by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.
Like most people, I was surprised to hear that some big changes were coming to recycling in the Rogue valley. After years of taking most of our recyclable materials, China has decided that it no longer can fill the role of Americas recycling center. It appears that they are awash in tons of our old packaging and containers. What was once a marginally profitable industry has now begun to steadily lose money. I must admit that surprise is not the only thing I experienced: I found myself annoyed, then saddened, then ashamed and ultimately hopeful. I was annoyed that a convenience that I had taken for granted was being taken away. I was saddened to think of all the extra plastic and paper would be going to the landfill. I was ashamed to think how I had become increasingly unconscious of all of the unnecessary packaging that I had accepted as part of life. Finally, I became hopeful that this was the sort of event that bring more awareness to an issue that needs more action and less complacency.
We live in a world that is increasingly inundated by plastic and other waste. I read an article about the “great pacific garbage patch” last week that said there is a collection of plastic in the pacific ocean that is twice the size of Texas…That’s really BIG. Unfortunately the problem is getting worse. We have become so accustomed to buying things that are made of, packaged in, or disposed of in plastic. Many of the places that were pristine just a decade or two ago, are all showing signs of plastic pollution. The stuff just doesn’t break down very quickly. There are many negative consequences to this plastic problem. They pollute the water we drink, leaching synthetic estrogens in the water that have been linked to many different types cancer. They collects in nooks and crannies everyone, making beautiful places ugly. They ensnare animals of all types, killing or maiming birds, turtles and insects. They are making us all sick in so many ways. So, what to do about it?
I believe that the best medicine is consciousness. If we cultivate awareness of a problem it is easier to begin exploring and implementing real solutions. In the case of plastics or other waste, we can all ask ourselves what is the benefit of buying something that has a real and lasting negative impact on the world around us? Is the benefit only that we save a little money or have a little more convenience? If so what would it take to choose another option. For instance the idea of using reusable bags to take our groceries or other items home. So instead of relying on paper or plastic that then has to be thrown away or recycled, you can use a sturdier option. All it takes is getting in the habit and remembering to bring the bag along. My wife and I leave a few bags in the car just in case we need to stop and pick up a few groceries. We also recently looked at all of the packaged goods we buy at the store and are looking at ways that we can reduce the amount of things we purchase in packages. For instance, we love to drink kombucha, but the bottles collect quickly, so we started brewing our own again. It takes a little time in the beginning, but it saves us time and the hassle in disposing/recycling all of those bottles. It also saves us money. Speaking of money, the way we spend our money is another way to help change the amount of waste we create.
When I take the time to consider all of the things I consume, I am always a little shocked to notice all of the choices that I make with my money. Though it seems that we are unable to control so many things in our lives, we have control over what we buy. Companies make choices about what they produce, how they package, and how they market. Consumers make their preferences know to the producers with their purchases. You can see this when you go shopping. Twenty years ago if you went into the supermarket, you would have found few “green” cleaning products or gluten free items. This has changed now as the customer has changed the way they shop. We can all buy things from companies that value the health of the environment as much as profit.
We are all living parts of the web of life on planet earth. The more awareness we bring to the impact our decisions have on our lives, and the lives of those around us, the better health we all get to enjoy for the present day and tomorrow as well.