leaches toxic chemicals into your food and beverages.
As an aside, the manufacturing of polystyrene creates hazardous waste and affects the health of those exposed. It is made with non-sustainable petroleum, harms the ozone layer, and is dumped or blown into our streets and waterways as litter where living creatures ingest it and die. Polystyrene is not accepted by most recycling agencies. It doesn’t break down. It’s not necessary to ever use it.
Fortunately, through the help of organizations like Save Our Shores, my coastal California county has banned the use of Styrofoam as well as plastic bags. We carry our own reusable bags into stores. Recyclable paper products are used in place of that old nasty Styrofoam.
I was recently in Palm Desert and bought freshly made take-out food that, to my surprise, was handed to me in Styrofoam. I’m so used to not seeing it anymore I didn’t want to touch it! Palm Desert is still using plastic bags also. I look forward to the time when all of California bans this toxic habit.
- If you buy six-packs of cans or bottles held together by plastic, please cut or tear apart the plastic. Never take one of these onto a boat or leave one lying around. They end up in the streets and the earth’s waters where they suffocate birds and sea animals, including dolphins.
- Plastic containers are polluters. Yogurt, for example, can be bought in a large container and put into smaller reusable containers for transport to work or school. You can replace all types of cleaning products (and reduce the use of plastic bottles) by refilling the same bottle with simple vinegar and water. With a little research you’ll discover many ways to use vinegar (and baking soda) for most of your household cleaning, including clogged drains.
- Recycle plastic bottles and tubes that hold your personal care products. Bring your own cup for take-out coffee or tea. Take water from home in a sustainable, non-plastic water bottle. Bring your lunch from home or eat where take-out packaging is compostable or recyclable. Use only compostable doggy clean-up bags. Be mindful of plastic toy purchases for both humans and animals.
Meanwhile, on this new Earth Day for 2014, I’m planning a new compost pile in the yard with an enclosure. My last pile flourished and I spread its rich dark soil around all the plants and trees near my house, but my dog wouldn’t stop using it as his personal round-the-clock snack bar. I’ll continue to cut back on plastic in every way possible and reduce my trash, now and throughout the year. What will you do?