Summers in Northern California were truly incredible. It was always hot enough to go swimming, rarely so hot that you needed AC, and there was always something to do. You could wear shorts during the day and sweats at night. My hometown of Richmond, CA is a WWII industrial town just minutes from Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland, and Marin County. We were on the water, in the heart of the ‘hood, and were notorious for our rough streets and incredible views. We could drive 5 minutes to view the sunset over the Bay Bridge, and got a “hush” check every time there was a fire at the refinery. It was the perfect dichotomy of the beautiful struggle. At just over 100,000 people, it was considered a small suburb of San Francisco (after moving to the Midwest, I realize how ridiculous that can sound).
Living in the city means that the most accessible goods are usually packaged in plastic, and not easily recyclable. It means there’s a lot of waste. Commuting means convenience, and everyone commuted. Having cheap and easy food and products available was integral to the lifestyle we lived. Hello, carbon footprint.
By contrast, when I was a child, part of my summers were spent with my aunt in an area of California along the Redwood coast called The Lost Coast. This community had a tiny population of several hundred people who wanted to escape the exact environment I grew up in. My aunt’s house sat on 60 acres of completely untouched forest with a view of the Pacific Ocean, and just 3 miles up the hill from a clear, beautiful river so clean you could drink from it. Here there was barely any waste. Recycling and composting were ways of life, not the weird exception to the rule. There were no power lines, there was no trash service, and most people did a “dump run” once a year for the tiny bits of garbage they accumulated. Food was grown in the yard or bought and traded for with the neighboring farms. Once every few months, residents would make the two hour trip “into town” for essentials they couldn’t get where they lived. I was a nature kid, free to roam the hills and explore the animals, bugs, and trees. The fear of the wilderness subsided and my love of the Earth expanded greatly during those summers.
Fast forward to my current life in a suburb of St. Louis, and I can barely fill my recycling can once a week—there’s never enough in there to justify putting it on the curb for pickup. What happened to me? Years of hustle and bustle led me to a life of convenience. Disposable plates, one-time-use-everything, plastic packaging, and a loathe of washing dishes. I seriously hate washing dishes—enter plastic forks and styrofoam cups. I usually go for cheap over green, quick over quality, and easy over practical. But deep down, I hurt a little every time I find myself throwing away a yogurt container that could have another use, or a glass bottle that could be an art project someday. I’m also terrified of becoming a hoarder, because all those one-day-art-projects will almost certainly be just stuff in a box until I decide to get rid of it.
Where’s the balance?
Two years ago I decided to represent a small, not-for-profit coffee company and had my first experience with a booth at the Earth Day Festival in St. Louis. Vendors from all over come to display their earth-friendly goods and services, everything is recycled, and the Green Dining Alliance tells you where to eat if you want to lower your impact on the immense amount of trash we leave behind.
These are the people I missed so much from my childhood! People who valued the places their products came from, and what happened to them when they were done.
Now the festival didn’t convert me into a conservationist, but it did remind me that there ARE ways to be more green on a daily basis. Now I go back every year. I doubt I will ever go without the conveniences of a car in exchange for a bicycle, or wash my coffee cup every day and never throw out a green straw again (my real coffee drinkers know what I’m talking about), but it’s a start at getting back to the roots. I may not be the humanitarian that used to yell at my mom about recycling plastic containers, but at least my recycling bin is getting fuller by the week.
And as a quick “thank you” to Mother Earth, when Spring rolls around I plan to plant a bee-friendly garden in my front yard. It’s the least I could do!
Do you keep an eye on your consumption and your waste? Do you want to do it more? What motivates you? What makes it difficult?
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on the environment from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.