Refusing the Refuse

Refusing the Refuse

Week 2 was a little easier than week one because I was not travelling or eating at fast food places. The week started out great and then got more difficult as I got busier. I used three plastic disposable cups, but no plastic cutlery, mini moos or anything like that. I specifically asked not to be brought straws. I had my own water bottle and coffee cup so did not need to use disposables when I was at a meeting. I was horrified, however, to learn that a large and reputable co-working venue had no recycling! I ended up taking piles of flip chart paper home to recycle because I couldn’t stand for it to be thrown away. But my heart was heavy knowing that everyday, people are using paper, cups and bottles and just tossing them. The lack of of recycling is very much on my mind. A family member just moved into an apartment and there is no recycling in the entire complex!

I turned my attention this week to my home convenience food. We buy a lot of products from Trader Joes and Kroger. There is a lot of room for improvement here but I am not sure how to approach it. Most everything is packaged in plastic. I never buy their – or anyone else’s – plastic-packaged vegetables. I shop at places where I can buy unwrapped cucumbers, broccoli etc. but the entrees and snacks in commercial venues are what’s tough. Frozen fish, frozen tamales – actually – most anything frozen is wrapped in plastic. I found out that you can’t recycle these kinds of wrappings because: “Many of these bags may contain a barrier polymer or other additives that is not the polyethylene (#’s 2 and 4) plastic that recyclers want. These polymer barriers help protect the food and extend shelf life but recyclers consider them to be a contaminant in the recycling bin.” (more FAQs about recycling here.) And here’s a thought for you: Over one billion plastic bags are used around the world and only 3% are recycled. (Georgia Recycling Coalition)

I also researched glass because there is a lot of variety in who takes glass. It used to be that glass was always preferable to plastic but with better plastic recycling and reduced glass recycling, I wasn’t so sure. In general: glass can be recycled again and again into glass but it is heavier, takes more energy to transport and comes with more breakage and damage and has a low return on investment because it is  subject to waste and contamination due to breakage and mixing of different kinds of glass. The most effective glass recycling is one that separates out colors and types. It is not toxic in landfills but is inert and thus doesn’t decompose.

Plastic is hard on the environment to produce, is only ever “downcycled” into other products – not turned back into plastics. It is toxic in landfills. Some sources say that it is actually more environmentally friendly to use plastic than glass but not surprisingly, that information comes from the plastics council. All the environmental science points to toxicity in landfills and oceans. It may be that if there was universal recycling, plastic may be a better option but until then, it’s better to reduce use whenever possible. It’s kind of like nuclear energy – it may produce good energy but the cost of use and impact is way too high!

This being the connected world, there are already people doing the hard work of compiling tips for a plastic-free life. Check out Beth Terry’s blog. Starting Saturday I will do the plastic challenge and share the results. I’m also officially participating in Plastic Free July – care to join me?

None of this is easy and I have to figure out where my lines are and what my family is willing to participate in. I do know that for me, it’s not enough to simply carry a coffee cup and not use plastic bags. I have to take it deeper than that and yet still be able to function in society. Like confronting and dismantling systemic racism, there are small steps and big steps.

 

 

 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I have set an experiment to see if it is possible to reduce the amount of plastic in my daily life for the month of June. I want to increase my own awareness around my general consumption, the amount of disposable items and the amount of overall plastic use in my life.  My goal is to not buy anything that’s not comestible or consumable and to have an overall emphasis on reducing extraneous waste.

My goals:

  • Not buy anything that isn’t consumable (household and hygiene items only,) comestible (food) or an experience ( haircut, concert)
  • Reduce the amount of plastic that moves across my hands
  • Not buy anything in packaging that can not be recycled
  • Not use disposable items (cups, bottles etc)

Who I am:

  • Working mother of two sons
  • I live in urban Atlanta
  • As a family, we are busy and often on-the-go
  • I am not a “back-to-the Earth foodie” though I buy local and eat organic as much as possible
  • Though we often eat at home, we eat a lot of simple or prepared foods

Week 1 – June 1-6

Didn’t buy a card for a friend of mine! Made one instead.

IMG_20170601_215402

Did end up buying dinner on day 1! We walked to our local market (all local produce and organic meat) and bought dinner to go. Ugh – right off the bat – there’s plastic! It’s all recyclable but I bought it without even thinking about it!

Dinner box Day 1

As I walked home, feeling chagrined about my plastic dinner container, I realized I had not yet set my parameters and, as my partner said, it’s not about being “perfect.” It’s about increasing awareness day to day.

I live in a household of 4 people, 2 of whom are teenagers and this is my experiment. Though I refused a plastic bag for my dinner, they had just accepted the plastic bag without thinking about it. So we talked about it. It’s a start.

 

Six days in, my greatest take away is the lack of choice we have in our plastic consumption. I traveled over the weekend and being on the road makes it nearly impossible to be in control of ones own plastic consumption.

 

Trash (1)

 

Friday night I was hosted for a community dinner and everything was served on plastic. At this point, I am not carrying my own plate and cutlery so, if I want to eat, I accept the plastic. As we blessed the wine and food, I added an additional prayer to be able to gracefully manage the heightened awareness and pain that this experiment entails.

Saturday my beloved went out into the early morning and brought me back coffee in a paper cup – I don’t have a way to recycle it and I have no idea where the cup is going to end up. At breakfast, the server brought me a lovely cup of coffee in a mug and a bowl of “mini moos.” I asked her if she had creamer not in plastic  so she brought me not one but two little silver carafes of cream. All of that cream ended up going to waste. Which would have been better – the plastic or throwing away a 1/4 cup of cream?

Friends

Saturday afternoon I gathered with friends at a restaurant on the beach. Food came out on real plates but every drink was served in a plastic cup with a straw.  I noticed that the table next to us had water in regular reusable cups but for some reason all of ours were disposable plastic. We each had water and a cocktail – that’s 10 plastic cups and 10 straws. This is when I recognized the lack of choice. Straws are given automatically and are often not wrapped in paper so when they’re brought out, even if I don’t use one, it’s adding to the trash because it can’t be given to someone else. It didn’t occur to me to ask for a drink in a real cup.

The rest of the journey was variation on the prior experiences – plastic cups on the boat ride, mini moos for coffee, carry out food on plastic. I was grateful to get home and be able to have two full days of complete control.

Choice is the main take away for this week – it’s always been easy to reject plastic bags and to carry my own water bottle – I have been doing that so long that’s it’s second nature. Knowing what to anticipate (straws, mini moos, disposable cups at restaurants!) I can at least now be on the look out for these opportunities. But if you are not cooking at home or eating at sit-down restaurants, your ability to control the amount of disposable plastic is limited. Yes, much of it is recyclable and but most of it is not being recycled.

Moving forward, I am going to be that girl with cutlery, a reusable travel mug, water bottle and reusable bag all tucked into my purse.  I hope I have one big enough because I’m not buying a new one this month!

 

It’s OK. I’m breathing.

It’s OK. I’m breathing.

Anyone alive today is the child of those who survived, and thus survival is in our DNA. Someone, somewhere, kept walking when they could have stopped. Maybe someone reached a hand out to keep them going. Maybe they marshaled their inner reserves to keep going. However they did it,  they walked on.

I lost hope in this country and have been feeling exhausted by our current situation. It’s not that I ever believed this country was without its deep flaws or didn’t recognize that it was built on oppression of others; it’s just that I thought (hoped) for a while that maybe we were finally realizing the potential for this democratic experiment and for a system that cared for the planet and its inhabitants. And then the election happened and all my hope went out the door.

In looking for hope or ways to cope, I started thinking about my own personal resiliency. Resiliency is keeping on when everything is arrayed against you.  I have never been in the worst of the worst for which I am so very grateful. But just living as an aware and engaged person in this society brings up its own need for coping in the ongoing acts of  working for change. Since the election and all the concomitant threats being arrayed against those whom I love, including the planet itself, I, like many others, have looked for and been part of creating the resistance. And it’s amazing. Far from being a small lone flower in the crack in the sidewalk – we are a massive garden in the middle of a concrete jungle! Millions of people are standing up, writing their elected officials and coming together for support and inspiration. New generations are taking to the streets. Eyes are focused on local elections and there is a demanding of accountability to our purported democratic processes.

But these actions haven’t been enough for me to shed my sense of loss, of my despair at a dying planet and troubled nation. I feel I have been moving in a fog of cynicism and despair, devoid of hope. My only prayer has been that people turn away from fear and greed towards loving one another and this beautiful Earth. I have had trouble moving beyond my sadness at the state of the world and the inadequacy of my actions.

So I started thinking about resiliency and the role of resiliency in my own life. I have been so fortunate to have not known despair and trauma; to have had it pretty easy even in my ability to choose to live a more alternative life style in my younger years and follow my passions for working for a better world and being in service to those ideals. And I always had hope that things were getting better – even when Reagan and Bush were elected, even when we went to war (again), even with the anti-abortion backlash in the 80’s, even with the rise of the tea party, I believed that society was moving towards each other, towards caring for each other and the planet.

Now I’m not so sure. My commitment and my actions do not waver but my lack of hope is bringing despair. Our beautiful ocean is choked with plastic, beaches are uninhabitable, water is undrinkable, the air is fouled and people are killing each other in greater numbers it seems than ever before. And these realities combined with our current political situation have me existing on the brink of despair. Where is the recognition of our shared humanity? Where is the recognition that all the jobs and improving economies of the world aren’t worth squat if our environment is so fouled as to be uninhabitable, if some people’s success is built on the backs of others?

So resiliency. All of these questions bring me back to resiliency and to how we are all children of survivors. Of people who kept going day by day even in some of the worst of times. My Irish and Hungarian ancestors fled to the US in search of a better life. My Jewish people kept going in the face of persistent persecution and oppression. I often wonder if I would have been one who survived. But I am determined to move forward. To continually look for the good and renew some modicum of hope – to move beyond just anger at the sad state of the world.

I inadvertently bumped into a woman the other day. When I apologized, she said. “It’s OK. I’m breathing.”

“It’s OK. I’m breathing.” Simple. Profound. To wake up every morning still breathing. Rising to live another day, come what will. My tradition invites us to start each day by saying Modeh ani lefanecha ruach chai vekayam. It means, essentially, “Thank God I’m alive and there is breath in my soul! Her words just reminded me that when it all comes down to it, that is reason enough. To just wake up to fight, to live, to love another day.

And then Shavuot happened. Shavuot commemorates the spring festival and the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai. It is a gathering of celebrating and learning. We gathered to explore the path of pursuing justice and in coming together, we renewed our spirits. We talked and sang about tending our own sacred internal fires and the role of community coming together to build this world from love – Olam chesed yibaneh. And I feel renewed. And grateful. All the desperate action of doing in the world is not enough if there is not a cultivation of the being. Through tending my own internal fire, I am able to rekindle my hope.

There are so many words of comfort and inspiration:

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Mishna 2:21)”

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
― Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”
― Elizabeth Edwards

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
― Maya Angelou

I assemble these words, these songs, these prayers and I weave a tapestry of comfort. I call on the all those who came before me to be strong within my blood. I reach my hand to the one next to me and we walk on together. Walk on. Walk on.