Thursday, April 22nd, is Earth Day. Sadly I know many people who scoff at Earth Day; who bristle at the idea of their children’s teachers talking to them about environmentalism; people who think reducing waste and recycling is a silly waste of time. Their reasoning?
They don’t believe in climate change.
Pardon me, but that is an entirely illogical justification. Don’t believe in climate change? Fine. I happen to disagree with your interpretation of scientific data, but whatever. For the sake of argument, let’s just say you’re right and climate change is a bunch of bullshit thought up by Al Gore and a bunch of conspiring scientists. Okay. Now explain to me how that excuses you from your obligation to act responsibly with regards to your consumption of resources and resulting waste. Your disbelief that the global climate is changing does very little to obliterate the literal mounds of evidence that humans are wreaking havoc on the environment.
Take, for example, the gray whale that died at Arroyo Beach in West Seattle last week. An examination of the whale found “more than 50 gallons of largely undigested stomach contents consisting mostly of algae but also a surprising amount of human debris including more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape, and a golf ball.”
Do sweat pants in a whale’s belly need to cause the global temperature to rise in order for you to feel alarmed? Are you so entrenched in your opposition to the very idea of climate change that you can’t see the myriad other reasons to reduce waste and tread a little more gently on the earth? Reasons like, I dunno, SWEAT PANTS INSIDE A WHALE’S BELLY perhaps?
Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste each year and recycle only 1-2% of it. (That plastic, as you know, is made from oil, a limited resource.) An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash is dumped in the world’s oceans every year. Thanks to our throw-away culture we’ve inadvertently created the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating “island” of mostly plastic debris reputed to be roughly the size of Texas.
We are an exceedingly wasteful people, and our feigned blissful ignorance of the mess we’re making is irresponsible, disrespectful, lazy and, quite frankly, dumb. If everyone in America simply separated the paper, plastic, glass and aluminum products from the trash and tossed them into a recycling bin, we could decrease the amount of waste sent to landfills by 75 percent.
That’s just recycling. Imagine what we could do if we went a step further. Because, while recycling is great and all, it’s not a perfect solution. Recycling takes a fair amount of resources too and many things can only be “downcycled.” Take those plastic water bottles, for example. They’re downcycled into lower grade plastics, which doesn’t curb the demand for new plastic for new disposable water bottles.
Imagine if, instead, we followed that much repeated recycling mantra: “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” It’s simple, really. Step One: Reduce your consumption of new “stuff.” Instead of buying case after case of disposable plastic water bottles, purchase one or two reusable vessels and you’ve suddenly found yourself at Step Two: Reuse the stuff you already own. And then, when that stuff has finally outlived it’s usefulness, then recycle.
It’s really not that hard, I promise. Buy second hand when possible. Use reusable cloth napkins instead of disposable paper ones. Pack your lunch in a reusable lunch bag instead of a paper one. Use glass storage containers instead of plastic baggies; canvas totes instead of plastic or paper grocery bags. Use the same tea bag for multiple cups of tea. Save pretty paper and ribbons to reuse as gift wrap, just like your favorite grandma used to do. The list could go on and on, and the best part is, most of these little changes take virtually no more effort on your part.
The fact is, humans (Americans, in particular) are behaving like greedy house guests in the home of Mother Nature, taking more than our share of the bountiful dinner she provides, and then insisting on taking the few remaining leftovers home with us. We leave our trash on her front lawn, burp toxins into her central heating an cooling system, and finish off by taking a colossal shit in her swimming pool.
So while I encourage all of us to consider every day to be Earth Day, one day is a good start. Even if you don’t believe in climate change.