Updated: Feb 22, 2022
This blog is a repost. It is my ikigai, my "why," and it still holds true today as it did in 2017.
As Kermit the Frog said long ago, "It's not easy being green." I've always loved nature, and my first true calling was the desire to talk to animals. I sought to reduce, reuse, and recycle even before I was aware of what I was doing. A school teacher once chided me for using half a sheet of paper instead of a whole one. To my young mind, it begged the question, "Why use a whole piece of paper for one sentence and as a placeholder? What a waste!" I am horrified that within my lifetime, conservation efforts seem to have taken a major step backward, and we are now facing the sixth mass extinction barring radical efforts.
Why is it so hard to be "green"? Even though I am a self-proclaimed environmentalist, I still eat meat - albeit becoming pickier as time goes on. My lifestyle isn't zero waste as evidenced by the mound of plastic wrappers from the energy bars that I have consumed. Being time and space deprived, I struggle to reduce my environmental footprint. I have to drive over half an hour or 23 miles to the nearest grocery store for bulk foods. I could take the bus, but that would tack on even more time. This brings up an ecoconundrum: What would produce a smaller carbon footprint?? Is it better to buy food with plastic packaging from a store that is within walking distance or should I drive 23 miles to buy foods with zero packaging? I could and do go on large buying trips to the grocery store occasionally - but I live with two roommates in a 900 s.f. condo where storage space is small, especially in the kitchen. On top of it all, my roommates have included mentally dysfunctional adults, and a current one is a hypochondriac. The amount of paper waste produced is nauseating. I do pick through the trash at home for recycling as I do at work, but I'm sorry guys that is my limit - I am not his caretaker. The other roommate makes a more concerted effort to recycle, but in her case, I have to pick plastic bags out of the recycles bin because bags are not recycled here. And forget about my roommates ever composting due to the "ick" factor even though it's free at our condo complex.
At work, the issue has been convincing management that it's worth the time and money to take advantage of the area's composting and recycling initiatives. I often feel like I am swimming upstream. I see so much food waste because it is "too expensive" to pay for the composting hauling service, and the perspective is also that it takes too much time and effort to separate the food waste. My co-workers and customers go through more paper and plastic cups than I care to count. Some co-workers are slowly starting to use reusable plastic cups or mugs - but it is very slow indeed. I have learned however shaming others into recycling does not work. I have worked in other environments where reusable travel mugs are the norm, but even there, space is often a premium, and any recyclable/reusable item temporarily stored will be the first victim sacrificed to the trash dumpster.
Why are people - coworkers, customers, roommates, and management - so reluctant to reduce, reuse, and recycle? Values. I feel that most people don't know or care where or how electricity happens as long as it does come on when they turn the switch. Until the cost of use or disposal of any natural resource becomes high enough, people will not be too concerned with waste.
We can however do better in our design of products where recycling is easy and the materials used are sustainable. We can do better in our design of processes where it doesn't take a second thought to recycle an item, and natural resources are automatically conserved, maybe even having a net positive impact. I also seek the answer to the rhetorical question, "How do we make recycling and conservation 'sexy'? Maybe, if the Kardashians pushed it!
In the end, I strive to lead by example and with encouragement. I believe that every little step makes a difference, and every positive action is cumulative with the hope that it'll snowball into a tipping point. It's up to us all to save this precious planet, not just one person. Together we can make a difference.