Nobody’s Environmentally Perfect

On Saturday, our friend Diane came over for lunch, and Clif made his tasty pizza. As a hostess present, Diane brought a jar of her delectable applesauce, made from old-timey apples from an orchard in southern Maine. Those apples are so sweet and so good that the sauce doesn’t need any sugar. What a treat!

Mainers are of the opinion that almost anything goes with applesauce—I think it’s because not so long ago, fresh fruit was not easy to get in the winter in this northern state. However, we draw the line when it comes to eating applesauce with  pizza. Instead I made a salad and a homemade vinaigrette. But that night with a supper of egg and toast, we broke into our jar of apple sauce.

After lunch, we settled into the living room, and our talked ranged from politics to the environment. Diane is as keen about green living as we are, and at one time she lived in a solar home on a dirt road in a town so small that it makes Winthrop look big.

So I look to her for green advice. While Clif and I have made good progress with the trash we produce—we’ve cut the amount in half—there are things we still struggle with. One of them is Ziploc bags. We wash and mend them, but eventually there are so many holes in the bags that we must throw them away. And there they are in the landfill for a long, long time.

Slowly, we’re weaning ourselves from Ziplocs. We use jars for leftovers, both in the refrigerator and in the freezer. If we buy rolls or bread—mostly I make my own—we save those wrappers to be reused. But we haven’t quite made the break from  those darned Ziplocs.

I explained this all to Diane, and she said patiently, “Nobody’s environmentally perfect. The important thing is to do the best you can with the resources you have.”

Wise words. As I’ve written before, Clif and I live on a budget as big as a minute, which means we can’t buy as much local and organic food as we would like. But we buy as much as we can afford, and I cook most of our food from scratch.

Both Clif and I are conscious about what we use and what we discard. Because we are Mainers, this is not that hard for us. We were both brought up to keep things until they were so worn that, really, nobody else would want them.

Then, today in Treehugger, I read a piece by Sami Grover that questioned how much difference personal responsibility makes when it comes to tackling climate change. Grover writes, “In a world where unsustainable choices are the default option, where fossil fuels are excessively subsidized, and where environmental costs are not borne by those responsible for the damage, living a truly sustainable life means swimming upstream.”

Even though I like to think that Clif and I are making a difference by living as lightly as we can, in fact we are just two tiny fish “swimming upstream.” Until the system changes, it will indeed be very difficult to turn the tide of global warming. (Thought I’d stick with the water metaphor.)

Nevertheless, Clif and I try to live ever lighter. Somehow we just can’t go back to our old ways when we produced four or five bags of trash a week. A week! Most of it was household garbage—paper, plastic, boxes, food scraps. While we might not be environmentally perfect and perhaps never will be, we have made progress, which gives me hope.

Readers, do you have any thoughts about this?

 

 

62 thoughts on “Nobody’s Environmentally Perfect”

  1. Last night we went to a town hall meeting with one of our federal senators, Ed Markey, who (along with Ocasio-Cortez), introduced the Green New Deal bill into Congress. It is the first bill directly targeting climate change, so it gives me some hope that it is finally being addressed at that level. The process will be long, at least a couple years out. He also said that CC has made it to top three items in the first five caucuses. About time!

      1. Awhile back, you recommended the sequel to the movie an “Inconvenient Truth.” Clif and I finally watched it last night, and how moved we were by it. Despite the setbacks and heartbreaks, Al Gore doesn’t give up. Onward he goes, even though he has been mocked and reviled. In my books, that makes him a hero. Stupid country for choosing Bush over Gore. And shame on the Supreme Court. There! Enough ranting. Thank you for recommending this fine doc.

      2. Glad you enjoyed it, it gave me a bit of hope. Now if the country would get behind a ‘going to the moon’ project to cut emissions and develop clean energy that would be wonderful.

  2. Hi. I always bring cloth shopping bags with me when I go to supermarkets. I’ve used the same bags for quite a few years. If everyone did this, vast number of plastic bags wouldn’t be used. I could go on and on about ecology/environmentalism, but I think I’ll stop here. Bye till next time.

    Neil

  3. I use cloth bags too and sting bags for veges when I can, and also reuse Ziploc bags, but it is hard to find a substitute for tubes of toothpaste and so many plastic things we don’t think about (credit cards for example), I think we can all do out little bit.

  4. As you know, we’re working on it too! We are down to 3/4 bag of trash and one of recyclables. But those baggies are hard to do without for us too. And does anyone have a way to recycle used kitty litter?

  5. We also use Ziploc bags, but reuse and reuse and mend too. We save a lot of jars, too.

    I use DryDen or EZ-Equine compressed wood pellets for cat litter, remove the poop and use the sawdust left over for flower bed mulch where I can. It’s great for discouraging mice, gophers and voles.

    1. Thanks, Lavinia, for the tip about cat litter. Another post is brewing because of all the wonderful response I’ve received. I’ll be sure to include your tip if I write it.

  6. I don’t think that the argument that doing your bit makes so little difference that it’s not worth is makes any sense. It is only by taking personal responsibility that we will also start to put pressure on society/corporations and governments. Whenever I feel gloomy about this, I remember the wise words of John Taylor:
    “I work as a Climate Change Advisor in Suffolk, UK. It fascinates me how people react to documentaries and films on climate change, and what motivates people to act. I’ve seen a lot of messages saying that it is all too much and it makes them depressed. Something that helped me was an analogy I first heard from Systems and Feedback Thinker, David Wasdell. The point he made and that I want to emphasise is this. How we define a problem determines how we react to it. Climate change, we are told is a BIG problem. A favourite analogy among politicians and commenters is that it is like an oil tanker. It is a vast problem with it’s own inertia and a long turning circle. The trouble is, this image creates a psychological disconnect when it comes to individual action. How is me changing a light bulb going to turn this ship around?
    But this is not how I see climate change. For me, it is like a murmuration of starlings. It looks big, but look closer and you will see it is really made up of thousands and thousands of smaller individual actions and choices. It is how I heat my house, the type of car you drive, the air conditioning in that office on my street, on everyone’s street. There is no single control room driving this ship, Climate Change is an emergent property of all our individual actions.
    And compared to an oil tanker, change in a flock is agile and swift. Yes, please care about the bigger picture, but if you act in the areas that you directly influence, you have the power to be the bird that turns. So do something in your life today, and be proud and tell people about it. The birds around you will see and follow suit, and soon that change will ripple through out the whole flock. If you think of climate change like this, a global response can begin with you.”

    1. Thank you so much for the thoughtful response. Wonderful, wonderful quotation by John Taylor. As I have mentioned in response to another comment, I might have to write a follow-up post.

  7. This is a very sensible article, setting useful targets. Our biggest problem over here is that there is no consistency on what is recyclable – it all depends on the market forces determining whether the local Councils can sell the stuff.

    1. To some extent that is true here, too, when it comes to recycling. Now that China and India aren’t taking our trash, what we can recycle has become more limited. Don’t blame that at all. For Heaven’s sake, we should be recycling our own trash.

  8. I do think individuals and communities can make a difference. I noticed the students in the schools where I taught towards the end of my career were much more aware of the environment and taking care with waste…every bit helps.

  9. One of my blog pals makes the case that “one plus one plus 50 makes a million”–I think that’s the attitude we should take about being little fishies swimming upstream. We can be a big school of fish, and teach the world some lessons!

  10. Very good and thought provoking post, thank you. Humans and their waste, what a huge problem. Everyone has to do their bit, and as thers have aid, every little bit counts. We recycle everything we can, and more and moer I refuse to buy things that include a lot of packaging; grow as much asmpossible, purchase bulk items or loose, unwrapped grocery or hardware items. Often i will remove the bulky packaging from items and leave it behind in the stoer from whence it came. If everyone did this, perhaps the stores would tell their suppliers to lose the packaging. I do wonder where our recycling ends up, especially now that China and India are no longer accepting other country’s so-called recycling. I always wondered here it ended up once it got to those countries, and suspect it was into the nearest landfill site or river, or oceanic bodynof water…..who knows? The best thing is to consume less altogether of course. As for those zip lock bags….we re-use ours over and over again and then recycle them. What I would like to be able to remember is, what did we do before plastic? I know that a lot of grocery items, for example, that we take for granted now, simply did not exist when i was a kid growing up in the 60’s. All this plastic waste that we are drowning in has been created in the past 50 years or less…..as usual, there was no forethought involved…..education is the only answer, and then concious action. It is hard to believe that in this day and age with all the communication tools at our disposal, there could be any place in the world that could still not have proper recycling facilities. Shame on SC for instance! Bottom line: the buck stops with the consumer, so we all need to do the best we can and keep spreading the word by spending our money wisely.

    1. And thank you for the thought-provoking comment. What did we do before plastic? How did we keep bread and cheese and lettuce fresh? Like you, when I shop I bring my own bags and leave bulky packaging behind when I can. Wonderful to learn of your concern and care for this beautiful planet we live on. Surely, surely we will make a difference.

      1. A lot of deli items were wrapped in brown paper. Meats, cheese, fish, all wrapped and taped or tied up with string.

  11. Just look at all the good stuff happening! I live in a small space, reuse my ziplocks and take my own bags to the grocery store. I recycle a lot, grow my own veggies in the summer, and in general don’t consume a lot (it won’t fit in my space). I am not perfect (I get on planes with more frequency than some) and I don’t think we can be perfect, but I do think that all the little things those of us who are conscious of the environment do help make things better. So just keep on with the conservation and recycling and give each other a pat on the back occasionally.

    1. Yes, yes! Thanks for the reminder for all the good things that are happening. Too easy to get mired in gloom and doom. And what a pleasure to have blogging friends who care about living a sustainable life.

  12. Well, I feel much better about my Ziploc washing now that I have read this post. I always felt like a bit of a nut for doing it. But they are so thick and can be used over and over and over!

    I tend to be thrifty by nature, so I have always combined trips in the car. If I need something I will wait until I am driving by the store on my way to work or whatever. I never get into the car for just one reason. Of course, I could be biking to work or doing something else heroic – but my little bit counts even though it isn’t major.

    Same with recycling and composting and growing my own organic food – lots of people do better than I, but my little bit still counts. And interactions like this make me want to do better.

    1. You are most certainly not a nut for reusing those bags. And yay for being thrifty! I agree that interactions with blogging friends make us want to do better. I have been heartened by the responses, and it does my heart a world of good to know that people around the world are struggling with the same issues that I struggle with. Onward, ho!

  13. One thing we do is to use a reusable coffee filter in the Keurig machine instead of the K-cups. It’s one small act, but at the end of a year that is a lot of plastic not added to the landfill. If everyone does what they can, where they can, all of our small acts will add up.

      1. Absolutely! It’s not as convenient as the throw away pods, but it’s not terribly inconvenient either. And, it keeps plastic from ending up in the landfill!

      2. …just to clarify though, it’s a reusable filter that fits inside the Keurig machine. But, yay, I’m glad your going to work to share info with your co-workers!

  14. I struggle with the same thought but in the end, we have to live with ourselves, so we do what we can. . .and sleep better because of it. I am a little fish too. Best wishes and Godspeed in our efforts!

    1. Another one of my blogging friends made a similar comment, and I agree. We have to live with ourselves. How encouraging it was to read all the wonderful responses and know that are many, many people who care about this beautiful blue planet we live on.

      1. Yay! I have made a lot of changes the last few years, though there is more to come, hopefully. It does give me hope that we are trying, doing what we can! God bless our efforts and give us wisdom! xoxoxoMichele

      2. Yes, more to come. Easy to get discouraged as Earth gets ever warmer, but I am heartened by all the wonderful responses from my blogging friends. Gives me hope.

  15. I do recycle a high proportion of my waste but there are lots more pressures towards that in the UK compared to in the USA, so far as I observe. I wince ever time I see a wine bottle being tossed into the trash without a moment’s thought in the USA, but there does not seem to be much option for them to be recycled in the places I have visited (other than bottle trees or path edging, or glass mulch). I am not an arch consumer either, and I do use the things I have well past when others might, but yet I do things I know are not sustainable, like flying twice or three times a year. I often wonder what the world will be like when we can no longer fly because there is no fuel. I suppose I am a sign of the times in that I both see and fear our trajectory, but continue to act in a way that is not sustainable, barring some miracle invention. I look back too and understand that it is our era that has created a tipping point, and done it so very quickly. So yes, I do feel guilty.

    1. Thanks for thoughtful, honest comment. When our system is designed to burn through fossil fuels, it is hard to live a sustainable life. You fly. Clif and I drive an automobile with a combustion engine. Sometimes we even drive for pleasure—to a movie, to visit friends—instead of only for errands. So we are all guilty. Yet, I continue to try to reduce my carbon output, the amount of trash I produce. Finally, you might be happy to learn that in Maine, wine bottles have a refund, which means nobody throws them away. Onward, ho!

    1. It seems almost inconceivable that we threw so much away. Part of the reduction is because the town now recycles more than it did when we first moved here. But we are also consciously reducing that amount of trash we throw away.

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