The last few months have been focused on eliminating waste in my life. I cannot believe how incredibly hard it is to reduce waste during travel if you don’t either plan ahead or basically change the way you think in general.
Two stateside trips in the month of August were eye-opening about how far we have come and how much further we desperately need to improve! I’ll tell you about the first trip now and the second in another post so you don’t have to spend your entire day reading!My family agreed to meet me for a ridiculous and fun-filled family adventure in a rental zig-zagging across as much of New Mexico as we could possibly pack into a few short days. Unbeknownst to the good spirited travelers, I was on a quest to use all of the items I packed in my carry-on to avoid trash. This included: a metal silverware set in a tiny zipper case, metal straw, and reusable coffee mug with its cardboard sleeve. I also carried a backpack with a smaller daypack to avoid using plastic bags.I set off for the airport and made it as far as TSA. It turns out I should not have packed a yogurt for breakfast. It was over the three ounce liquid rule so they dumped it into the trash. I was mystified that they allowed my metal silverware set through that contained a knife and set of chopsticks but would not allow a yogurt I planned to eat for breakfast. I found out later my knife was contraband but both airports let me bring it through . . .I made a mental note to tell everyone about this later and marched on to Dunkin Donuts where they filled the reusable cup I purchased from a major competitor. I sat on the airplane and sipped coffee from this mug, skipped breakfast because I was still pouting about the yogurt, and sadly watched all of the other passengers drink from the free airplane cups. The little plastic cups stuffed with paper napkins and miscellaneous trash fell into the flight attendant’s plastic trash bags again and again.I arrived in Albuquerque and waited for the family to arrive. The very kind woman at the hotel did not understand why I wanted to use a water fountain when she had complimentary bottled water for me. I did not realize at the time but this is a very common conversation everywhere.The family traveled like the Bernstein Bears by car, Dad as the driver with me as the navigator and Mom and sister in back. The sister tried repeatedly and mostly unsuccessfully to block the glaring summer sun with one of the seemingly million maps my parents collected throughout the trip. At one point Dad was driving at least 75 mph when they decided the sister should roll down the window and try to fold the map while he rolled up the window as fast as possible. That was truly the most entertaining thing that happened in the car.I was hopeful we could use the maps on the phones and not create a need to recycle but phone service was spotty and Mom actually collects maps. She tried hard to maintain her neatness by using a trash bag in the car. My sister brought along a solar powered cell phone charger for the trip which was one of several environmentally positive things she did.The reusable cup was a major success! We ate breakfast at a different hotel every morning; I used the same cup all day for coffee and water. The gas stations and fast food places allowed me to fill water for free wherever we went. Most of the time it went very smoothly. The bigger National Parks have water fountains so we made excellent use of those opportunities as often as possible. Twice I ordered a drink and used my own cup; neither place charged me.The utensils were a huge breakthrough habit! I used my utensils at breakfast every morning in lieu of the plasticware provided. I went back to the room and grabbed them when I forgot them. Depending on the location within the same chain of hotels, either styrofoam or paper plates were the only options for food service. The metal straw came in handy when we stopped at a restaurant with table service and washable dishes.The reusable bag was an interesting dilemma. I didn’t bring a bag big enough for a blanket I purchased in Santa Fe and didn’t think to carry it without a bag. The reusable bag my sister brought was also too small. I ended up taking the plastic bag and filling it with all of the purchases. Mom used it as the trash bag in the car but ultimately it went into the trash when we left.I celebrated the fact that I saved at least 15 cups, six sets of plastic utensils, and made choices that reduced the overall amount of trash I created. Other than the National Parks, I found no place to recycle items. This disappointing fact made me happy to have reduced my personal amount of trash. The trip left me to consider what more to do, especially since I’d be going on another trip a week later.
Are you a person who reads about a problem and tries to think of a way you can help make it better? Some topics seem pretty daunting because they are a global epidemic – waste, climate change, the loss of bees and endangered species, and human trafficking are a few hot button items. Do you lay awake at night thinking about these issues like some of my friends or do you throw up your hands and hope someone comes up with a solution? Are you in the middle? It is okay if you haven’t even thought about things like this because you are learning about it now.
Since I was little I have been what some might call a do-gooder. I come by this honestly because my mother is a lifelong volunteer for so many things. She took us to community events, collected money from us for food donations and Christmas presents for children in need for as long as I can remember. We were relatively poor and relied heavily on family in serious times of need but we always seemed to have time for volunteer work.
As we got older, we earned more money and were able to spread the wealth better. My dad and sister like to make sure the kids in their community have school supplies and fishing gear for the annual tournament. I like to volunteer for Veterans charities in the DC area and donate money to several types of non-profits. We all do what Mom, aka the family Chief of Staff, tells us to when she chooses a place for her annual donations.
It never occurred to me not to do things like this because it was something we always did. I received an award from a company where I created a recycling program in the early 2000’s and then a leadership award for being community and people oriented in my company in 2016. That was the same year my mother turned 70. I flew home for her surprise party and met several people who told stories about how nice my family is and how we always do things to help the neighbors and community. I was stunned to realize that not everyone thinks to do things to help others, especially strangers, but it also has never occurred to me to judge people for not being like us.
The flood of 1993 in Missouri sticks out in my mind as a time we helped our community. We lived in a neighborhood on a hill, just above the floodplain. Roads to our home were closed and the National Guard patrolled my friends neighborhoods and kept them out of danger. It was so bad the President arrived by helicopter on the high school football field to survey the damage. We had to help sandbag the subdivision that backed to the river. The Mississippi and Meramec Rivers spilled over the banks and broke levees like never before. One way in and one way out became the norm for a while. We watched the water rise close to spilling over the bridge on that last route into town.
Have you ever sandbagged an area to try to keep the water out of someone’s home? This is a legitimate daunting task because it is really hard work and it may or may not help. We stood in long lines and passed the bags down the way. People shoveled sand into bags and tied them, others passed them down the line, and the end of the line was the group strategically stacking them. I was a kid, basically oblivious, and struggling with this type of physical labor. I can remember people laughing at my facial expressions through the heavy lifting. In the end, the neighborhood we helped persevered through the worst of it. Others were not so lucky and I saw people’s homes and lives destroyed. These people were poor but didn’t let that stop them from moving forward.
I learned so many things from experiences like this and want to share with you, my journey through these lessons because I believe each person can make a difference in this world. Even if the difference is only for one person, it is something big. The flood taught me that you can ask for help in time of need and sometimes people will come to your aid and it will work out. Sometimes no matter what you do, the hardship will still come but it’s what you do to overcome it that makes the difference. We cannot wait for someone else to make a law or rule or to do something for us. We must get in there and do it ourselves.
If you’re not ready to jump in with both feet to save the world that is okay. However, I hope you are interested enough in how you can make tiny changes in your life to impact others in a positive way. If you are ready, let’s climb together, one step at a time.
I look forward to sharing information about recycling, reducing waste at home and work, being a conscientious traveler, energy consumption topics, and using small batch homemade goods. In addition to these articles, I’ll share information about the hot button items I mentioned above along with some great organizations who jumped into the fight for us and are already making a huge difference.