May 16, 2010

Outside the Box

Now that you have evaluated your waste all the way down to the dark bottom of your medicine box, let's take a look outside the box, outside the house...
From some readers' comments, I take it that the title of this blog might lead some to believe that a "zero waste home" advocate cares only about his or her own trash can:
Anonymous, for example, wrote: "With all due respect, I feel strongly that we all have the responsibility to look outside of our homes as well at all of the places we can make a greater impact, by working together, by writing letters to our elected officials, by working with colleagues to make our places of work and learning more green."
I agree that we all have the responsibility to do more... and while my posts are mostly based on practical tips to reduce one's household waste, it does not mean that the broader community issues are being ignored.
Here are some of the things that we do outside of the home, for those concerned about our broader efforts:
  • I write weekly email/letters to manufacturers worthy of constructive feedback, urging them to push their sustainability further. For example, I have written letters to find alternatives to the plastic seal on the returnable yogurt glass jar (St Benoit), to offer their products in bulk (Seventh Generation), to switch from a recyclable to a reusable cap (flip tops caps at Straus Creamery)...and encourage others to do the same.
  • I also suggest changes in products that I used to love and now miss. For example, I loved Oil of Olay eye lifting serum, but the packaging was a joke and the ingredients were toxic. Here is a past letter to them:
    "Re: Regenerist eye lifting serum: Such a great product, one that I am addicted to, but one that also really stands out in my Zero Waste Home. Isn't it time that Oil of Olay found an alternative to parabens and excessive packaging for their products? You are a leader in affordable skin care that works, I think it's about time that you became more environmentally friendly...To the many people who care, shopping is voting. On my future election (shopping trip), I will vote for an environmentally friendly product, but I'll miss you. Sincerely, Bea."
  • I sometimes send something in the mail with an explanatory letter (Don't tell Scott... he most likely would not approve the mailing expenses, that are not in our budget): Plastic corks back to Barefoot (good and affordable local wine, but bad corking choice), half toothbrushes back to Radius (the disposable, unrecyclable, unsustainable half), a free and unnecessary contact lens case (came in with the lens cleaner), etc…
  • Scott and I both participate in Credo Action Campaigns (one stop shop for busy activists) which sometimes includes signing a petition or writing/calling an elected official (made easy by simply following a link in Credo's emails).
  • I joined Sustainable Mill Valley, whose purpose it is to promote "the adoption and implementation of public policies that reflect sustainability principles". I serve on the waste committee of course. Last month, our meeting included both our local waste hauler and city's sustainability coordinator, with whom we discussed better waste solutions for our town.
  • I participate in our town's sustainability discussions: in February, we had a Climate Action Plan meeting.
  • Scott is on our elementary school site council, and I recently participated in a PTA discussion panel on "Ways to Make our School Greener" which raised school waste concerns.
  • We participate in trash pick-up events as a family such as Coastal Clean Up (where we find the oddest, indescribable items floating about), Polk Street Neighborhood Association Street Clean Up in San Francisco (where my 73-year-old mother-in-law, visiting from Texas, bravely joined in, and where I found out that smokers desperately need quitting at best, or public ashtrays at least, picture above), and Earth Day pick up (where I filled my 20 gallon reusable bag within 10 minutes at our local baseball field).
  • We make a point of "leaving the place cleaner than we found it" (If scouting taught me one thing that would be it). Pick up as you go, whether camping, hiking, beach going or simply walking the dog.
  • Lastly, we were both inspired to make career changes: I am focused on changing one house at a time with BeSimpler, helping people to live more simply and to move towards zero waste; and, Scott is focused on changing one business at a time, launching his company, FairRidge Group, to address broader social and environmental issues (he spoke at Opportunity Green last fall). We don't know yet if these were the right financial decisions for us – but it is an exciting time to be trying to find out (can you say "Great Recession").
Could we do more? Of course we could! If we did not have two fun boys, a needy dog, a yard in progress and the great outdoors to enjoy. But frankly, we are satisfied with the amount that we manage to contribute and balance in our jobs, activities, and home (we only have so many hours in a day). We are now at least relieved from action paralysis that once afflicted us.
Because while environmentalists debate the importance of individual vs. collective action, we agree with Colin Beavan that, "We cannot wait for the system to change, we individuals are the system", and that actions speak louder than words.
How do you walk your talk?