Archive for the ‘Thinking and Talking’ Category

At the mall (Help, I’m being greenwashed!)

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

As William McDonough and Michael Braungart famously state in Cradle to Cradle, there is no away. Today I’m feeling angry (probably because I’m at the mall) and I want to emblazon that sentiment onto every, stinkin’ styrofoam-filled trash receptacle in this place. Ok, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t be at the mall at all. But I needed a book for a design project that they had at the store and not at the library. So I came here to buy the book. No excuses though. I’m consuming and playing my part in the problem.

I decided to check out a new food stand for lunch. It looked pretty, or, should I say, since I’m a professional in these matters, well-branded. Middle Eastern food, with clearly marked vegan options on the menu.

I’m not holier-than-thou. I’m very flawed and first to admit it. But we do what we can, right? So, I noticed that the plates of falafel and salad at this new food place were being served in plastic containers. Wm and I have been talking about avoiding plastic that you use for 10 minutes and throw out. So, I got a falafel and salad wrap — which came in foil and paper. Good good. (Quite tasty, actually).

I finished, I separated my foil from my paper, ready to find the recycling place. Looking, looking…. trash can. Trash can. Trash can. 5 trash cans. Winding my way around the crowded food court area, looking, looking. I see lots of people eating meat from styrofoam boxes, eating and then throwing the styrofoam away. I start to get ireful. Ok, ok, don’t judge people. We do what we can. I’m sure I’ve purchased something in styrofoam within the past 6 months. Looking, looking…

Then I come across this sign. It says: “Eco Friendly CambridgeSide. Recycle here. Join us in our commitment to the environment.”

OK! I will! Thanks!

Near the sign is a recycling bin. It accepts glass, plastic and aluminum. I deposit my foil.

“There must be a box for paper around here”, I think. I don’t see one. I start wandering around the food court again. Trash can, trash can, trash can.  Then I see it — another blue box, tucked away. But again, it’s only for glass, plastic and aluminum. I think about how much paper is generated in the food court. All these corporations there (Burger King, Taco Bell, etc) using paper and no doubt touting their greenness.

Really? I can’t recycle this wad of paper? But I joined you in your commitment to the environment!

I look around some more. I wonder why, if they’re so committed, they let all these food stands sell stuff in styrofoam containers. The mall could ban that. The parent company of this mall, which owns tons of properties, could ban that.

I give up. There’s no way to recycle my paper. I toss it into a trash can, with a heavy plastic bin liner. My paper will live in that black trash back for who knows how many years, in a landfill somewhere. I’m sad. I should have put it in my bag and taken it home.

The sign continues to infuriate me as I walk through the mall, looking for a mall information desk where I can make some kind of complaint. Why are there 20 trash cans and only 2 recycling bins which are hard to find? Why no paper recycling? How exactly are you committed to the environment, oh palace of consumerism?

I can’t find a help desk. I go to Starbux and get a coffee (in a “for here” cup). I glare at people’s luxury-brand leather status handbags and mentally smack myself for being judgmental and counterproductive.

This story doesn’t wrap up neatly. It doesn’t have a tidy moral, per se. Only, I suppose, that we can all do better with the simple things. Including me.

The unexpurgated explanation of expurgatory.com

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

I like many these days, am motivated by multitudinous factors to simplify.

I thought I’d make some notes here as I do, for better or worse – a chronicle of expurgating the unnecessary, the gratuitous, the unsustainable and unwise physical stuff from my life. It’s all part of a bigger project – but this is just a scrapbook of Stuff as it goes out the door, to remind me where I’ve been and to ward off any propensities towards emotional attachment or sentimentality for the departed. Hence the urge to purge. Everyone’s cleaning out their closets (physical and metaphorical) and I’m jumping right on that bandwagon, with great enthusiasm.

I know “expurgation” is a bit of a negative term, usually referring to a kind of censorship, or a removal of the dirty bits. In a way, that’s what I’m doing, but I think of it more as a healthy filtering, without all the moral judgement or paternalism. Also, “expurgatory” is just a cool word, no?

A little background

In the grand schema, there is overwhelming evidence that we must all invent and embrace sustainable systems. While I believe that doing so will lead to richer, more satisfying and egalitarian lives for us all (rather than lives of going without, or denial of wants/needs), there’s definitely a need to expunge much of the detritus of our current open-loop paradigms in order to get there.

On a personal level (and that’s the only one I can be sure of truly effecting, at this point), I’ve dug myself into all kinds of rabbit-holes of overcommitment – or rather, the wrong kinds of commitments. These take the form of time commitments, commitments to owning things/spending money on things and to living the kind of life that requires a commitment to a seemingly unsustainable amount of mental energy/strife/anxiety to maintain.

I’ve been devoting time over the past few months to looking at the decisions (or lack thereof) that have lead me to to where I am now in my life and contemplating ways to clean up the messes and set up some strong, simple sustainable systems for my own day-to-day existence.

Perhaps that’s a a bit abstract. Here are the goals which I’m talking about:

  • reduce or eliminate unnecessary consumption of products and services – or find ways to work with in the structures of more sustainable systems to obtain them
  • reduce amount of physical stuff I own by  upcycling, donating, recycling or trashing it (in that order of preference)

That’s what I want to write about here – a sort of unpressured, occasional chronicle of better solutions for stuff. At the same time, there are other, more personal goals I’m working on, which share a synergistic relationship with these tangible, stuff-related ones:

  • live in the present, let go of the past, don’t fret so much about the future
  • improve my health so I can do more, more easily
  • find the balance between giving and overpraising
  • become more integrated with my community and more of service
  • eliminate my debt
  • find work-life balance
  • do more meaningful work

So, yeah. On to the pictures of Stuff.

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