The planet’s health is your health

A key component of being organized in a Zen way is to maintain good health. If you’re healthy, you can do anything. If you aren’t healthy, don’t expect to be organized! You have a bigger task at hand.

You might think about your health in terms of a doctor’s visit. Or maybe relate it to what you eat. But how important is the health of the planet to your health? It’s vital! And yet it’s so easy to ignore.

There is more and more in the news about how much trash we’re generating, especially in the US. And how other countries, like China, that used to take a lot of our recycled trash aren’t taking it anymore. Scientists are predicting that the amount of plastic floating in the ocean by 2050 will outweigh the fish! And guess what. Most plastics break down in seawater, but the plastic doesn’t go away. The plastic bits just get smaller and smaller and are eaten by fish. And that means when you eat fish, you’re eating plastic. Yet we keep buying more plastic wrapped goods and keep adding to the problem. Not good.

The problem with trash in the US is that we don’t see it and don’t have to deal much with our waste. We’d protect our kids with our lives, but yet in the US, we throw out, on average, our body weight in trash each month! And we’re leaving that for our kids to clean up.

I’m as guilty of buying items packaged in plastic as the next person, so what can we do?

I was inspired recently by several articles about how the Netherlands have taken great strides to get everyone involved to lower their impact on the earth. Most families compost their kitchen waste. People there are careful to clean glass items before sending them off to be recycled. And they’re vigilant about keeping paper sorted correctly and remove any plastic, like windows on envelopes, before dropping the paper off to recycle. By being careful about how they recycle, the country is able to reuse 90% of the paper and glass that otherwise would have ended up in the trash.

I have become less and less vigilent about what goes in the recycle bin. We have a “one bin” policy in our area for recycling and I figure someone will catch it if I toss in a bit of plastic. But what if I contaminate the whole load? Not good!

Folks in the Netherlands are also careful to not mix chemical waste (batteries, paints, toner and ink cartridges) with other recycled materials, and to take unused medicines back to pharmacies to keep them out of landfills. They pass clothes along to charity groups rather than put them in the trash. And they have IT recycling centers for used computers, printers, and scanners.

In addition, people in the Netherlands tend to live in smaller houses, and buy “used” as often as new. And they’ve started to market plastic-free sections at stores replacing plastic wrap with a bio film made of plant fiber that disintegrates within 12 weeks of disposal.

If people in the Netherlands can make these changes, so can we. And think about the impact we could have with the huge numbers of people living in the US.

So what can I do, what can you do?

  1. Read up on the best ways to recycle and make sure you don’t add materials to a recycling bin that contaminate the rest.
  2. Buy less and buy used when you can.
  3. Seek out items not wrapped in plastic. Farmers markets are a great example of ways to buy food without a lot of packaging. We have a new store nearby that specialized in bulk items. You bring in your container, weigh it, then fill. Is there something like that in your area?
  4. Compost more. Portland has a group that comes around once a week and collects compost from special buckets you set out curbside. Does your town or city offer something like this?

The magnitude of trash problems can feel overwhelming and the actions you can take may seem minor, but what if you pictured that everything you threw out this week was going to end up in a pile out in your front yard. Does that give you incentive to seek out goods that don’t come wrapped in plastic? Or to start composting? To take your batteries to a recycle center rather than have them dissolve onto your doorstep?

What if we each made reducing the amount of plastic we purchase a goal for 2020? I’m up for the challenge as I hit the road to write starting in February. Think of the fun I’ll have finding markets that have the least amount of wrapping for anything I’m buying. I’ll be doing it the health of the planet, for the future of our kids and grandchildren, and for my own health and well-being.

Good luck with this challenge if you take it up on your own home court. I’d love to hear what you discover along the way!

Here’s my latest fun recycling adventure – bracelets made of old beaded necklaces with earring “charms.” If you have broken jewelry, send it my way and I’ll make you something grand. Just don’t send it in a plastic bag. 🙂




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