We're pretty good at recycling in my family.
Walk into our kitchen, and there is usually a pile/stack/collection of things on the counter next to the back door that need to make their way out to the back porch. The porch is where we keep the two recycling bins where we gather our plastics, glass, paper, aluminum and the like.
On the weekend before our every-other-week recycling pick up on Tuesday, one of us hauls the bins through the back yard to our giant blue co-mingled recycling cart (thank you, city of Davenport for going to those co-mingled carts!). We usually fill the thing up to the top at least once a month.
That’s something to be proud of, right? We’re recyclers. We’re doing our part. We’re keeping things out of our landfill.
Gold star for us? Big pat on the back? An award for recyclers of the year?
No - definitely no. We’re using too much stuff. One of the biggest sins in my household is too many single-use food and drink containers.
We’ve all heard the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle campaign to decrease the amount of garbage going into our landfills. The 'R' at the beginning of that phrase is where my family, and our community, has the most work to do.
We are using, and therefore generating, too much stuff.
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It’s buying brand new clothes instead of taking a swing through our incredible thrift shops first. Oh my goodness, have you visited the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Brady Street in Davenport? Need a white polo for a kid’s band concert? You’ll find one there. How about a T-shirt for the Iowa-Iowa State game — they’ve got a bunch.
It’s buying bigger and bigger houses that we then fill with more and more stuff. It’s buying new instead of fixing the broken lawn mower, the torn shirt, the chair with an uneven leg.
We are all seeing the effects of our collective actions on our dear planet right now. The storms are harsher, the temperatures colder and hotter, the rain/snow too much or not enough.
We pretend like what we’re doing individually doesn’t matter.
Sometimes we make choices because we aren’t present in the moment. The other day, I went to Starbucks for coffee. It’s been a bit of a hard month or two, and a little pick-me-up was well-deserved, I thought. I didn’t take my reusable cup. Sure, I recycled two of the three parts of the cup that my delicious Flat White came in — but that could have been a no-waste adventure instead.
Sometimes we don’t know that what we’re doing is harmful. I can’t believe I never even gave one thought to my use of straws until my middle-schooler came home two years ago and said they talked about it in class. Of course they’re harmful. And now I see straws everywhere. Really, they are everywhere. For some people, they are necessary because of difficulties with drinking. But for many of us, they are entirely unnecessary.
Plastic bags are right up there with straws.
Sometimes we make choices because we feel the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. When a wreck forced me to get a different vehicle, I opted for a larger SUV because of the work that I do — and I am here to tell you, my vehicle is a vital tool for my work with refugee families in our community. I haven’t regretted it once. But do the drawbacks of my SUV really outweigh the benefits? Or is that just a line I feed myself to remove the guilt for the damage it’s doing to our planet?
It all matters at this point — every single act or lack of action. Our planet is telling us it is stressed out. It’s time we take a hard look at our individual lives and how we contribute to its distress.
Ann McGlynn is director of communication at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, and founder of Tapestry Farms, which supports refugees. Voices of the Quad-Cities, which features the work of local writers, appears on Tuesdays.