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Friday, April 22, 2011

Our Disposable Society

Today is Earth Day, and a recent incident at Target started me thinking about how disposable our society has become.

I hate the non-recyclable plastic bags Target uses. Unlike plastic bags from grocery stores, these cannot be returned for recycling. If I do get a plastic bag, I reuse it, usually as a liner for a small trash can. But I much prefer not to get any new bags. Small bags from take-out food get reused to pick up after my dogs during our walks.

Generally I take my reusable Target bag with me. But one night I took a previously used plastic Target bag, since we were buying just a couple of small items. As usual, I placed the bag on the conveyor belt ahead of the merchandise. I was stunned when the cashier picked it up and tossed it aside, then started to put my purchases into a new bag. "I want to use my old bag," I told him. "I hate getting a new plastic bag every time." He looked surprised, but did as I asked.

On a trip to Walmart, the clerk muttered something about "Oh, you have one of those" as he spied my reusable cloth bag. I have seen people leave Walmart with shopping carts containing 20 or more plastic bags in their cart, and I would bet that only a tiny fraction ever gets recycled.

I don't care if reusable bags are not as convenient for the clerks. I do care about pollution and wasting non-renewable resources. And why does everything have to be put into a bag, anyway? My gallon of milk already has a handle, so why put it into a flimsy plastic bag? If I buy a bag of apples, oranges or potatoes, why put that bag into another bag?

When I was in Ireland 7 years ago, I noticed that everybody took their own reusable bags. Since I was on vacation and didn't have a bag with me, I had to pay for the plastic bag for my few items from the grocery store. I think this should be common practice in the U.S., too.

From plastic bags, my thoughts turned to disposable animals. Someone recently abandoned his 14-year-old German shepherd dog at an animal shelter in California because the dog had trouble walking. Rather than stay with his old dog during his last weeks on Earth, this person dropped him off at an animal shelter, where the poor old dog spent several days in fear and confusion. We humans are doing a terrible job of caring for domestic animals (wildlife, too, but that's another story). A woman in England adopted a Jack Russell terrier, then returned it a few days later because it "didn't match the curtains." I know this sounds far-fetched, but it is a true story.

How many millions of people in this country get a dog or cat, tire of it when it's no longer cute or little or young, then dispose of it?

Then I started thinking about all the other disposable things in our society:
  • diapers
  • bottles of water, iced tea, etc.
  • appliances (how often do we have appliances repaired these days? It's usually cheaper and easier just to replace the defective item).
  • cameras
And don't forget the electronic devices such as cell phones and MP3 players that are always coming out with more memory or fancy new features to entice people to upgrade to the latest models. Electronic waste is a huge environmental problem, as it contains several toxic chemicals that can leach into the soil or water if not disposed of properly.

At my house, we recycle paper, plastic, aluminum and bi-metal cans, as well as cardboard and newspaper. We shred regular paper (mostly junk mail) and donate it to a wolf sanctuary, where it helps provide bedding for the animals. We recycle what can't be shredded. Our recycling service won't take glass bottles or jars, or Styrofoam, so we save these things in a bag and drop them off at a recycling bin behind Sam's Club.

Recycling is a way of life. It's something we do automatically, without really thinking about it. I pick up discarded bottles and cans when walking in my neighborhood. It's a small thing, but it's important to me and it keeps the area from looking trashy.

Today is Earth Day. But really, shouldn't every day be Earth Day?