Eco-Fail! Oh no!

Sometimes it can be depressing out there! Watching fellow humans expend inordinate amounts of time, labor, and money to solve “problems” that are either not really problems, or else the “cure” is worse than the problem.

• At a public building, city workers deploy huge earth-moving equipment to rip out a clump of lush healthy shrubs and other vegetation, in order to install irrigation on its property so it can plant a bunch of fancy landscape plants … even though the existing vegetation had been growing perfectly well there for decades with zero irrigation. 

• At a fast-food coffee shop, a customer finds his coffee cup sticky to the touch, and smelling perfumey, because the employees use a hand-sanitizer that’s scented and leaves a sticky residue. (Hmm, I’d rather risk a few  germs, thanks.) 

• At a community trash cleanup, 100 eager citizens turn out. (Yay!) They pick up a lot of trash … but the cleanup event also generates a lot of trash, as each participant is given a fresh, thick plastic garbage bag, as well as a pair of rubber gloves. (I never did get the whole rubber-glove thing. When someone offers me those, I say, “No thanks, my hands are washable.”) I wonder how many boxes of rubber gloves and thick plastic garbage bags are consumed in a typical “community street cleanup.” 

I could go on but you get the idea. (And probably you could cite many more examples.) As I see it, these “eco-fails” are micro (because they’re hardly on the level of the BP oil spill or other full-blown environmental disaster), yet they are also macro (because they are endemic to our culture; they go on all the time in many places).

Lately I try not to get too worked up about things like this. I do what’s in my power to educate people and present alternatives. (At a recent community cleanup, I used my own bag, which I had found as trash on an empty lot. In my city, I take every opportunity to speak up about options for saving money and conserving water in our landscaping.)

What gets me down more than other people’s eco-fails is my own personal ones. Forgetting my reusable cup but not being willing to forgo a coffee-shop treat, so I generate a disposable cup. Buying a plastic bubble-wrap mailer by mistake, and not realizing til it’s too late. (Oh the irony, shipping out my DEEP GREEN book in a plastic mailer! Dear buyer, if you are reading this, mea culpa!)

Those are tiny; there are many many larger ways in which I fall short of my own eco principles. Taking multiple airline flights last year. Buying a couple of new purses I didn’t really need. Eating processed foods. Buying foods that come in non-recyclable packaging. Accepting a car ride that’s out of someone’s way because I didn’t want to get on my bicycle in cold weather.

Update: Here is my latest one; happened just yesterday. Waitress brings my friend & me glasses of water with ice even tho we had asked for no ice. (We did remember in time to ask for no straw.) I got engrossed in conversation with my friend, wasn’t paying attention to the water glasses, and before I knew it, our (kind, well-intentioned) server went and *dumped out the glasses of icewater* and brought us ice-free water. Ouch! REALLY my bad there!

And those are just the ones I know about. Who knows what I’m doing that I think is OK now, but that I will in hindsight realize was an ECO-FAIL. 

What helps is to remind myself that my prevailing practices and mind-set count for more than the “fails.” (And as far as trying to anticipate future hindsight … Don’t go there! That is brain-spaghetti.)

A big part of my motivation for writing DEEP GREEN was to show people that they can live a very green life, sufficient to restore ecological balance to the planet, without having to be “perfect” or anywhere close to perfect. I see way too many good-minded people beat themselves up for a plastic bottle, a fast-food meal, or an unnecessary car trip, when what matters is what we do over the long haul and how we help shift the culture. “Duration Station,” as my deep-green mermaid friend Ro would say. 

So! If you find yourself beating yourself up for what you see as an “eco-fail,” stop! If you can do something differently in that moment, great — do it. If you can help your city leaders, coffee-shop owner, or others see the value in a more earth-friendly approach, do that. If not,  just move forward, knowing you are doing your best. And thank you for caring! 

By the way, speaking of coffee shops, I just heard some good news: The Dunkin Donuts chain is phasing out plastic and styrofoam, and going back to paper cups and packaging. Woohoo! (My pal CB, who is a frequent DD customer, brightened my morning with these lovely green tidings.) I’m going to try and dig up a link for you and, if I find one, will paste it here shortly. OK, found it! Here you go:

Good Start Packaging Blog: Dunkin’ Donuts Phasing Out Styrofoam is an Environment Win:The future of the environment looks a little brighter after Dunkin’ Donuts announced it is phasing out the use of polystyrene foam cups for its hot beverage products.  Dunkin’ Donuts said their more than 9,000 U.S. restaurants will shift to Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard certified paper cups by the year 2020. According to Dunkin’ Donuts, the corporate shift will remove approximately 1 billion foam coffee cups from the waste system each year, which equates to more than 79 cups-per-minute.”