Environmental Mindfulness

Environmental Mindfulness June 2, 2010

Day Two of the No Plastics Project, and so far I’m noticing how much I have not been noticing.
First of all, to be clear, I am not, unlike Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish, even trying to get rid of the plastic that I have in my house, serving in long-term jobs. Though I suspect that plastic does pose health threats to humans, I’m almost fifty years old. I’ve been surrounded by the stuff most of my life, my reproduction is done, and my concern is focused on the harm done by the production of new plastic, and the disposal of old stuff. I’m fine with using the plastic I already have–in fact, it seems to me that the most ethical thing I can do with existing plastic is hang onto it, take care of it, and keep it in use as long as I can. That goes for the stuff that has contact with food, like Teflon on my pans and plastic food containers, as much as it does for the vinyl siding (I know, I know–I didn’t put it on there!) on my house.
My main focus is simple–or at least, it sounds simple: eliminate all single-use plastic from my life; reduce other new plastics as much as I can.
So: no bags of potato chips, and I’ll make serious efforts to get produce without plastic (for instance). But I’m going to use up the products I already have packaged in plastic, and I may wind up buying more, if it’s stuff I can’t find substitutions for but deem I really “need” to live my relatively ordinary middle-class American life.
I’m noticing more and more how much plastic actually (*ahem*) wraps my daily life. Despite trying to reduce my plastic use for months, having committed to doing this publicly, I now see how I am surrounded by plastic: the band aid on my finger, the wrapper around the cardboard boxes of bar soap I use, the velcro band that holds the stalks of broccoli together in the store. Is the band around the asparagus made of rubber, or plastic? The ice cream cone from the stand near my house has no plastic packaging, but the sundaes sold in the same place are sold in styrofoam. I can refuse to eat them, of course, but should I be advocating for a different bowl with the owners of the stand, or refusing to eat there entirely? Where do I begin?
With finding a way to store my waste, among other things. One thing I do not want to do: be a typical consumerist American, and go out and buy myself a new THING–some kind of perfect storage container for the plastic I’m saving and tallying. What are the odds that such a container would be made of plastic, packaged in plastic, or packed in plastic.
Same thing for a scale to weigh my plastic waste, before throwing it away or recycling it. If I go rushing off to buy myself one, even if I find one that isn’t made of plastic, how environmentalist is that?
I’m becoming more aware of the thousand small consumerist decisions I make on a daily basis, and of how often I “solve problems” by buying a new, specialized tool for a job that might not even need to be framed the way it is.
There was a time when I laughed at my mother-in-law and other thrifty people for saving, washing, and reusing plastic bags. I blush to admit it, now, but it’s true: it struck me as false thrift, as fussy. And as messy! I have seen for sale special drying racks, intended for the environmentalists among us, for doing just this one thing, neatly. As I remember, they were made of wood.
But does that really matter? Rather than buy yet another toy for my kitchen, more stuff on a planet overstuffed with stuff, surely I can tolerate the mess?

I dry my bags by clothes-pinning them to my dish-rack. It does look like a mess. Maybe I have to just get over that. Isn’t the insistence on total neatness and total cleanliness really a kind of marketing device for cleaning tools and chemicals? Or maybe not. Our ancestors did without the tools and the toys, but I don’t think they especially wanted to live in hippie squalor.
All of this can descend to a kind of navel-gazing and obsession, if I let it. That’s the dark side of this attempt.
What’s the up side?
Being aware of how long I am using the hot water in the shower.
Thinking a little more about clustering errands when I shop or drive anywhere.
Remembering every time I leave the computer to turn it off.
It’s all small stuff. Nothing is revolutionary here. But what I’m trying for is a new way of relating to the things I, as a modern woman, live surrounded by. I think that if I can manage to be mindful of plastic, the stuff that is everywhere, and which we are supposed to buy, use up, and toss away with no thought to the consequences, it may help me to be more mindful of where my food comes from, where my energy goes… maybe even, of how much I substitute being with things for being with people and Spirit.
We’ll see. For now, I fall in and out of mindfulness, and in and out of self-consciousness. Hopefully I will find both my balance and an alternative to plastic-packaged deodorant soon.
Beach image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: found at Real Oceans blog.
Bag drier sold through Amazon.com, or, better, check out this link about making your own.

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