Rethinking Recycling

Planet in plastic bagOne of the habits we in the U.S. have frequently been proud of is our recycling. Lots of us do it. It’s often one of the first projects students adopt to green their schools. The 3 R’s of Reduce – Reuse – Recycle have become a fond and familiar refrain. We feel good that we can buy stuff and then send the packaging back to become something else, instead of ending up as trash. Tossing that bottle or can into the bin has become almost second nature — something we do without thinking. And Oregonians are especially proud of our bottle bill, which is undergoing some changes, so that people will be inspired to recycle even more.

Recycling as planet-saver is a great cultural myth, but it’s not the reality. The issue is much more complex.

In its Fall 2007 issue, Co-op America focuses on trash. An especially interesting article in this issue (though I think all their articles are terrific) is the one on “Following the Waste Stream.”

As the article mentions, glass and aluminum can be “perpetually” recycled and paper can be “downcycled” into lower grade products (until the fibers get too short to bind together). (Downcycling means recycling the material into a product of lesser quality.) Plastics are another story. Plastics can only be downcycled into something else once – and that’s only for certain plastics. And the thing that it’s downcycled into can’t be recycled or downcycled.

The article reports that most plastics can’t even be recycled, even though they carry that renowned symbol on the bottom. And even some plastics (and other recyclable materials) that get sent to recycling centers end up in landfills or incinerators. I learned from the article that plastic bags (though I try to avoid them as much as possible anyway), which are happily recycled by so many – are more likely than not shipped overseas, where they end up in incinerators and landfills (so our eco-friendly efforts are contributing to the pollution of other countries).

In No Impact Man’s post a couple months ago, he blogged about how recycling isn’t enough and shared a great video clip from a guy at Cornell University that demonstrates the difference in recycling and landfill rates for water bottles using…a torrent of water bottles. They make a really interesting sort of waterfall effect.

As Co-op America points out in their “Getting to Zero Waste” issue, and No Impact Man elucidates in his post of 42 ways to not make trash, certainly, recycling is important; but, the more important and essential goal is not creating trash in the first place. Zero waste.

How do you reduce waste in your life?

~ Marsha


New Book Alert: At Rest with the Animals by Colman McCarthy

At Rest with the AnimalsSyndicated columnist, peace activist, peace instructor and founder/director of the Center for Teaching Peace, Colman McCarthy has turned his attention to our relationship with animals in At Rest with the Animals: Thoughts Over Thirty Years. Published this month through the Humane Society of the United States’ Humane Society Press, the book offers a collection of McCarthy’s essays from over more than three decades (most written during his time at the Washington Post), exploring “the human family’s sometimes cruel, sometimes kind relations with animals of all sizes and stripes.” (You can find out more about the book from one of HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle’s blog posts.)

Since I haven’t yet read the book (it’s not even available at my public library yet), I can’t recommend it officially. However, I have read a couple of Mr. McCarthy’s books (2 are part of my own personal library), and his writing is amazing and inspiring, so I can only imagine that this book is, too.

McCarthy has been teaching courses and workshops on nonviolence and peace since 1982. When I read his book I’d Rather Teach Peace (highly recommended), I was incredibly inspired and so sad that I hadn’t been fortunate enough to be one of his students. I would have killed to be in his class! (Wait — that’s not nonviolent; uh, I would have really treasured being in his class.)

Just a few choice quotes from McCarthy:

“Wars aren’t stopped by fighting wars, any more than you can fight fire with fire. You fight fire with water. You fight violence with nonviolence.”

“Unless we teach our children peace, someone will teach them violence.”

“Over the years, I’ve had suggestions from other teachers to offer what they call ‘balance’ in my courses, that I should give students ‘the other side.’ I’m never sure exactly what that means. After assigning students to read Gandhi I should have them also read Carl von Clausewitz? After Martin Luther King’s essay against the Vietnam War, Colin Powell’s memoir favoring the Persian Gulf War? After Justice William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall’s views opposing the death penalty, George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein’s favoring it? After a woman’s account of her using a nonviolent defense against a rapist, the thwarted rapist’s side?”

So, email your local library and ask them to buy this book, and read his other books while you’re waiting. (And, once you’ve read his book(s), feel free to send us your review for potential posting.)

~ Marsha

The Simple Life: 3 Sites With Simple Tips for Sustainable Living

“50 Simple Actions for Fixing the Planet,” “10 Easy Ways to Lower Your Carbon Footprint,” “5 Fast & Fun Things You Can Do to Help the Earth That Don’t Actually Require You to Make Any Changes in Your Life Whatsoever.” Our society – especially here in the U.S. – seems to want it quick, simple, painless, convenient, and cool. And, if it also makes money or washes your car, added bonus! So, there are tons of guides out there catering to our addiction to fun and easy – recommending ways we can take tiny steps that make a tiny difference for sustainable living and protecting the planet.

If we’re really honest with ourselves, we’re going to have to do a lot more than change to compact fluorescents and switch to canvas shopping bags to create a humane, sustainable, just world. But, sometimes thinking the deep thoughts and making the big changes can feel overwhelming, and we need to take a breather, focusing on baby steps and simple solutions.

So here are three resources for those times:

50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth

First published back in the early 90s, the book offered – as the title states – 50 simple actions that people could take to reduce their negative impact and increase their positive impact on the planet. This updated version is more than a book focused on “critical issues” rather than specific small actions; it also includes a companion website with expanded content and resources, such as a blog, a tip of the day, challenges, news, forums, success stories and more. The website also links to numerous other groups concerned about these same issues. When you need a quick fix, go right to the Tip of the Day.

Cool People Care

Got five minutes? Sign up to receive the free daily “5 Minutes of Caring” tip, which provides a quick suggestion for doing something positive. The whole Cool People Care site is focused on showing people “how to change the world in whatever time you have.” It includes a blog, articles, and other resources.

Ideal Bite

Looking for easy-peasy green tips & products? Sign up for Ideal Bite’s free daily “bite-sized ideas for light green living.” In addition to the daily tip delivered to your inbox, you can visit the IB website to cruise the blog, view the tip library, or submit your own tip.

~ Marsha

(Note: This was originally posted on Humane Connection, the blog I do as part of my “day job.”)

Going Vegan with Oprah? Get Podcast Support's Oprah Challenge LogoErik Marcus, vegan author advocate, blogger and podcaster has been creating a podcast to accompany each day of Oprah’s 21-day cleanse. If you’re joining Oprah on her journey — or you just like to pick up good vegan tips when you can, drop by Erik’s “Oprah’s 21-Day Vegan Challenge Support Page” and enjoy his mini-podcasts (usually less than 10 minutes) on topics like identifying essential cookbooks, setting goals, paying attention to good nutrition, and tips for increasing your produce intake.

Check out his blog to get a summary of each podcast, as well as to keep updated on vegan-related news, issues and tasty recipes.

There are other great podcasts out there, too, that can help support your veg lifestyle. I’ll just mention one other: Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s Vegetarian Food for Thought.

~ Marsha

MOGO Tip of the Week: Beyond Ethical Consumerism, The Super 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Buy

Earth in a shopping cartOne of the big buzzwords lately is “ethical consumerism” or “green consumerism,” touting the idea that you can have your healthy, vegan, organic, fair-trade chocolate and sugar, locally-produced, compostable cake and eat it, too. Green goodies are definitely in, but not many people are stopping to ask themselves whether or not they even need (or want) that stuff anyway, green or not. Many of the choices we make seem to give us short-term satisfaction or pleasure, but don’t truly bring us joy, meaning, or accurately reflect our deepest values.

If you want to look beyond the surface of “ethical” consuming and bring mindfulness to the material goods and services you add to your life, keep a “Caring Consumer” card on you and consult it when you feel that urge to lay down some greenbacks.

Here are the Super 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Buy:
(Note: There are actually more than 7 questions, but just go with it :))

  • Is this a Want or a Need?
  • How much will I use it? How long will it last?
  • Could I borrow it ? Make it? Do without it?
  • Will having this add meaning to my life?
  • Is purchasing this item the best way to care for myself and the planet?
  • What is the true cost of this item to: My own health? Other species? Other animals? The environment? Other cultures?
  • What will happen to this item when I’m finished with it?

I can already hear some people saying, “Dude! There’s no way I’m going to take time to think about all that stuff before I buy every single thing. That’s crazy! That’s overload!”

Sure, it can seem a bit overwhelming at first. But, as the cliche goes, “Practice makes perfect.” Making choices that do the most good and least harm isn’t actually about perfection, but when we start bringing awareness to the impact of our choices, and take a few seconds to think about questions like “Is this a want or a need?” then such questions become part of our new awareness and then become easier habits, and then grow into old easy ones. Rinse & repeat.

You can download a PDF that includes 6 copies of the card. Keep a couple for yourself & share the rest with friends and family!

~ Marsha

MOGO Media: News You Can Use

Overcoming rage and revenge to promote peaceOde Magazine – 5/08
Profiles the stories of three people who have endured great hardship and tragedy, and have turned their loss into working for peace.

Choosy moms choose fruits and vegetables from farmers marketsPlenty -5/08
A new study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health reports that low-income families who are given the opportunity to buy fresh produce from farmers markets, prefer to spend money on fresh fruits and vegetables.

It’s a dam shameIndependent (UK) – 5/23/08
An alliance of indigenous leaders gathered in Altamira, Brazil, recently to try to stop plans for the construction of a hydroelectric dam. The dam would displace thousands of people and destroy their way of life.

One (hundred thousand) Tin Soldier(s)Common – 5/21/08
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers recently released a report stating that, although awareness about the issue of child soldiers has been raised, and efforts have increased, little has changed for the

“Little girls gone wild” – 5/20/08
Interviews Gigi Durham, author of the new book The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It. The interview focused on the sexualization of young girls.

(Thanks Corporate Babysitter for the heads up.)

Kentuckians blowing their top over mountaintop removal operationsIndependent (UK) – 5/20/08
Reports on the impact the mountaintop removal coal mining is having in Kentucky and in the Appalachian mountains.

Portland, Oregon students to get new history lessonKGW – 5/18/08
The Portland, Oregon, public school district has decided to adopt a new textbook that will help students “see history in a different way,” including discussing some of Oregon’s early racist laws.

Are you gonna eat that?New York Times – 5/18/08
Reports on the large amount of food wasted by Westerners (especially Americans), and how some organizations are taking action.

Small steps toward saving horsesNew York Times – 5/17/08
Profiles organizations like LumberJack farm, which try to rescue and rehabilitate thoroughbreds to save them from being slaughtered.

Report reveals significant biodiversity lossCommon Dreams – 5/16/08
A report by the World Wildlife Fund, the Zoological Society of London, and the Global Footprint Network reveals that “biodiversity has plummeted by almost a third in the 35 years to 2005.”

Canadians concerned about food supply turning to urban agricultureVancouver Sun – 5/16/08
Reports about food security issues and what some people are doing to improve theirs.

Mark Your Calendar: Conferences to Help You Take a Bite Out of Global Warming & Create a More Compassionate World

Rumor has it (actually, it’s well documented and has been in the news frequently in the last few months) that two of the biggest contributors to climate change are who we eat and how we transport ourselves — cows and cars.

If you’re looking for ways to create a healthier, more humane world and want to reduce your carbon footprint (and your “foodprint”), then you might want to check out these upcoming conferences in her Portland, Oregon in June.

Try Vegan Week

June 7-14, 2008

You know it’s a healthy, humane, sustainable way of living, but you think it’s too hard, or you feel like you just can’t give up your addiction to choose. No worries! Try Vegan Week is a great opportunity to get your toes wet in the vegan pool and grab some support while you’re doing it. If you’re a newbie, or vegan-curious, you can get hooked up with a veteran mentor. There are also plenty of workshops, dine-outs, store tours, and fun events — like the Vegan Prom! Don’t miss out on this chance to go vegan and transform yourself…and the world. Come on! Oprah’s doing it! Find out more.

Towards Carfree Cities Conference

June 16-20, 2008

Carfree Cities Conference Logo

If becoming less dependent on (or totally independent from) your car is more your mix, Portland is hosting the 8th international Towards Carfree Cities Conference, June 16-20 at Portland State University (among other locations). The purpose of the conference is to bring “together people from around the world who work to promote practical alternatives to car dependence.” This year’s theme is Rethinking Mobility, Rediscovering Proximity, which focuses on promoting “discussion of urban livability, mixed-use development, local agriculture, pedestrianization, strong neighborhoods, accessible public space, and sustainable transportation.”

Tuesday, June 17 is the conference’s “Public Day,” free and open to the public (registrations and small donations preferred).
Find out more.

Just after the conference, on Sunday, June 22, is Portland Sunday Parkways, a special six-hour event in which six miles of local streets in North Portland will be closed to most car traffic, so that people can bike, walk, rollerblade, skip, etc., in that area without having to worry about cars.
Find out more.

Let Live NW Animal Rights Conference

June 27-29, 2008

Let Live NW Animal Rights Conference LogoWant to help animals? Want a more compassionate world? Learn effective skills and strategies for becoming a better animal advocate at the Let Live NW Animal Rights Conference. Friday night features a keynote speaker, and Saturday and Sunday bring workshops on all sorts of topics, from media training to “moving the message” to understanding the audience to developing campaigns and strategies. Find out more.

(Portland MOGO will be tabling at this conference. If you’d like to volunteer to staff our tiny table, let Marsha know: