Happy Earth Day!

In honor of Earth Day…and because we are studying natural resources anyway…I read this book about recycling yesterday.  Gail Gibbons is fantastic, and writes so many well-written, well-researched, well-illustrated non-fiction picture books on various topics.  (I once had her book about bats memorized, because a boy in my class named Martin wanted to hear it every day during book time.  We did fun things like that in preschool, reading to the kids…well, that book was fun for the first three days…would you like to know anything about bats?  🙂 )  Recycle! is no different.  In fact, in the past 24 hours I have been so aware of the things that I throw away.  I recycle out of habit, but I rarely stop to think about why.  I also don’t really think about the things I don’t recycle, the things that end up in the garbage.

A wool sock takes about a year to biodegrade in a landfill.  A banana peel might take two years.  Metal cans, such as pop cans, soup cans, etc., take about 500 years to biodegrade in the landfill.  Glass takes 1000 years to biodegrade.  Plastic and styrofoam are here forever.  FOREVER.  Yikes.  (A video that I showed today contradicted slightly, saying that plastic will take several thousand years, but will eventually turn back into fossil fuel.  The video agreed that styrofoam is not at all degradeable.)  Also, styrofoam that finds its way to the ocean looks like food when it floats on the water.  Sea animals eat it, and their bodies can’t digest it, and the animals starve to death because their stomach is full of styrofoam.

According to Gail Gibbons, it is cheaper and produces less pollution to make things out of recycled metal, glass, and plastic, than to make those materials new.  Yay.  This is why we can recycle those materials.  Unfortunately, we can’t recycle styrofoam because it is cheaper to make new polystyrene products than to recycle used ones.  In my school district, each child throws away a styrofoam lunch tray every day.  Dumpsters full of polystyrene, that is here on this earth forever, thrown out every day.  It makes me sick.  In the spirit of community, I asked my kids what they thought we could do about that.  They suggested things like bringing their own lunch.  They suggested asking our lunch servers if we could wash our trays and use them again tomorrow.  🙂  I suggested they think about inventing a new way to serve school lunch when they grow up.  {Of course, there’s the old way.  I ate off a plastic tray with metal silverware in elementary school and even in high school.  What’s a little washing dishes compared to taking care of our planet???}

I thought about fast food beverage lids and straws, and the plastic front part of packages where the back is cardboard, and the plastic baggie that my lunchmeat came in, and dog poop bags, and scotch tape dispensers.  I thought about that beautiful video that I posted last time, and the oceans that sustain us.  I thought about how much of our earth will be covered with landfills if we go on.  I thought about the chemicals those landfills are giving off over thousands of years as our garbage is processed by nature.  We are killing our planet. 

And then I calmed down, and I thought about what I do habitually.  What small steps can I take?  First, I am horrible with ziplock baggies.  My mother wisely made us wash and reuse them, but I hate drying them, so I don’t do that anymore.  But, what exactly do I do that I can’t use a recyclable plastic tupperware-type container?  Or a reused cottage cheese container?  Is there anything that I need ziplock baggies for?  I just ran out, and I think I won’t buy anymore, and see how it goes.

Second, I love cold coffee drinks.  Smoothies, iced lattes…but every time I get one, I throw away a plastic container.  First, are they recyclable?  I need to look and see, and it would take so little time to rinse them out and throw them in the recycling.  Second, some coffee places let you put your drink in a reusable mug, what about smoothies?  Can I buy a smoothie, but have them pour it into my Nalgene-type water bottle instead?  Or will they put it in a travel mug, even if it’s cold?  {Or perhaps I should make coffee at home and save my money anyway!!!}

It helped me calm down to think about the steps I have taken.  I no longer buy paper towels.  I have paper napkins on hand, but I really only use them when people are over.  I recycle almost all paper and cardboard.  So we’re good with the tree products.  🙂

What do you do to reduce your footprint on the planet?  What small steps can you take to go further?



First, my Friday night randomness:  Why are some hard-boiled eggs easier to peel than others?  What makes an egg shell come off all in one piece, just sliding right off the egg?  What kind of eggs can I buy that are always so easy to peel?  One of the world’s questions without an answer, I imagine!

Tonight I would like to talk about the craziness.  There are things in this world that make me crazy.  Weighing myself, counting calories, making myself a schedule for my to-do list, things like this make me feel out of control.  The problem is that you have such a specific plan for how you think your world should go, and then your world inevitably throws in a few surprises and screw-ups.  So it’s not the measuring and planning that makes me feel out of control, it’s when the measuring and planning doesn’t lead to the correct result.  Control is a huge issue with me.  Control makes me crazy.  If I’m trying for control, I can’t ever get enough of it.  I feel much better about my world when I accept my lack of control, when I actively relinquish control, and when I embrace the surprises. 

I’m finding another issue in which control is making me crazy…earth-friendly living and natural eating!  I wish I had never discovered recycled paper towels and toilet paper.  I wish I didn’t know about sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate’s harmful effects.  I wish I didn’t read the ingredients on the Gatorade bottle when I had the flu.  It’s all getting to be too much!  I’m not going to ruin Gatorade for you, because it used to be the best thing for me to drink when I’m dehydrated.  But anytime I read a label and find something that doesn’t sound like food in the ingredients, I just can’t bear to eat it.  I would rather go through a drive-thru fast food place, because at least the ingredients aren’t listed on the wrapper.  But everything with only real food in the ingredients, no preservatives or artificial anything, is much more time-consuming to prepare.  Make soup, or open a can of soup, for example.  It’s not that I can’t make soup, I love to make soup!  I just can’t make food from scratch every night of the week.  There’s all this other stuff going on called life, and I’m not willing to give it up in order to have time to feed myself with nothing that is artificial.  Unfortunately, at this point that means lots of take-out and drive-thru, because I read too many labels at the grocery store.  On the nights when I have a half-hour to eat and get out the door again, there is nothing to eat in my house!

The truth about food, I think, is that our bodies are made to handle a reasonable amount of harmful, non-food material.  Otherwise we wouldn’t have survived as a species.  And the truth about food habits is that they are built one habit at a time, appropriate to what fits your life.  At this point, my life doesn’t fit with a diet of 100% homemade, from-scratch food, even though I love that kind of food and I love to cook from scratch.  My life does fit fresh fruit very well, as well as easy to cook frozen veggies, fresh veggies dipped in hummus or ranch dressing, individual yogurt cups, store-bought whole grain bread with real butter for my morning toast, the afore-mentioned hard boiled eggs, all kinds of healthy stuff.  If that means I also include preservative-packed chicken nuggets and canned soup, and God help me, the occasional trans fat, I think the fiber and nutrients from all the real food will build cells that can easily deal with those poisons.  I can build new habits one habit at a time, as they fit my life!  For example, I might take canned soup to work, but what if the next time I go to the grocery store I look for some whole-grain crackers instead of saltines?  And what if I don’t find any?  Or what if I don’t find any that compliment soup?  (Triscuits…bad idea in soup.  I tried them.)  The world will not end.  Unfortunately I live in a culture where it is more common to find a refined grain food than a whole-grain food, and I have no doubt that it affects our health.  But that is the culture I live in, and a counter-culture habit takes work to find a suitable substitute for the cultural norm, and time to make it a habit.  I already have many habits that are healthier than the cultural norm, but cooking all my food from scratch is not a reasonable habit for me to aquire right now.  So I need to relinquish control over every substance that goes into my mouth, eat in a reasonably healthy way, and trust my body to take care of the poisons.

The earth-friendly living thing…I work 20 miles from where I live!  When I think about that, it is agonizing to think of all the fossil fuel I use to get to work every week!  (I could mention pollution, but my brother put it in perspective when he explained that my car puts out just a fraction of the pollution of a lawn mower.  Hmm.  At least I don’t have a lawn, right?)  It’s an issue that’s more than just the theoretical damage on the earth, when we see how high the cost of gas is going.  This is where I want to live.  If I am going to change something, I’m going to change where I work.  But I’m not going to change where I work right now, because it’s just not the right thing for me.  This job is the right thing for me!  Where I live is the right thing for me.  Interestingly, of the 17 other teachers at my school who I happen to know where they live, 15 of them live about the same distance away as I do, and 6 of them come from my corner of the city!  It’s probably using peer pressure to my advantage to think that way, but that’s the kind of community this is.  People drive far to go to work.  People drive, period, because there’s no really great public transportation.  (There should be, with so many of us going in the same direction!)  But it might not work, anyway, because people are used to having their own cars, hauling around whatever they want instead of just what they can physically carry, coming and going whenever they want instead of following a bus or subway schedule.  It sounds like a selfish way to live when you think about the earth benefits of public transportation, and an impractical way to live when you think about the financial benefits of public transportation.  But we have our cultural habits, and they are hard to change.  I’ve been thinking of starting a carpool of whoever of the 6 from this direction want to do it, but I know why each of them would say no.  Kids, second jobs, we don’t all have the same habits about when we arrive or leave each day, one teacher travels between two schools every afternoon.  Maybe in the fall, after we’ve all not filled our tanks so much for the summer, and if gas prices continue to go up, maybe then it will be a workable idea.  Maybe not.  Maybe by then I will have a flex-fuel hybrid car that runs for 65 miles a gallon on 80% ethanol!  (Yes, I know these are two separate ideas at this point, but there is no reason they can’t be in the same car!  Just, no one is selling it yet!)  Or maybe I’ll drive something that runs on bio-deisel.  Where can you buy bio-deisel, anyway?  Maybe I’ll convert my car to run on used veggie oil from Runza, like Sara and her husband at Walk Slowly, Live Wildly did.  (Okay, they didn’t have Runza where they lived, but I would certainly be using their veggie oil!)  Maybe not.  🙂  Again with the big, save-the-world-in-one-great-move ideas!  This is the reality of my world right now.  Little ideas, little habits, little changes.  Maybe the next car I buy will be a hybrid.  I will probably continue to buy recycled paper products, now that I know it’s an option.  (Whole Foods Market, people!)  I don’t know if you can get recycled toilet paper at HyVee or Target, I’ll be looking the next time I go.  Wal-Mart has this whole “green” image going right now, maybe they sell recycled paper products.

I feel like I have a lot of healthy and earth-friendly habits that were established in childhood.  I keep my furnace low and my a/c high.  (I grew up without a/c.  On a 90 degree day, an a/c setting of 80 is just fine with me!)  I recycle paper, plastics, glass, metal, cardboard.  I eat natural peanut butter and whole wheat bread.  I know my way around a produce aisle or farmers’ market, and what to do with the produce when I get it home.  Last summer at one farmers’ market, I actually gave the seller tips about what to do with a spaghetti squash!  I wonder what she ever did when customers asked her, “What the heck is this, and how do I cook it?”  (On a related note, I have no problem chatting away with a stranger, which is how you learn new things!)  When I cook a meal, it includes meat or other protein, two veggies or a veggie and grains, and dairy.  I snack on fruit, usually.  I know a million ways to cook a potato, peel and all.  I know how to cook without a can or a box, even if I don’t have the time to really do it right now.  These habits are solid.  I just need to relinquish the control, to accept that I am not going to have zero negative impact on my planet or my body right now, to accept that the healthiest thing I can do right now is to focus on what I can do today, not what should be done altogether.  As always, I feel the craziness come on when I try to look at the big picture, and I feel the craziness pass when I focus in on the part of the picture that is right in front of me.