Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Throwaway world

Today, I am trying to sort out the paper - bills, bank statements, what can I throw away? - clogging up the drawers that are getting harder to close, overwhelming all but the littlest passageway in my study. As I shred and wander off into daydreams, inertia sets in - to keep or not to keep, to shred, perhaps to burn...

We grew up in a household, and an era, in which you didn't throw out anything. Every container, glass bottle and its lid, plastic ice cream boxes, grocery bags, even paper bags had another use. Soft drink and beer bottles, out of glass, could be returned. We kept rum and wine bottles to store Christmas beverages like sorrel, ginger beer or ponche a crema; jars for homemade pepper sauce and pickles. My parents were teenagers in the last world war, and patterns of scarcity and rationing led to lifestyles that were conservative, and hoarding was a common practice. As long as she lived, my mother always had a store of canned food. As long as he lived, my father was always saving and re-using - even styrofoam containers - his philosophy, why throw it out if it's not broken.

Paper is always a problem. You bring so much home without even thinking. Newspapers pile up. We give stacks of old paper to the vet. Use some of it to keep bush from overwhelming young trees. But more comes in than goes out and there's always a pile. It's good for composting, but use the compost to grow food only if you are sure that the newspaper uses soy-based inks!

The phenomenal rise of plastic is worth its own study. But what do you do with it in your own home? How many storage containers could you keep? Plastic bottles are best recycled and if there's a collection point in your school or office, it's not so hard to take your garbage to work!

In less than one generation we have evolved into a throwaway society. We go through barely a season with  clothes. Our food purchases produce more inorganic than organic waste - and even our dogs are fat! And if you don't let the paper in your study overwhelm you, you can be sure it is overflowing somewhere else.

While most solutions require collective commitment, each of us must find the way to live the individual life that is conservative, contained, low impact and reduces waste. Here's an ideology that runs counter to the way we grow up in democratic capitalist societies. For while we are taught that "the meek should inherit the earth" our DNA is to survive, intimidate and conquer. Our civilizations are destined to rise and fall - Caesars amassing territory are not much different from executives paying themselves millions of dollars, or Wall Street magnates growing their financial empires.

And so, back to my personal inventory. I have what I need. Everything else should be sorted and given away!

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