Friday, March 28, 2008

It Ain't Easy Being Green

I am not exactly the epitome of environmentalist but I would like to consider myself earth-friendly. I do what I think will eventually be deemed (when the earth implodes) not good enough: I recycle; I bring my own bags to stores; I use a Nalgene for my water; I don’t let stores like J. Crew wrap my purchases in tissue paper; we use cloth napkins; I turn off the lights when I leave a room; I follow the “if it’s yellow let it mellow” toilet routine, unless company is over; I don’t run the water when I brush my teeth. These are all things that I didn’t do when I was growing up, so in a way it feels like progress.

Sometimes it makes me feel good, but there are times I suffer from “What good does it all really do?” For example: I have to rinse out all of the glass and metal I recycle, which uses water, so am I robbing Peter to pay Paul here? I might have added some plastic or glass to the recycling bin but is it at the sacrifice of our dwindling water drinking supply? And when I am stuffing my groceries in my canvas bags, but the shopper in front of me is asking for double plastic bags, I wonder is it all a wash? Maybe my actions cancel out the actions of the double-plastic bag shopper, but will it be good enough? I was interested in using cloth diapers, but I got caught up in the which is worse game: Tons of my baby’s diapers in a garbage heap somewhere, or using all that water to clean the cloth ones. In the end, the combination of twins plus a no washer and dryer in our home lead me down the plastic diaper route.

So now I am saddling the landfills with double the amount of gonna-last-a-thousand-years diapers. So this is where the dilemma begins: How can I be even remotely earth-friendly with children? I won’t put their bottles into the dishwasher (which in itself is one of Earth Enemies No. 1) so I rinse them in copious amounts of water. I clean and sterilize their nipples in hot water. I take baths with them. We run their sound machine in their room all night and during naps. Our laundry has doubled, and I am pretty sure the washers and dryers in our building are not energy- or water-efficient. I run the dishwasher at least once a day, if not twice. I buy toys and accessories for them that are cased in ridiculous amounts of plastic and cardboard. I feel like I am always at the sink, running water to clean something.

Just watching all of that perfectly fine, drinkable water go down the drain seems indulgent and so wasteful. It know it seems implausible on a planet that is 98 percent water, but I do believe that water and drinking water especially will be the oil of the future. Signs of it have already happened: I can remember growing up there being drought measures, where sprinklers could only be used on odd numbered days, or something like that. And this is during the go-go 80s and 90s, when environmentally-friendly wasn’t exactly the fashion. (Remember those hugely wasteful CD boxes? How many millions of acres of trees died for that?) If that isn’t a signal I don’t know what is. I don’t have any idea when, whether it be in 100 years or 1000, but I feel certain that wars will indeed be fought for potable water. Yes, I am one of those. And here I am now just watching it all go down the drain.

I am not sure what the solution is, because I am not going to forgo hygiene or give the girls dirty bottles but it is so frustrating because I, like so many people, am trying. But I am just not sure it will be good enough. I feel like Sisyphus.

I remember visiting a friend in Austin in the 90s, and she composted and recycled methodically. She said (if I remember correctly) that where they lived, they paid for garbage removal by pound, So everyone had the financial incentive to recycle, reduce and reuse. It seemed like a brilliant idea: Environmentalists by way penny-pinching. I wonder why that isn’t more widespread?

I know we will raise our girls to be earth-conscious. They will recycle and use cloth napkins and not accept plastic forks and knives when they get take-out food. They will have their own canvas bags and will hopefully never, ever use a plastic or paper bag from any store. They will be taught to turn the water off while they lather up the soap on their hands. We will try to instill in them an appreciation of nature and an urgency about preserving it as well.

But today, I want to buy them one of those pushing toys that they can stand behind and walk behind. I know it will come with a tree’s worth of cardboard and a pound of plastic, but until there is a company that sells recycled-plastic toys, package-free with warranties and instructions online only instead of in little wasteful booklets, what better choice do I have? And even though I will carry it home without a plastic bag, I wonder what damage I am doing and what contradictory lessons I am teaching my girls.

Pictured above, someday will dew be our only drinking water? I wonder if there is a sci-fi movie with that premise. Below that, don’t be fooled by the cuteness. These ladies are Earth Enemy No. 2.


Pronoia said...

I found this wooden wagon/block toy that's designed for early walkers:

It's expensive, but definitely not plastic!

Amy B said...

You could switch to G Diapers - they are flushable...

psapph0 said...

What about Freecycle? It's an online service where people post things that they want or are getting rid of and others can take them in or give away their unwanted items? Those stand-behind-and-push toys are only good for a few months, and I see them go up on Freecycle ALL the times. They're usually still in great condition and then, when your kids outgrow them, you pass them along to someone else.

I'm signed up for it here in Westchester, and they have a HUGE one in the city. In the past week I've gotten rid of a computer desk, a book shelf, a weight bench, a set of moving boxes, a fan and some clothing over Freecycle. (Why so much giving away of stuff and redecorating you might ask? :-) Making room for a possible extra family member!)

Give it a look!

Ninefirefly said...

Your crib is so cute! Sorry, not on topic but it's seriously the cutest crib I've ever seen! The babies in it aren't bad either :)

Anonymous said...

That's a cute cot, I've never seen one that shape before, plus the little cutenesses in it. :)

francesca said...

Oh yeah this conversation daily in our house. We live in the south, where we've had such a massive drought this year that all the local restaurants had to use paper plates and utensils. No water cups - must buy bottled water. So now we're trading one problem (water) for another (garbage and recycling that doesn't get recycled). I compost but then I make us rinse out the countertop compost pail because it smells otherwise.

Kid stuff is the worst for packaging. Plus I hate those twist-tie and plastic thingies that are so impossible to rip off.

Anyone have any good secrets for the weekend???

Anonymous said...

Why not buy second hand / eBay?

The best things you can do for the environment are:
- not fly (or fly less)
- unplug appliances so they do not have a warm transformer
- turn off all unnecessary electrical devices (including the baby monitor, computer, lights etc) when not in use.

Good luck.

Travelher and Pufferfish said...

Living in Manhattan, I find that no matter what I say when ordering delivery, they always include the plastic utensils. So, I started saving them and use them all for parties. My partner thinks it's kind of tacky for our guests to use them, but it's my own way of recycling. I also bring the hangers back to my dry cleaners, wash and reuse ziplock baggies and wrap gifts with brown paper from bags. I agree with you, sometimes when you look around at all the waste you wonder if it makes a dent. I hope that it does.