Beauty, Recognition, and Reaction

The following excerpt was taken from Sharman Apt Russell’s book Anatomy of a Rose:

Subtract flowers from the world and the whole world is dead from a human point of view. The non-flowering plants on earth include the mosses, liverworts, conifers, cycads, ferns, and ginkgo trees. Almost every other plant, everything we and other animals eat, requires a flower for reproduction. We know that flowers are beautiful. We forget that they are also essential.

I think this is true of many small things in the world– they are essential in some way.  Often in our hectic lives, they go unnoticed or un-valued, yet if they were gone, it would affect us in a huge way.  We end up taking these small things for granted because they have always been there and we believe they always will be, as we have been shown no evidence to prove otherwise. 

 However, there are some very big things we take for granted too.  And when I say “we” here, I suppose I am talking about the majority of people living in most developed countries.  Two biggies are clean air and clean water.  You have the occasional ozone alert day, but other than that, you don’t tend worry about air quality.  Most of us don’t have to wear masks when we go outside and our cities are usually clear of smog and visible air pollution.  We don’t have to be afraid of drinking our water straight from the tap.  We can shower daily, wash our clothes, cook, and brush our teeth with the water that comes out of our faucets.  If we are out and about and we get thirsty, we can just grab a bottle of water from a gas station or grocery store.  They even sell bottled water in department stores, movie theaters, and sporting goods stores now.  Schools, hospitals, colleges, libraries, and corporations have water fountains in every hallway.   We have swimming pools, water parks, and car washes. Clean water is never far away.

So I can’t say I’m surprised that many people don’t recycle because they either don’t think about it or don’t see why it’s important.  A lot of people even see it as a hassle. We’re taking a lot for granted. 

Where I work, we have recycling bins for cans and plastic set up in several places on every floor.  But when I walk by the trash can in the cafeteria, I see plastic bottles and cans in with the food waste.  What’s sad is that the recycle bins for those materials are right next to the trash cans.  It would have taken nothing more than the simple realization of that fact for someone to put their Coke can into the recycle bin instead of the trash can. 

I’ve spoken with a few people to get their thoughts on what I consider a strange resistance to recycling.  Most people say that they just don’t think about it.  It’s not intentional, but since they don’t have a recycling program in their neighborhood and therefore don’t recycle at home, they just don’t think to do it while they are at work.  Some people just don’t see the value in recycling.  They don’t understand why it’s important and they don’t think that it affects them.  They haven’t had to do it in all their years of life; why now?

In this way, most of us are blessed:  we don’t live near a landfill.  We don’t see one on the way to work, on our weekend shopping trips, or on vacation.  We don’t have rainwater runoff from tossed out batteries, oil waste, rotting food, and toxic chemicals draining into the lakes we get our drinking water from or the fields we grow our food in (at least not that we know of).   When we throw something away, it goes away in our minds.  But what we fail to understand is that there is no “away.” 

We may have mostly-clean air and drinking water freely available to us now, but what about our children?  Our grand children? Our great-grandchildren? Our great great-grandchildren?  What about generations 100 years from now?  Will they live next to a landfill?  Will they have runoff seeping into their water and soil?  Will they have clean air to breathe? 

Of course, we don’t think about that when we toss out our bottles, paper, glass, and cans with the garbage, do we?  We don’t think that we, as individuals, could have this sort of impact on the future.  We don’t remember that we are part of a collective whole, sharing one planet, the ONLY planet, that we have to live on.  We live in the moment.  But somewhere, right now in this very moment, there are families living next to a landfill.  That’s what they see and smell every day.  Their water is undrinkable.  They get sick.  But we never see these people do we?  And since we don’t see it, we don’t think about it.

I’ve written before about the butterfly effect– essentially Newton’s Law in a less physical sense.  For every action, there is a reaction.  Everything we do sets into motion a series of events and we may never know the full consequences of our actions, but they affect everyone else on this planet.  I know that’s a huge idea, but I strongly believe that.

John Muir once said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

I urge you to find out about recycling programs in your area.  If one doesn’t exist, ask for one.  I also urge you to find creative ways to reuse items before you recycle them.  Clean salsa jars make good containers for storing soup or homemade sugar scrub.  Glass water bottles of all different shapes and colors make beautiful vases for flowers.  Paperboard containers that rolled oats and breadcrumbs come in can be covered in decorative paper and used for giving baked goods like cookies (they’re like mini cookie jars!).  Local animal shelters often take newspapers to line puppy and kitten cages and some even take paperboard toilet paper tubes to stuff alfalfa in for bunnies.  Colored paper can be put through a paper shredder and used for Easter basket grass instead of buying that plastic stuff year after year.  Get creative!

If any of you have good ideas on how to re-use common items, I’d love to hear them!  Please comment and let me know how you extend the life of items that would normally be tossed out.

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