Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Recycling & Sustainability

I moved out of the city to a small town (Ellensburg, WA) and already I can feel the difference in my state of mind. It's much easier here not to drive or spend very much money. Today I ran several errands which all took place in the same 3 or 4 block radius. It's only about a 15 min. walk into town and just a few minutes by bike. My rent has gone down by more than half, my car insurance (I still own my car) is way down, and my phone bill will be significantly lower since I can turn my head to talk to my other half rather than call him on the phone.

But anyway, all this self-focused energy of late has had me searching for motivation or just direction to get me back on the environmental path. I went back and looked at old links I had saved for later blog entries. I found some great info about recycling that I thought deserved mention, and some useful definitions and guidelines to sustainability.

First, it's kinda fun to play the Recycling IQ Game on the City of Seattle site. I learned a few things I didn't know before, like that wire coat hangers are recyclable.

On the Washington State Department of Ecology site, there's a Recycling FAQ page with some useful information. Here's a cool Recyclable Materials Poster as well.

The rules for disposal of electronics have changed. According to the King County website, "As of October 1, 2005, computers, monitors, TVs and cell phones will no longer be accepted in the garbage or at King County Transfer Stations." As a solution they list the Take It Back Network Recyclers.

I also found a great service called GreenDisk, which will collect your "technotrash" for a small fee and recycle it. They also happen to be located in Western Washington. According to their website, technotrash "... is a generally accepted term for obsolete or discarded electronic devices and materials such as cell phones, computers televisions, printers, inkjet & toner cartridges and rechargeable batteries. Technotrash usually has little or no remaining value unless it can be collected into large processable batches for recycling." Over the course of the years I've amassed enough of this stuff to warrant sending a batch of it to GreenDisk. It's about $6.00 plus shipping to send them a box of 20 lbs. or less.

The other resource I was happy to find is EcoEncore, which "... raises funds for environmental organizations in the Pacific Northwest through the resale of used books, CDs, DVDs, and software. Through the collection and sale of used media, Eco Encore turns used goods into financial support for the regional environmental movement." So... it's a worthy alternative to traditional thrift-store donations or the hit-or-miss methods of selling stuff online. On my next visit to Seattle I will take some things to donate.

The Department of Ecology has some good information on sustainability. This definition is from their Pocket Guide to Sustainability:

"Sustainability provides for current needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations. Sustainable practices require that we evaluate how our decisions today will affect society, the environment, and the economies of the future. Sustainability acknowledges that people, economies, and all life depend on healthy functioning societies, economies and ecosystems."

And from the Dept. of Ecology's Sustainability Plan:

Guiding Principles of Sustainability

These eight principles, developed by the agency Sustainability Team and authorized by Senior Management, provide a framework to guide Ecology toward sustainable solutions. They are intended to serve as overarching themes for the entire Agency and should not be viewed in isolation but as interdependent on one another.
  • There is inter-dependence between ecological, economic and social factors in achieving sustainability.
  • The concept of waste can and should be eliminated.
  • Healthy natural systems are the basis for sustainable communities and economies.
  • Future generations should be equal partners in decision making.
  • Local decisions have regional and global implications.
  • Incentives are necessary to create sustainable behavior.
  • Investment in the design phase of a process or product drives sustainable outcomes.
  • Human relationships and a collaborative approach lead to sustainable solutions.

The Beginning of Another Beginning

Warning: this is personal blather but it's part of my environmental journey. This post will be followed immediately by a post with useful information.

I moved to Ellensburg. During this transitional period I'm having difficulty focusing on environmentalism. I never stopped thinking about it, I just couldn't muster the energy to consciously do something. Namely, to research and write.

Weaning off of my car has been far and away the most difficult life change (**but extremely important to do, and not impossible ... just want to make that clear**). I've readily made excuses and justifications for driving, and while some of them are understandable (if not forgivable), most of them boiled down to my addiction to my own convenience. However, I did ride the bus quite a bit and tried to consolidate errands/visits if I felt I "had" to drive. Now I'm in Ellensburg and my car's parked in Seattle temporarily. I'm doing a lot of walking and I'm conquering my fear about bike riding (pretty easy in this town, the traffic's minimal and the landscape is basically flat).

I noticed before my move that after not driving for several days, I felt pretty tripped out behind the wheel. The freeway traffic unnerves me. I'm not sure it's a good activity for so many people to be engaged in at once. The injuries from my two car accidents (I was a passenger) illustrated to me how little we truly acknowledge how dangerous these machines are, not to mention harmful to the planet.

It's not necessary to think cars are "bad" in and of themselves, in order to acknowledge their destructive capacity. I know we rely on cars. It's not our fault that we were born into this car culture. If we know what's really happening, though, and we can see the direction the Earth is heading and what might lie ahead for our great-great-grandchildren, or their children ... if we then choose to cling to our cars (and our green lawns in July, and our disposable toilet brushes...) then that is our fault. We cannot wait for corporations and governments to make this a priority. Until I finally listened to the evidence and began to reconcile my life to positive change, I had either taken the fatalist's view or that of compassionate ignorance. I never acknowledged the possibility that "they" weren't going to do anything about it, because preserving the earth for generations to come requires the sacrifice of personal convenience, or at least that is what our culture has led us to believe.

How do you define convenient? I have moved to a small town where I can walk or bike to everything I need. My house is so small (and I share it with another person) that a lot of things are in reach from wherever I sit. I feel like a millionaire. I am living like royalty compared to most of the people in the world. Between us we have three computers and one out in the shed. We have clean water from the tap, organic food in the fridge, heaters, hot water, plenty of space for the things we really need. Even the cat lives well. We could be living more sustainably but it's a learning and deprogramming process that demands time.

There are cultural, spiritual, and economic imbalances which are creating the enormous imbalance in our natural environment. There is no model in nature for unchecked growth, and this growth in our population will undo us. Unchecked growth of capitalism will undo us as well. Corporations in a capitalist economy will NEVER have "enough" money. They will never stop making money if there is money to be made.

Corporations exist to make money and the government exists to ... well, that's a tough one to answer. In my mind, the current United States government exists primarily to make war, build an empire, and further the extreme agenda of the ruling party. I imagine that most of the individual members of the government do not lie in bed at night and wish for war and suffering. But has the government of this country begun to emulate the corporation? In which there are a few select people at the top (a preponderance of white men) who benefit the most from the way the organization functions and they intend to keep it that way?