This article belongs to Just Bee column.
Dirty Bird or Resourceful Mortal? My childhood was filled with wonder and reverence for every sagging fern to every wise old tree. This is because my parents, both city kids, decided to start a family in the country. I had the privilege of growing up within walking distance from a 5,000-acre state park.
My mom, who was also my Girl Scout leader, chaperoned many annual camping trips. Thus, ecology was something I always understood. Under the tutelage of my troop leader and Woodsy the Owl, who preached, "Never be a dirty bird", I learned to tread lightly on the land, leaving no traces of my presence on the city streets or the deepest woods. As I moved towards adolescence, however, it didn't take me long to realize that not every human being felt the same way about this. When hiking through the forest, I had begun to detect traces of other human visitors: cola cans, food waste, abandoned personal items. This made me a simultaneously sad and irate.
How difficult was it for people to take their stuff with them or at least throw it in one of the several rubbish bins throughout the park? I had to do something about it, so I began taking other people's garbage out of the park with me and putting it in its place: the trash can. This is something that I continue to do, today (with the exception of recyclables, of course). During my freshman year of college, I joined a group known as SAFE (Students Acting for the Environment). Our first field trip was to Sandy Hook Beach at the New Jersey shore. Our task was to clean up what had become a 6 mile-long ashtray. On that afternoon, after donning plastic gloves, we picked up thousands of cigarette butts, hundreds of plastic food wrappers, and dozens of soda cans and bottles. Although I felt proud of our efforts that day, I couldn't help feeling sad for all the beaches that may never see such a clean-up.
Would they continue to become piled with waste day after day? And where did all this awful trash come from? Shockingly, it was produced, directed and distributed by the most sophisticated, seemingly reasonable of all the creatures of planet Earth: human beings. While at the top of the food chain, masters of land and sea, blessed with the gifts of knowledge and reason, humans are also garbage-producing fiends. No other creature can brag of this feat. The great poet A.R. Ammons mused in his prize -winning book, Garbage: "garbage is… believable enough to get our attention, getting in the way, piling up, stinking, turning brooks brownish…" In the context of nature, the appalling presence of garbage had always grabbed my attention.
More recently, however, I began to consider all the "invisible" garbage of our world: the mammoth landfills, junkyards where cars go to die, abandoned buildings brimming with discarded human "stuff" such as broken appliances, toys, clothing, bottles, cans and the like. I pondered the ways of the Native Americans; how these people resourcefully used each part of a slaughtered bison, leaving little trace of their presence while exemplifying enormous respect for the earth's land and resources. Sadly, we have strayed quite far from the lessons of our predecessors. Thousands of tons of non-biodegradable waste sit still in each landfill; ineffectual, stagnant, interrupting ecosystems in return. Though many recycling efforts are now underway, I still see people frequently tossing unwanted or broken televisions, couches and computers in the trash.
When I observe this, the old sadness mixed with anger from my youth returns. I'd like to think that some of these people simply do not know any better and are unaware of the various recycling initiatives in their own neighborhoods. If so, here is a brief list of some helpful recycling organizations and projects you can check out and share with others:
The average American gets a new mobile phone every one to two years. Sadly, a majority of the former phones get tossed in the trash, only to pile up in "cell hell". There are many options, however, to giving your cell phone a life after death! Check out this website, sponsored by the EPA for eco-friendly ideas: www.epa.gov/cellphones/
Taking Back the TV
The impending all-digital future of television is prompting many people to ditch their old analog tubes to purchase upgraded models. Disposal of old TV sets will engorge already brimming landfills. You can contribute to the solution to this problem by going to: www.takebackmytv.com.
Determining your Impact
If you are not sure where to begin in your quest to become more resourceful, you may first want to determine the kind of impact your habits actually have on the environment. This will help you make the necessary changes in your lifestyle. Visit this site to play an interactive game that determines your environmental impact based on your day-to-day activities: http://sustainability.publicradio.org/consumerconsequences/
Recycling, as I have discovered through the years, is a complicated matter. Yet it is something we all can all do more of. Garbage that has fallen "out of sight" may have slipped from our minds in the past, but if we practice being more practical, we may think twice before throwing things away in the future. Once we can make a little difference in our homes, then it is possibly to improve our communities and eventually, the planet-at-large.