Going Drastic on Plastic

A local grassroots eco organization in my area has launched a massive campaign to reduce use of single-use plastics, and to clean up the plastics that are already out there littering the land and floating in our waterways.

I’m at their event “Go Drastic on Plastic,” where various experts are reporting grim statistics and showing photos of injured marine animals.

Just a few things I’ve learned today:

Some huge volume, x hundred billion tons, of plastics have been produced since the invention of plastics in 1907. Only 9% of the total has been recycled.

Single-use plastics account for 50% of the total volume we consume.

500 million plastic straws are used in the USA each day (that is more than our population!)

In the past 10 years, we’ve used more plastics than in the previous 100 years.

Those are just a few of the figures that stood out.

It’s good that people are getting more aware and are working on various fronts to address the problem.

The eco organization I mentioned is called Dream Green Volusia, in case you are located in my geographic region and/or want to see what they are up to, to get ideas for what you can do in your area. You can find Dream Green Volusia on Facebook.

On an individual level, you can make more of a difference than you might think. I’ve been continually surprised at the number of friends/neighbors who told me they were influenced by seeing me bring reusable bags, reusable water bottle, and so on.

The plastic trash problem, along with other grave problems such as climate change and the loss of biodiversity, are actually symptoms of a much larger overall problem: humankind’s disconnect from nature. As we address the root issue, we’ll be addressing the symptoms too. Still, the symptoms are sufficiently severe at this point that we need to treat them as problems in their own right.

Don’t give in to discouragement though. Do what you can on a personal level, and join forces with any likeminded people you can find.

The Value of Doing Nothing

One of the projects on my “back burner” is to write a book called Constructive Laziness: How To Save the Environment and Vastly Improve Your Life By Doing Absolutely Nothing Whatsoever. I’d like to say the reason I haven’t written the book yet is that I’ve been busy doing nothing, but actually, it’s just that I’m working on other books and projects.

That said, I may be one of the top five working people I’ve ever met in my life who manage to spend a significant percentage of their time doing nothing. I actually build it into my day. This is not a skill I was born with, and if I can learn it anyone can.

I grew up in a family that did a lot of camping and travel. We had many adventures together. One fine morning at a campsite, we were discussing options for what to do that day. Hiking, scenic drive, that sort of thing. That’s when I came up with the suggestion, “Can we just sit around and camp?” By which I meant, savor the experience of just being there. We probably ended up picking a more active option (I don’t remember), but that attitude has stayed with me my whole life. Whether at home or on the road, I like to just sit around and camp. Look up at the trees. Notice things in the street. Let thoughts flow through my head. Enjoy sitting at the table I’m sitting at, drinking from the cup I’m drinking from. Watching clouds.

There is zero goal other than just appreciating my life and the world. But I end up getting great benefits. Obviously it’s a great way to recharge. But also, a lot of creative ideas pop into my head. (At which point I usually grab a notebook or my cellphone and write them down, thus interrupting my “do nothing” time — but only for a couple of minutes.)

A popular quote from Bill Mollison (who founded the permaculture design movement with David Holmgren around 1980) is, “When in doubt, do nothing.” In the context of permaculture, this means don’t intrude/intervene until you’ve spent ample time observing a site or situation. And even if/when you do decide to do something, make the minimum necessary intervention.

It would probably help the environment quite a bit if everyone who longed to spend at least a few minutes a day doing nothing, were to make a point of doing so. Toward that end, I’ve gathered some articles to provide moral support to those of you who have aspirations of doing nothing but are not sure where to start.

Further Reading:

Treehugger.com: Why you should join the ‘do nothing’ club: “The Italians called it ‘il dolce far niente’, literally translated as ‘sweet doing nothing,’ or more colloquially as ‘pleasant idleness’. It has a strong positive connotation because it’s seen as valuable, even necessary to wellbeing.

Forbes.com: The Importance of Doing Nothing: “If we don’t allow ourselves periods of uninterrupted, freely associated thought then personal growth, insight and creativity are less likely to emerge.

(A book I haven’t read that sounds good) How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell. “Odell sees our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.

And on a somewhat related note, from one of my favorite writers/thinkers, David at Raptitude.com, Go Deeper, Not Wider: “I keep imagining a tradition I’d like to invent. After you’re established in your career, and you have some neat stuff in your house, you take a whole year in which you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need. … You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more. You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. …”

Meadow Magic

This photo is courtesy of my friend Dave Gallaher, who writes: “You may recall my telling of trying to keep my back yard in ‘meadow status’ as long as allowed. Here it is today, almost the end of April. Nothing exceptional, but a source of joy for me.”

What a soft, soothing green landscape! And the fact is, in many places such yards have become exceptional, as the social norm of relentless mowing extends to every corner of the land.

(Today I actually saw an advertisement for a mower that operates automatically — like one of those house-vacuuming robots, but for the yard. It sells for $1,500 and can be operated by remote control from a smartphone. Ye gods.)

When I walk into a shaded patch of meadow, even a small one, I feel myself relax and breathe more deeply. And of course, many nonhuman creatures are benefiting too.

Further Reading:

Micro-Meadow: Using Small Spaces for Big Impact: “By creating a ‘micro-meadow’ in these spaces, we have the combined benefit of beautiful aesthetics and diversity of habitat.  Whether the space is dry or wet, there are meadow plants uniquely suited to fill these spaces.  Through many years of experience and study, we’ve found a combination of clumping and spreading native grasses, with a selection of colorful native perennials can achieve a beautiful and functional micro-habitat.

Micro-prairies: No yard is too small to go with earth-friendly native plants (Pinterest page – lots of photos)

National Wildlife Federation: Turn Your Yard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat: It’s not as hard as you might think; even a container garden on a balcony can qualify.

Earth Day

Today, April 22, is the actual Earth Day. It is the 50th Earth Day. (Next year is the 50th anniversary, but this year is the 50th time.

A couple of weeks ago I suddenly decided to organize an Earth Day event in my city. It’s been some years since anyone organized Earth Day event for the general public in Daytona Beach. (There are plenty of public Earth Day events going on all week throughout the area, so we are not deprived in any way!)

The Earth Day festival in downtown Daytona Beach is happening today from 3pm to 9pm at Cinematique Theater, 242 S. Beach St., Daytona Beach. Cinematique is the only independent cinema I know of in the area. It’s a real treasure of our community.

We’ll be having vendors, a saxophonist, a poetry reading or two, free beverages (you must bring your own reusable cup, or else buy a cup for $1 from the “Landfill Rescue Cup” table). And I’ll be showing a smorgasbord of green/permaculture-related video clips. Stop by if you are in the area!

And, if you don’t yet have any Earth Day events in your area, I strongly encourage you to organize one!

Happy Earth Day.

Nature Doesn’t Do “Ugly”

Just now when I stepped outside to wash a couple items of clothing and hang them on the line, I saw a tiny form on the ground that I could not immediately identify. When I got closer I saw that it was the corpse of a baby bird. It was partially eaten; the feathers and beak were gone, and it was just delicate bones and some flesh.

Poor little thing! I said to myself. I wondered how it had died. My first guess was that it had been knocked out of its nest by yesterday’s high winds, but there was no way to tell. It could just as well have been killed by a cat. In any case, its tiny body had become food for a cluster of ants, finishing the job some other force of nature had started.

A lot of us humans tend to think of some creatures (like baby birds) as beautiful and lovable, and other creatures (like ants) as not so beautiful or lovable. But nature doesn’t play favorites. Nature doesn’t do “ugly”.

Human beings of some religious denominations celebrate a holy day called Easter, which is tomorrow. It commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. In U.S. popular culture, the holiday has become associated with images of eggs, hatching chicks, baby bunnies.

A person used to these cuddly greeting-card images might well be horrified to come upon the sight I saw on my back patio. But the ants are a key player in the cycle of birth, death, and new birth, and as such I cherish them as much as I cherish the sight of birds making their nests in spring.

“Nature’s undertakers,” I once heard someone call ants. “Imagine the mess we’d have without them.”

Isn’t nature amazing. And our human minds, being part of nature after all, are amazing too. Just as my human mind is the one that originally might label the sight of the ants and the baby bird corpse “sad” or “ugly,” I can just as well label it “natural” or “remarkable.”

And so I do.

Postscript: This morning when I took my usual morning walk around the yard, there was no sign of yesterday’s sight. Some other critter had evidently stopped by; there was no sign of the little bird that had died. But, as usual, the cool morning air was filled with the chirps of live birds. Happy Easter! (if you celebrate Easter.)

Parking Lot Thought

Though I’ve never taken a poll on the subject, I would be willing to bet that most people (at least here in the USA) would consider a parking lot to be inadequate if it were EVER full — even if the full times were only during occasional special events, and the parking lot sat half-full or even empty most of the rest of the time.

It struck me that I personally believe the opposite: A parking lot is a failure if it is EVER empty, even if there are some times when it is full and people have to be turned away.

Why do I feel this way, against conventional wisdom? Because in the case of the latter parking lot (the one that fills up regularly), the people who are able and who live close by tend to become motivated to leave their cars at home, and instead get to the place on foot, bicycle, or public transport. Thus freeing up spaces for the people who are less able-bodied and/or live further away. So, the limited parking exerts a natural self-corrective force that has a net benefit to the community.

Meanwhile, with the parking lot that rarely fills up, people aren’t motivated to start leaving the car at home. There’s no self-corrective force; and in fact, with social pressure over time, the parking lot is likely to be expanded (even if it means knocking down an old shade tree or historic building or two).

That’s my parking-lot thought for you today! It applies to roads too of course. In fact, maybe that’s how the thought came to me: I heard a fellow citizen at a design workshop yesterday say, “We can’t build our way out of congestion. Building new roads to ease congestion is like buying a bigger belt to deal with a weight problem.” (That is one of my old favorite quotes; I first heard it about 20 years ago when I lived in Austin TX and we were trying without much success to tame the Incessant Road-Building Virus.)

I have a feeling there are a lot of other situations/resources this might apply to. What comes to your mind?

Further Reading

Strong Towns: The Many Costs of Too Much Parking. “[P]arking minimums—local laws requiring private property owners to provide and maintain a certain number of off-street parking spaces—do not belong in a strong city or town. These minimums result in more parking than we actually need. They rob our cities of financial productivity. They hinder those who contribute value to our cities, from small business owners to developers to renters to homeowners. And they result in dead zones of empty, underutilized space.” (StrongTowns.org is one of my favorite websites, offering thought-provoking ideas and a wealth of information for everyday people to promote revitalization and sustainable development in our towns/cities.)

P.S. on Plastics

This is an addendum to my blog post from earlier today, on “Freeing Ourselves of Disposable Plastics.”

As for why I am making a separate “P.S.” post rather than just tacking this on to that post, it’s because a toolbox menu suddenly disappeared from that post and I cannot figure out how to get it back, making it inordinately difficult to edit that post. (And, regarding this perverse-but-at-least-simple work-around, see my more recent post from earlier today, “Hidden Footprint: Navigating Technical Glitches.)

Anyway! Did you know that plastics were originally made of plant matter? And still are, in some cases. And can be again to a greater degree, or even in a direction never before imagined.

Consider our response to “invasive weeds.” We spend so much time, money, and fossil fuel “managing” them with chemicals and mechanized equipment, and in the process we poison the land, water, and all living creatures. And in the end we have something we call “trash” or “waste” — another “problem” that has to be dealt with. And, the “invasive weeds” are never fully eliminated and continue to be an expensive problem.

When instead, maybe those “invasive” plants could be raw materials for producing useful things: containers; plastic wrap (that would go back into the earth when no longer needed).

Of course, some “invasive” grasses and plants could also be used more directly: as fiber (for baskets, cloth, window shades, and so on); roof thatching materials; and who knows what else! As fuel for heating. Just to name a couple things off the top of my head.

It recently crossed my mind that the “red tide” seaweed and blue-green algae that are currently causing wildlife die-offs and human discomfort on our Florida coastlines could be turned from an eco hazard to a useful material in similar fashion. I have been hearing for awhile now about plastics made from algae.

But back to the original point of this post: I wanted to share with you this article from BBC, How To Solve the Plastic Packaging Paradox. “Today, plastic packaging has a bad (w)rap. But the first commercially viable version of the now ubiquitous material – cellophane – was conceived in a more innocent age, before anyone worried about plastic in landfill, or the sea, or the food chain.”

The article raises some essential points that we have to factor in to the equation as we endeavor to free ourselves of the harmful aspects of single-use plastic.

For example, a cloth bag might end up not justifying the footprint it took to make it! (One way I deal with that is take used cloth bags that would otherwise get thrown away; another is to make bags out of old clothing.) And the harm of plastic wrap might be outweighed by the tonnage of veggies that are, with wrap, kept from going bad before they can be eaten. (Regarding that latter, my personal response is to buy locally grown veggies or grow them myself. Much less spoilage.)

And finally, I want to “wrap” this post up with a heartfelt “thank you” to my regular readers who send me valuable links and help me ferret out my typos! Big hugs Ro, L.S., and other deep-green allies who are kind and patient enough to navigate this blog.