Anne Leonard's Story
of Stuff is a provocative tour of our consumer-driven culture - from resource
extraction to iPod incineration - exposing the real cost of our use-it and lose-it
approach to stuff.
Earth Day Is Coming!
Making a list, checking it twice.
- Marne Joan Rochester
A friend and I have been having a debate about how to deal with environmental issues. He believes that change can only come through governmental policy and that anything that the individual does is insignificant; he basically negates the personal/individual responsibility. I believe in doing what we can on all three levels - individual, national, and global. As insignificant as it may be, I have the most control over my personal/individual actions.
Another friend of mine sent me a few months ago a link to the "Story of Stuff.". It really freaked me out. I admit that some of the statements are oversimplifications. But if you are able to put these aside, it still paints a very alarming picture of where our "stuff" comes from and what to do with it when we’re done. It gets you thinking, if you weren't already before. If you were already thinking about this, it motivates you to act on your thoughts. It gets overwhelming and we all think, "What impact can one person have?" But the problems were all started with one person at a time.
I remember years ago thinking I would only use cloth diapers -- no disposables. Hah! Ideals and reality don't always coincide easily. (Maybe it will happen when there's peace in the Middle East ). I complain in Leora's gan that they use disposable cups, but apparently more parents complained when they used reusable cups, saying the kids would drink from each other's cups and get sick. (It's gan; they're going to get sick anyway with the concentration of runny noses and sneeze-spray in the air.) But here are some small things that Leora and I actually do. We'd be interested in hearing other practical ideas.
Practical Family Environmentalism
- For her birthday we ask friends not to buy new gifts but to give things that they have at home but no longer use or have outgrown.
(This does not work with grandparents, so don't even suggest it to them). A friend also made her something this year, instead of buying --
home made play-dough/plastalina; it's as good as the store bought.
- For communal meals with our synagogues, we bring our own plates and cutlery.
(The credit for this idea goes to Tsvi & Julie Landau). We also use cloth napkins at home that can easily be thrown in the wash. There are very few exceptions to
our not using disposables rule (birthday parties are the major exception). We also hosted an environmental seudah shlishit (3rd meal of Shabbat) potluck picnic
last year where we asked everyone to bring their own non-disposables. A friend of mine who is an environmental scientist spoke about what really is global warming.
- As our light bulbs burn out we're replacing them with fluorescent energy savers. You can get yellow tinted fluorescent that aren't as obnoxious as the white ones.
Editor’s note: you can now get small wattage decorative flame cfb’s (compact fluorescent bulbs). These will fit in fixtures which you may have despaired to use the big clunky ones.
The downside of cfb’s is that they contain mercury. When a bulb dies and needs to be trashed, you really must save it for toxic disposal and recycling.
- We use the plastic bags from the super market as garbage bags afterwards.
- I also read an article about one thing people forget to take into account when figuring out their personal environmental impact/foot print -- books.
Because books are essentially a good thing, we forget about the trees cut down and the dyes used to make them. Plant a few trees a year to offset your book
use and/or try to buy second hand. We're going to try to keep track of how many books we buy from Tu B'Shevat to Tu B'Shevat and then plant a tree for every five.
- Everyone could pick one day during the week (in addition to Shabbat) to not take their cars. Imagine the impact if everyone chose one day, Sunday to Thursday.
That would mean 20% fewer cars with car noises and fumes each day.
- Clothing swaps are becoming popular. Everyone brings what they're tired of but is still in good condition. Then everyone takes something home that is new to them but no new resources
- Eat one less meat/poultry meal a week. The meat and poultry industries are the world's
biggest polluters and tax natural resources, even more than cars, between the land and water
resources used to raise food to feed the animals that could be used to raise food to feed people,
the coolers used to keep the food, and the transportation to transport the food.
There are many reports on this. Just Google
- Another thing that has helped us greatly reduce our consumption is that we no longer buy from China. Between the weekly toy recalls, child labor in factories, and other human rights violations (including organ harvesting/stealing from Falun Gong practitioners, basically sentencing them to death), we decided we did not want the money we don't have anyway to go to a system that supports these practices. Since almost everything is made in China , this boycott has been very financially beneficial for us. We've also learned that we can do without a lot of this "stuff" and use what we have a bit longer.
Ten Little and Big Things You Can Do
Here is another list on the Story of Stuff site of what each individual can do.
- Power down! A great deal of the resources we use and the waste we create is in the
energy we consume. Look for opportunities in your life to significantly reduce energy use: drive less, fly less, turn off lights, buy local seasonal food (food takes energy to grow, package,
store and transport), wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat, use a clothesline instead of a dryer, vacation closer to home, buy used or borrow things before buying new, recycle.
All these things save energy and save you money. And, if you can switch to alternative energy by supporting a company that sells green energy to the grid or by installing solar panels on your home,
- Waste less. Per capita waste production in the U.S. just keeps growing. There are hundreds of opportunities each day to nurture a Zero Waste culture in your home, school, workplace,
church, community. This takes developing new habits which soon become second nature. Use both sides of the paper, carry your own mugs and shopping bags, get printer cartridges refilled instead
of replaced, compost food scraps, avoid bottled water and other over packaged products, upgrade computers rather than buying new ones, repair and mend rather than replace….the list is endless!
The more we visibly engage in re-use over wasting, the more we cultivate a new cultural norm, or actually, reclaim an old one!
- Talk to everyone about these issues. At school, your neighbors, in line at the supermarket, on the bus…A student once asked Cesar Chavez how he organized. He said,
"First, I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person." "No,” said the student, "how do you organize?" Chavez answered, "First I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person."
You get the point. Talking about these issues raises awareness, builds community and can inspire others to action.
- Make Your Voice Heard. Write letters to the editor and
submit articles to local press. In the last two years, and especially with Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the media has been forced to write about Climate Change. As individuals,
we can influence the media to better represent other important issues as well. Letters to the editor are a great way to help newspaper readers make connections they might not make without
your help. Also local papers are often willing to print book and film reviews, interviews and articles by community members. Let’s get the issues we care about in the news.
- Detox your body, Detox your home, and Detox the Economy.Many of today's consumer products – from children’s pajamas to lipstick – contain toxic chemical additives that simply
aren’t necessary. Research online (for example), before you buy to be sure you're not inadvertently introducing toxics into your home and
body. Then tell your friends about toxics in consumer products. Together, ask the businesses why they're using toxic chemicals without any warning labels. And ask your elected officials
why they are permitting this practice. The European Union has adopted strong policies that require toxics to be removed from many products. So, while our electronic gadgets and cosmetics
have toxics in them, people in Europe can buy the same things toxics-free. Let’s demand the same thing here. Getting the toxics out of production at the source is the best way to ensure
they don't get into any home and body.
- Unplug (the TV and Internet) and Plug In (the community). The average person in the U.S. watches more than four hours of television
a day. Four hours per day filled with messages about stuff we should buy. That is four hours a day that could be spent with family, friends and in our community.
On-line activism is a good start, but spending time in face-to-face civic or community activities strengthens the community and many studies show that a stronger
community is a source of social and logistical support, greater security and happiness. A strong community is also critical to having a strong, active democracy.
- Park your car and walk…and when necessary MARCH! Car-centric land use policies and life styles lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel extraction,
conversion of agricultural and wildlands to roads and parking lots. Driving less and walking more is good for the climate, the planet, your health, and your wallet.
But sometimes we don’t have an option to leave the car home because of inadequate bike lanes or public transportation options. Then, we may need to march, to join with
others to demand sustainable transportation options. Throughout U.S. history, peaceful non-violent marches have played a powerful role in raising awareness about issues,
mobilizing people, and sending messages to decision makers.
- Change your light bulbs…and then, change your paradigm. Changing light bulbs is quick and easy.
Energy efficient light bulbs use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer than conventional ones. That’s a no-brainer. But changing light bulbs is just tinkering at the
margins of a fundamentally flawed system unless we also change our paradigm. A paradigm is a collection of assumptions, concepts, beliefs and values that together make
up a community’s way of viewing reality. Our current paradigm dictates that more stuff is better, that infinite economic growth is desirable and possible, and that
pollution is the price of progress. To really turn things around, we need to nurture a different paradigm based on the values of sustainability, justice, health, and community.
- Recycle your trash…and, recycle your elected officials. Recycling saves energy and reduces both waste and the pressure to harvest and mine new stuff. Unfortunately,
many cities still don’t have adequate recycling systems in place. In that case you can usually find some recycling options in the phone book to start recycling while you’re
pressuring your local government to support recycling city-wide. Also, many products –- for example, most electronics -- are designed not to be recycled or contain toxics so
recycling is hazardous. In these cases, we need to lobby government to prohibit toxics in consumer products and to enact Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, as is
happening in Europe. EPR is a policy that holds producers responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products, so that electronics company who use toxics in their products,
have to take them back. That is a great incentive for them to get the toxics out!
- Buy Green, Buy Fair, Buy Local, Buy Used, and most importantly, Buy Less. Shopping is not the solution to the environmental problems we currently face because the real
changes we need just aren't for sale in even the greenest shop. But, when we do shop, we should ensure our dollars support businesses that protect the environment and worker rights.
Look beyond vague claims on packages like “all natural” to find hard facts. Is it organic? Is it free of super-toxic PVC plastic? When you can, buy local products from local stores,
which keeps more of our hard earned money in the community. Buying used items keeps them out of the trash and avoids the upstream waste created during extraction and production.
But, buying less may be the best option of all. Less pollution. Less Waste. Less time working to pay for the stuff. Sometimes, less really is more.
Marne Joan Rochester lives in Jerusalem.
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