Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 5, 2002
Don't trash your mindfulness
Empty the garbage can before you take it to the curb
By SUZANNE ELSTON
At first glance, environmental issues appear to create a complex web of interconnected problems that seems impossible to untangle. The pollution of our water by pesticides and other harmful chemicals, water scarcity, water exports, energy consumption/wars/waste (the radioactive kind), air quality -- outdoors and in -- air pollution and the thinning of the delicate layer of upper air known as the ozone layer all make you want to jump in your climate controlled SUV and drive far, far away -- which of course would only make matters worse.
Hiking to a remote corner of the planet isn't a solution either, since some of the most remote places on Earth are also the most polluted.
Before you down a dioxin cocktail and end it all, there is faint hope for all of us. It doesn't involve some high-tech solution or the investment of billions of dollars in mitigation (although both would help). What it does involve is something I like to call mindfulness. I know I'm not the first person to use this term, but rather than applying it to a religious or meditative state, we need to apply the concept of mindfulness to our everyday, too-busy lives.
Consider our current garbage crisis. For starters, Canadians produce more garbage than any other nation in the world. While many people will tell you it's because we're a wasteful, self-indulgent society, I think it's because as almost the largest country in the world we have so much space to throw our stuff around that we don't have to be mindful. Or at least we didn't have to until all the dumps starting filling up. By the time that started happening, we had become so unconscious (that is, not mindful) of the amount of trash we were producing that we didn't have a clue how to turn those garbage trucks around.
When we look inside the garbage bag, we see countless examples of how our lack of mindfulness adds up to a whole lot of trash. For starters, there's the garbage bag. Exactly how mindful is it to create a product out of a non-renewable resource for the sole purpose of throwing it away?
And then there's the organic waste. More than one-third of our garbage isn't garbage at all, but rather perfectly good organic material that can be easily converted into a valuable soil additive in the composter. Please note: I'm not talking about those centralized systems that miraculously pick up household compostibles from the curb with the rest of the garbage. Quite frankly, that's neither mindful nor particularly efficient.
What I am talking about is the conscious separating of waste at the kitchen sink, delivering the organic materials to the compost bin and then waiting for something magical to happen. I'm talking about creating something wonderful out of what was previously considered garbage. That something, when placed on our lawns and gardens, reduces the need for water, pesticides and fertilizers -- all of which were previously identified as areas of concern.
Now, if we return to the garbage bag, we discover another third of our trash is made up of packaging materials -- most of these a by-product of -- you guessed -- a lack of mindfulness. We're so busy running around (that is, not being mindful) that we forget to pack up our lunches in reusable containers (ultimately saving money, garbage and our waistlines); carry reusable coffee mugs or take reusable shopping bags to the grocery store.
A final check of the now-nearly-empty garbage reveals recyclables like cans, paper, cardboard and glass. Place those in the blue box and the bulk of what you have left is what I consider the pinnacle of human stupidity and lack of mindfulness -- single use, disposable items.
In the last year or so, manufacturers have cashed in on our lack of mindfulness by creating a whole new generation of disposable products that help us manage just about every aspect of our busy, unconscious lives -- disposable bibs, diapers and wipes for the kiddies, chopping boards, dusting cloths and floor mops for the grown-ups. We've even got disposable, heatable soup mugs for the ultimate in mindless consumerism. Get rid of these and garbage as we know it ceases to be a problem.
Mindfulness -- it may not save the planet, but it certainly is a good start.
Recommended website:April 27 to May 3 is International Composting Week. Visit the Composting Council of Canada’s website for information on everything from soil testing to how to build biodiversity in your garden. www.compost.org.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.