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Risa Buck

WasteNot: What kind of difference do you want to make?

A comic in The Tidings caught my attention last month and got me thinking about how we are generally afraid of and resistant to “change,” especially if the modification triggers a feeling of deprivation. Rather than jumping for joy to modify our behavior to make less waste (for example, by bringing a drinking cup to drink on the go or container for leftovers from a restaurant), we prefer to fill refrigerators and garbage cans with plastic, Styrofoam or paper type cups and boxes of food we may not eat. These “containers of convenience” often end up transported to the landfill, food and all, anyway.

In the comic strip, a Realtor was showing clients one of the amenities of a house for sale. She was exclaiming its special attributes of a kitchen with plenty of counter space that easily accommodates the opening of bags and Styrofoam containers from carry out. The delighted clients responded, “Wow, finally, a Realtor who really understands our lifestyle.” It was meant to be a “joke” and with humor, crystals of truth don’t often fall far from the chuckle.

For those of us fortunate enough to buy or remodel a home, the design priorities we choose reflect values that have an affect on our behavior (mega-wide counters are extra welcoming for all kinds of “stuff”). It’s not a given that our values support our behavior or that our behaviors support our values. It is a tremendous privilege to be in a position to ponder this choice. The decisions we make daily have mounting impacts on current environmental quality and even more profoundly for future generations.

Maybe, for many of us, we think we have already answered these questions and choose to not reflect. Are there threads from this comic that catch your attention? It’s one thing to lower counters to a height to accommodate a wheelchair or shorter people. Or to site a new home with a southern exposure for solar access, or insulate to maximize energy efficiency for cooler summers and warmer winters at lower cost. Is a 3,000-square-foot house a wise choice for one or two people?

Is our primary focus to maintain high levels of “comfort,” even at the expense of future generations? Can we increase efficiencies, reduce waste and still live a decent life? What might inspire us to make changes that reduce our current impacts for our children — for our great-great-grandchildren?

Our individual footprints are like drops in a bucket. Our collective impacts add up when mixed together to create the air, water, soil and energy that we share with creatures greater and smaller than ourselves. My drop does not drip in isolation from yours. The choices we make can do less harm or more harm and it depends, but it does matter. It’s always mattered and the accumulations from yesterday and yesteryear have added up in a way that is threatening the life and quality of life for most beings.

“For the rest of the world, contemporary America is an almost symbolic concentration of all the best and the worst of our civilization. On the one hand, there are its profound commitments to enhancing civil liberty and to maintaining the strength of its democratic institutions on the other, there is blind worship of perpetual economic growth and consumption, regardless of their destructive impact on the environment, or how subject they are to the dictates of materialism and consumerism” (Va’clav Havel).

I invite you to ponder these thoughts and I look forward to offering very specific low-hanging fruit action items to incorporate in 2019. Find out what “BTC” stands for and, in the meantime, do what you can and then stretch a little more!

Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a dozen years. You may reach her through betling@dailytidings.com. Find past WasteNot columns online at dailytidings.com/lifestyle/wastenot.

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