Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't Get a New Cellular Phone on My Account

A few people have told me that they read my June 8th blog post, and appreciated the insight it provided. However, some of them seemed to think I was suggesting that they upgrade their current cellular phone for a new one on the basis of their current phone not being recyclable, or else not made by an environmentally responsible company. D-oh! Somehow (I think I know how), I failed to make a clear case for waste reduction. To clarify, I'd like to review the "Three R's." In the context of environmentalism, they stand for "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle."

Reducing waste means just buying less. It's the first line of defense against creating trash. If it ain't broke, don't fix it -- and definitely don't go out and buy a new one!

Re-use means washing, repairing, modifying, giving away, selling or trading still-usable items until the usefulness has been wrung out of them in order to avoid 'wasting' objects, or in other words turning them into garbage. In the case of beer bottles for example, returning them to the beer store for the deposit money results in the bottles being re-used by the beer company. Re-using is better than recycling; that's why it's the second "R."

Recycling is the last "R" because it's the last resort before landfilling. On the production front, manufacturing plastic goods from post-consumer resin requires less fossil fuel energy to produce than making those goods from virgin resin. Glass recycling, too, is less energy- and resource-consumptive than producing glass from sand. As for paper, we all know how virgin pulp is originated -- from living trees -- so it's much better to recycle paper fibre than to 'make' more. In the case of electrical goods, which are made from a variety of materials and harmful chemicals, recycling becomes a complex matter, one which I argue should be addressed by their manufacturer at the business planning stage, and accomplished through research and development, engineering, and product life cycle management. In other words, companies need to be responsible for making electrical goods which are as recyclable as possible. I tried to make this case in my June 8th blog post. I provided links to several articles and websites, including Greenpeace's "Guide to Greener Electronics" to show how irresponsible the majority of electrical goods maker still are.

As with any consumer purchase, research should be conducted before buying. One point that I hoped to make was that with cellular phones, recyclability (as built-in by the manufacturer) should be included as part of the research criteria, along with the phone's features, price and billing plan. However, by invoking the personal satisfaction I felt from having inadvertently purchased a phone from a company that turned out to have a somewhat better track record than others for recycling (i.e. Nokia), it seems I conjured the joy of consumer satisfaction, invoking a power that holds seductive sway over us all, when what I meant to do was help counteract that very sway with an environmentalist rationale. Please, don't buy a cellular phone if you already have one that is serviceable, especially if it is not recyclable, but even if it is. Please, reduce!

I should have been more careful, knowing that the joy of consuming is a problematic and deeply ingrained impulse in consumer societies like ours which makes it difficult for people to practice the Three R's. I am certainly not immune to consumer desire. Is is a psychological threat to environmental progress. The misguided reactions which my June 8th article inspired (i.e. people wanting newer cell phones) should be proof of that. One of the many reasons why I started this blog was to raise and bolster my own environmental awareness in order to build up some resistance to the complacency and denial that prevents a person from being environmentally sensitive and responsible -- and immune to consumer desire. The latter phenomenon is a fascinating subject that I'd like to explore in a future post after further exploration and pondering. Until then, the raw desire for new things like cell phones lies in wait, ready to pounce at any moment if care is not taken.

Remaining on Canadian Soil

I mentioned in my last entry that my husband and I were in the midst of moving to California. Well, we are in that midst no more, because we decided to pass up the economic opportunity offered to us in Los Angeles and remain in Windsor, Ontario. Friends and family have been supportive of our decision, and we are relieved to remain on Canadian soil so to speak. That expression has taken on new meaning for me. I sleep easier now. It is not likely that my husband and I will ever move to the United States. California may be a fine state, it is certainly beautiful, but leaving one's country is hard, and in the end we just weren't comfortable with it. We love Canada! With global and regional economies going haywire, we are fortunate that some economic opportunities are opening up for us which make it feasible for us to stay. Ironically, in my husband's case, these opportunities come from abroad. Such is the state of the world today. With so much global change afoot, I find it more comforting than ever to live in Canada.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Shopping Bags: One Easy Piece

Being faced with major life decisions, and now preparing for an international move from Ontario to California have kept me busy these past few months, leaving little time for blogging. My husband and I are trying to sell our house, which means open houses and surprise home inspections from potential buyers. Whenever we know that a prospect is going to come through our home, we clear and clean the house from top to bottom, sometimes frantically hurling useful everyday objects, unopened mail and stray pieces of paper into our cold cellar in order to make every surface look uncluttered and every room look spacious, which our real estate agent advised us to do.

I've been committed to using reusable cloth shopping bags for about eight months, and it's taken almost that long to get into a grove with it, but I finally did! It became my habit to either take the empty bags back out to my car immediately after unloading my purchases so that I could use them on the next shopping trip, or if I was lazy or tired after unpacking, I'd place the bags next to the front door and simply bring them out to the car the next time I went out. There was a stool next to the door that I'd temporarily place the bags on, and it looked messy but I was willing to put up with a little bit of clutter in order to ween myself off of plastic bags. I think you can see where I'm going with this. Now that we are living under a temporary ban on clutter because of our real estate situation, the way station by the door has been dismantled and half of the bags are missing. I've lost my reusable bag groove. After seeing our plastic bag caddy slowly empty, it's quickly filling up again, to my shame.

The house isn't sold, and we must start packing -- soon! I don't expect to get my cloth bag groove back until we're settled into our new apartment in California, because one thing I've learned is that the second "R" (reuse) only works in practice if there is a dedicated physical space to hold the reusable items between uses. Just as everything else that we use more than once (clean clothes, dirty clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, spice jars), are easier to find if they have their own dedicated storage spaces, so too are the cloth shopping bags between shopping trips.

During this time of disorganization and physical chaos, the cloth bags aren't the only things to have gone missing around here. Some important legal documents and would-be helpful notes have been stubbornly missing for a week. So, I'm not going to beat myself up over gaining a few plastic bags. When I wasn't in the process of moving to another country, reusing my shopping bags was easy; anyone who isn't in the middle of moving -- or for any other reason turning their life upside-down -- should be willing and able to do it. Consider how low-cost an investment the practice of reducing and re-using plastic shopping bags is, especially compared to replacing inefficient appliances, adding insulation your house, or installing solar panels. It really is a great starting point in terms of green lifestyle changes.