Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Trash talk

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
-Mahtma Gandhi

According to the Department of Environmental Quality, Oregonians threw away less garbage last year and are recycling more. Hooray! Still, each Oregonian is responsible for a staggering 2,761 pounds of garbage for the year, though, and that just blows my mind. I can say with confidence that we definitely come in well under that mark. Between the three of us, we produce an average of one bag of garbage a week. One bag! Once we get the compost going, we'll be contributing even less. Our success in reducing waste is due largely to a concerted effort to cook at home, rather than eating out, as well as eliminating fancy to-go coffees, using cloth diapers, avoiding both processed and over-packaged foods, and making sure the products we use aren't disposable simply for the sake of convenience.

So proud of our lack of garbage, we started eyeballing our recycling. We realized we were almost filling up our recycling bin every week. You'd think we'd be letting out another big "Hooray!", but we scratched our heads instead and started looking at both what we were recycling and how we could cut back. Reducing and reusing first, and then recycling became our goal. In spite of utilizing reusable cloth grocery bags, we were still ending up with a bunch of plastic bags to recycle. How could it be?! Aaah...produce bags. All those healthy veggies have to make it home somehow (at least until we get the garden in and start growing our own). We've found our solution in the form of reusable mesh produce bags. They are so ridiculously easy to use, I don't know why we didn't do this before. I found ours at the local co-op and they are available all over the place online. They also come in cloth, but, since we're using them at some mainstream grocery stores, I figured the transparent quality of the mesh would make it easier for unsuspecting grocery clerks to do their jobs with ease.

After easily incorporating the produce bags into the line-up, we started making sure we drop off any and all reusable containers at the aforementioned co-op where they sterilize them and put them out for others to use for hauling bulk foods home. We also started looking at our bulk food options a little closer. Rather than just recycling our salsa container, for example, we can take it in and refill it in the bulk department for less than a new tub would cost. Pretty fabulous--less expensive and better for the whole wide world. We get our milk in reusable jugs from the local Lochmead Dairy, so we don't have any milk cartons to deal with. Hand soaps, shampoo, lotions, even condiments and tea--all bought in bulk now, reusing the containers we have.

It seems silly to get so excited about not producing garbage, but it is so very important. Even before there was a wee one in our lives, we made an effort to do right by the planet. It's even more vital now, as we look ahead to see what kind of world she will inherit. For our part, we are doing all we can to make sure it is a clean, safe place for her to live and thrive. The decision to do cloth diapers was a total no-brainer and we haven't looked back since. The beauty is that, while others are almost literally wiping their children's butts with their hard-earned money and then throwing it away, we are tending to our baby's buns with reusable items that can be easily used for at least two or three more generations.

Beyond the diapers, the recycling, the buying in bulk...Mr. Mallard rides his bike to work as often as he can. We don't use paper towels and only use cloth napkins. We're in the process of getting everything together to have solar panels installed. Every appliance in our home, as well as all the windows and light fixtures, are EnergyStar-rated. It doesn't hurt that we live in (well, near) a town that chooses to use more renewable energy than any other city in the nation. Is it our social environment that motivates us to live responsibly or is just common sense?

It's getting harder for me to accept claims of ignorance or convenience as a defense for waste-based lifestyles. There's simply too much education, too much information out there to justify such selfish behavior. How about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It's a floating island of garbage they estimate is twice the size of Texas. Horrifying! Even worse-there's one in the Atlantic, as well.

I'm not saying you should cast off the shackles of The Man and run up to the mountains to start a commune (though I wouldn't be entirely opposed). And I'm certainly not going to claim to be a Saint of any sort when it comes to all things earth-friendly. I'm just saying that most of agree on what's right and there is simply no better time than the present to start doing right. Start small--reusable grocery bags and no more to-go meals--and (maybe) work toward bigger things--net zero impact living and living "off grid". Don't just blindly toss things into the garbage. Challenge yourself a little. Inconvenience yourself a bit and see how quickly your actions become routine. It can be addictive. One change leads to another and, before you know it, you'll be reducing your impact on the planet and feeling like a champ for having done so.

Time to hop off the soapbox and head back to the kitchen. There's a tasty homemade cheesecake cooling on the counter and a recipe for an even tastier cherry topping that's just waiting to be conquered.

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