Thursday, March 27, 2008

Improg word: Remove

My improg is appearing later than usual this week due to the many distractions of spring break. One of the less exciting ones—and one of my “Enough procrastination, already!” jobs—ties in with my improg word for this week: remove. I made a trip to the transfer station (a fancy term meaning “the dump”) to remove some things that have been sitting around here for far too long.

On Tuesday morning I loaded up my car with various items too big for the garbage collection and too old or worn out to pass along to someone else, including a used-to-death vacuum cleaner, which was more duct tape than original parts, and three carseats. As I waited in line to get into the hangar-like shed that houses the huge pile of garbage, I found myself looking at a smaller pile outside. I was surprised to see a lot of recyclables in there—things like newspapers that are collected in our curbside program. It would actually take less effort to recycle them than to bring them to the dump, so why were they there?

I pondered this until it was my turn to go into the shed. I was directed to a spot at the base of the garbage pile. I opened the back door of the car and took out the first carseat—and started crying. This seat had been in daily use from the time Child One was 6 months old until Child Two was finally big enough for a booster-style carseat about eight years later. It had been puked on and peed on. The fabric was held together by goldfish cracker residue. The safety standards have been upgraded numerous times since it was made. There was no way it would be considered usable by anyone, but it broke my heart to have to fling it onto this mountain of stinky trash.

I had to do this three times, with tears streaming down my face (and with guys in hard hats pretending not to notice). These seats had travelled thousands and thousands of miles with us, on mundane trips to the grocery store, on vacations, to my dad’s funeral, on first days of school, when we moved to California, and when we moved back to BC.

But it wasn’t sentimentality making me cry. I knew the seats had passed their best-before dates. Removing them from my home wasn’t really the problem. It was the fact that they were being tossed onto this horrible monument of consumer waste that was breaking my heart.

The plastic in those seats (and in the vacuum cleaner) is, in an ideal world, probably recyclable. The metal certainly is. Even the fabric could probably be chipped up and made into a park bench or something. But instead, it will all probably be trucked hundreds of kilometres away to an enormous landfill in the interior of the province, where it will spend eternity.

My husband and I have tried to live an environmentally conscious life since long before it became cool to be green. Before we had kids, we produced one small plastic shopping bag of garbage a week. We saved our food scraps in ice cream tubs and brought them to a friend’s house (some friends bring wine; we brought banana peels). I regularly got into arguments with shop clerks when I asked for no bag. We recycled everything we could, even if that meant bringing stacks of used paper on the bus to put in our university’s recycling bins.

Even now, with two kids, we fill up only one green garbage bag in a typical week. We think about these issues more and produce much less garbage than a lot of people we know. But we are nowhere close to perfect. We buy too much. We buy things that are overpackaged. We waste food. We get lazy and throw things away instead of fixing them. We buy new when we could buy second-hand. We buy more and more even though we already have more than enough.

The environment is a hot topic at my kids’ school right now, so we've been thinking about our family's impact a lot lately. But this trip to the dump was like a visual smack in the face for me (if that makes any sense). It hit me just how much stuff we bring into our home only to remove it. And how our family’s contribution, although smaller than many others’, is just as much a part of the problems our earth is facing. I might have felt just a bit smug before, putting our small garbage can out on pick-up day. But actually seeing where that garbage goes and how one small can added to another soon produces a smelly Mt. Everest—and having to throw my babies’ carseats onto that mess—stopped me in my tracks.

Although the sadness stuck around me all day (as did the smell in my car), my adventure at the transfer station was just the kick in the butt I needed to reevaluate what we bring into our home and how we remove it.


Margerie said...

Love this post. For the first time EVER, this year I did not buy any new Easter decorations. Because I already have 2 boxes of them. Why did this have to be a conscious decision? I think we are programmed to shop too much.

It really takes time to slow down and acknowledge that we don't need new junk all the time. Thanks for the reminder that we could all do better.

KathyLikesPink said...

Very well said. I thoroughly agreed. I am guilty of being lured by bright and shiny NEW THINGS, whatever they may be. The past six months to a year I have done far less shopping for NEW, but I still have a houseful of what USED TO BE NEW.

A very jumbled up way of saying your post touched me.