Friday, August 12, 2005

Practical Changes

It's time for me to recap the changes I've been making. I've decided to focus on what I'm DOING rather than what I plan to do. Naturally I have grandiose aspirations, but since they're just aspirations at the moment, and I want to keep things real, I think focusing on the now is more productive. Additionally, I suspect this may be the first post read by many of my friends and family (I'm sending out this link today) ... so I want them to know how I'm trying to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I do suggest, though, that at some point you go back and read from the beginning.

Here's what I'm doing at present:

1) Reducing the amount of waste I produce.

I've eliminated the use of paper towels, except for a couple of instances when I forgot to bring my cloth towel to work. I am finding there is never a need to use paper to clean up spills or dry my hands, as long as I have a towel available. When I wash my hands at work and forget to bring my towel to the bathroom, I let them air dry. It doesn't take very long. I'm also trying to be more conservative with toilet paper and Kleenex, and when the stock I have runs out I will purchase eco-friendly products. Same thing with feminine hygiene products, although the eco-friendly versions of these products are extremely expensive.

I'm also trying to reuse anything I can and buy products with less packaging, if available. I recycle everything I possibly can. I discovered recently that the plastic trays that come with my frozen meals are recyclable. I just wash them out when I'm done. I'm also saving a couple because I think they will be useful for drip trays under potted plants or something else I may not have thought of yet.

I'm using cloth shopping bags instead of getting plastic or paper. I get a discount at my local market for doing this (Whole Foods Market, an excellent resource for environmentally-friendly products and organic and gluten-free food).

2) Reducing my water consumption.

I shut off the water whenever I can. Soaping up my hands, brushing my teeth, whatever. I used to let the water run until it was hot for boiling, but I have stopped that practice. In the shower, I keep a large container which I let fill with water as I shower, and I shut off the shower and use this water as much as possible. It's surprisingly easy to do. I also try to catch the clean, cold water that comes out at first and set it aside for my houseplants. When I wash dishes (I don't have a dishwasher), I fill the sink to a minimum and wash them all at once, then rinse them with the water pressure very low. I thought all this would take significantly longer than the way I used to wash, but it hasn't. If I had to make a guess, I think I'm using at least 25% less water than I used to ... but of course, this is just a guess.

3) Environmentally friendly products.

The last time I went grocery shopping, everything but one item was organic or eco-friendly. The one item which wasn't organic was polenta, which I find is a really useful food, especially for my diet. I will do some research on the brand I bought and see what their environmental impact is. If Whole Foods carries the brand, chances are it is at least somewhat progressive.

4) Light bulbs / Electricity.

My landlord uses flourescent energy-efficient bulbs which last several years, so many of the lights in my home are already efficient. As my own light bulbs burn out I'll replace them with these. I'm also making sure I turn off electric items when they are not in use, and only lighting or heating/cooling (fans, not A/C) the area of my home that I'm in.

5) Used items / Opting out of Consumerism.

If I have to purchase something, I do my best to purchase a used rather than new item, to discourage the production of new things in a world so filled with stuff. However, what I've discovered is that usually I don't need to purchase anything, other than food and household items. I'm getting more confident in asking people if I can borrow things, if I only need them once or I know they have one to spare. For instance, I would like to have a flashlight. My bathroom and kitchen are in the basement of my landlord's house, about 30 feet away from my cottage, and at night I can't see for the first half of this distance. I'm planning to borrow a flashlight indefinitely from someone who might have an extra. When I go to Bass/Nature Camp next month, there are several things I need such as a tent and a guitar tuner ... I can borrow all the items on my list. I'm fortunate to have such generous friends and family. And of course, any item I have is available if anyone needs anything. I'm looking at possessions in a different way than I used to. I feel better taking a communal view.

6) Public Transportation / Foot or Bike Power.

Weaning off of my car has proven to be the most difficult of all these actions. We all have our weaknesses. It's difficult for me to visit people who live more than a few miles from me, if I don't want to drive there. Currently I'm still driving to work but I have let my company know I'm switching from a parking pass to a bus pass at the end of this month. They provide a monthly $60 check to those who use public transportation, and this will cover my bus pass. My brother's family, whom I see often, are moving to a house closer to a bus line, so I plan to use the bus to visit them. One difficulty is presented by my beloved, yet enormous, upright bass. I cannot take that on a bike or on foot for very long. I suppose I could take it on the bus but I'm concerned about the potential for damaging it, and if it's a busy time for the bus it takes up a lot of room. So when I go to my bass lessons or I want to take it up to play at my brother's house, I "need" to drive (I'm exploring this concept of need and trying to use the word sparingly, that's why I put it in quotations) .

I walk when I can. I'm still nervous about riding a bike in the city, and I also don't have a bike lock yet so this limits where I can take my bike. I walk to the grocery store and to any appointments I have in the city during my workday.


The pervasiveness of consumerism and waste in our daily lives can be overwhelming if you try to be mindful of every little thing. Every item with which I come in contact now, I wonder about its origin, its purpose, and where it will end up. I wonder the same about the human race itself. I am trying to practice forgiveness of myself and others in all respects. If it's not too late I hope the Earth will forgive our transgressions as we try to restore balance.

Your comments and questions are welcome and encouraged. One friend of mine has been keeping me abreast of little changes she's making, and it is extremely uplifting for me. It motivates me to continue on this path. I know radical lifestyle changes are difficult even to contemplate ... all I ask is that you think about your actions and consumption. If you find there are ways to reduce your consumption and place less strain on our environment, do so. I would love to hear about them. If the time isn't right for you yet, you can share that too. I envision a cultural change that will take many years to take hold. Every large change begins with a few individuals who probably feel alone and strange. For me, these changes have been the natural result of opening my eyes to the exploitation of our natural resources, an exploitation which has been snowballing since the Industrial Revolution, and cannot continue indefinitely. I'll end with a quote that I found on, which unfortunately I can't explain in detail because I'm not sure what it is yet. I got the link from the ecology discussion forum on craigslist, and I liked what it said on the opening page:

"By virtue of being alive on this rare and beautiful planet, we are the pivotal generation that has the privilege to steer the course of humanity away from planetary disaster, toward a promising future in which we all can thrive. This is our obligation to each other and to the unborn generations waiting to take their share of this cosmic wonder--life on Earth."


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