In Colorado, we have from time to time what one might call a ‘mighty wind.’ Racing through canyons, ricocheting off windows, and bending trees like rubber, the wind, which can reach 70 mph, can be a powerful, natural force. The winds, called Chinook or foehn winds, occur most frequently in late winter and usually provide a temporary rise in the temperature, but can be miserable and annoying to be in.
At my place last year, the wind always seemed to hit the night before the scheduled trash and recycling pick-up day. This would result in trash and recyclables (mostly recyclables since they weren’t bagged) being scattered across the lawns of every house on the street. Placing a brick on top of the toter lids offered little respite from the weekly hell winds. At my garden level apartment this year, even though the downstairs entrance faces east and the wind comes from the west, there always seems to be an accumulation of litter on the steps after heavy winds.
Since I have friends doing a similar task four or five days a week, I happily volunteered to reclaim the recyclable materials and properly dispose of the waste! As I picked up the chip bags, fast food bags, candy wrappers and just random plastic-styrofoam malarkey, I wondered at the source of this problem. I first asked myself could it be possible that nature has ways of spreading disorder through disasters like tsunamis and wind storms? If you look at before-and-after pictures of these natural disasters, you see whole communities torn apart and devastated, with litter lying everywhere, but the cause of the trash itself is not a natural one.
I eventually transitioned from blaming Mother Nature for the trash in front of my eyes, to realizing the manufactured convenience of humankind was responsible. Could it be divine will that trash be spread everywhere from the heavy winds so we see the error in our overly-consumptive lifestyles?
Waste was created by man alone; if you look at the circle of life in organic systems you realize that nothing is wasted. Moisture evaporates and condenses in the atmosphere, showering the earth with rain that gathers into bodies of water to be evaporated again, big fish eat little fish, and so on and so forth til the end of time. Somewhere way back in the history of homosapiens, this sustainable chain of life was broken, and hasn’t been the same since. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Somebody told a lie.”
I was once taught by a wise painter that a force exists in the universe called entropy, that the natural trend of things is to go from order to chaos if left undisturbed. Like a rope or cord that gets knotted if untouched for a period. Strict physicists forgive me, but is it possible that waste is just an untouched symptom of entropy, and humans aren’t treating it correctly? Because of it’s nature as disorderly and disgusting, trash is automatically delegated to the chaotic side of entropy, and it may be our job to bring order to it in the form of sustainability measures, and in the case of the Chinook winds, a sheltered waste disposal area.
The ways we can improve our communities and in turn the world are unlimited, but it must start with creating a space for positive change within ourselves. If we’re constantly attached to our routine of buying to-go meals, single-serving foods, and non-compostable/non-recyclable products, we’re never going to have a positive net impact on the environment. The current philosophy on distribution in America can be summed up by punk rock band The Dead Kennedys’ album name, “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.”
If we begin using and supporting products that are closer to home, use green energy, and have an end-of-life material recovery strategy, the obstacle of convenience will gradually diminish, and it’ll soon be easier and cheaper to attain them, from the larger demand as well as from our familiar routine of knowing where to get them. We will feel healthier mentally and physically, from the absence of strange chemicals known to cause cancer to the fact that we’re supporting farmers, entrepreneurs and manufacturers close to home.
On the other side of the ball are the producers who tell us the new ways are too expensive, won’t protect the product, or the materials aren’t durable, and there may be some truth to these claims. However, because something is cheaper to make doesn’t mean we should always use it. Look at housing materials. Again, carpenters forgive me, but you don’t want your house to be built with cheap composite wood and plastic siding; a mighty wind might knock it down. You want it to be made with stone and hardwood. Ironically, some of these longer-lasting materials are looked at as not eco-friendly, but their longer lifespans justify their use.
The bottom line is there is a plethora of useless packaging. Why do my saxophone reeds have to come in a gloss enameled paperboard box sealed by plastic, with the reeds inside individually wrapped in plastic? The answer is they come from France, and I have to say the reeds work better when they’re fresh, but they could just come in a recycled cardboard or paperboard box if they were made relatively close. Why do cigarettes come wrapped in plastic, with aluminum foiling around the top and non-compostable filters? Why do new electronics need to be encased in styrofoam, wrapped and sealed with plastic and those little black ties that end up in your drawer? Let’s be honest, why is styrofoam even being made anymore??
If we as a species are going to get real about protecting our homes and planet for future generations, we need to constantly question these norms of society that produce unnecessary pollution and heavy energy use. In the words of that wise painter-poet, Clint Richie, “Now is a point of awareness, now is conscious existence, now is a time for change. Change doesn’t mean conforming to the norm; change means thinking outside the deadly prison. Because the old ways just don’t work anymore. Sorry, we’re running out of time. We must change or we die.”