Today at work, a coworker gave a little girl a balloon. It was the girls’ third birthday and she was so excited to receive that balloon. My coworker tied the balloon with a pretty bow to the girls’ wrist and explained that if it were untied, it might fly away. The girl was very receptive to that warning, up until 30 seconds before she left the building. Up, up, up the balloon went to the vaulted ceiling two stories above our heads, leaving the wailing little girl behind and becoming a hindrance for the maintenance guys when they inevitably have to clip the balloon down from the piping that runs along the ceiling of the factory. A latex balloon takes approximately four years to decompose, and is often coated in ammonia and other chemicals, harmful if ingested by wildlife (such as the marine animals that our waste so often affects). Not only this, but balloons use up hydrogen, a finite resource that could be better served with purposes other than the short life of a celebratory balloon. Even once that balloon has been deflated and wrangled by our maintenance team, it will take years to get rid of, all the while seeping harmful agents into our soil, skin, atmosphere, air…
While I am happy that the child held onto the balloon just short enough to have it float to our ceiling rather than to the heavens where it would pop and become a hazard to whatever ecosystem it fell into, that doesn’t rid us of the problem of waste (take a look at this for balloon waste on its own, and what one amazing group is doing to help promote an eco-conscious lifestyle). Sawyer and I do not celebrate special occasions with balloons (we tend to opt for blowing soap bubbles, should the occasion call for extravagant celebrations such as New Years’) and we have significantly cut down the waste that we generate in our own lifestyle. The first step to waylaying waste production is by recognizing it.
Each tour I give of our factory, I sing the praises of our stuffing. We use recycled plastic bottles to stuff each of our Vermont Teddy Bears. I say something about this on each tour, along the lines of, “we in Vermont absolutely love going green, so we use recycled plastic bottles as the stuffing for our bears!” Of course, that undermines the melting process in which all the bottles needs to go through in order to be spun into the soft floss we use for our bears, and melting polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic – what most plastic bottles are made of – releases greenhouse gases harmful to the atmosphere as well as harmful toxins. While it is admirable that my company is using new technology to lower our carbon footprint rather than importing soft, huggable cotton from halfway around the globe, there is still work to be done if we’re hoping to begin healing the damage we have done to our planet by being the industrious animals that we are.
I admit that there are many things, especially at present, that I am fearful of. With our world seemingly teetering at the precipice of chaos, I try to find my own small ways to contribute to the betterment of our world. As I’ve said time and time again, I try to leave my piece of this world better than how I found it. Past of how I am doing this is by reducing my waste output.
There are many different ways in which we have cut down on waste at Sunrise Spot. Sawyer and I try to only buy glass bottles of milk, locally sourced. We no longer use skin or hand products that contain harmful micro-beads in them. We always bring a reusable shopping bag with us when going to the grocery store (and I tend to have one tucked away in my purse for quick side-shopping for an ingredient needed for dinner or a new tube of toothpaste), and we always recycle our plastic bottles in a paper bag that we keep in our front closet (I have made and continue to make a consistent effort to cut down my use of any plastic bottles whatsoever, switching over to glass which is endlessly recyclable or, in worst case scenarios, aluminum). Sawyer and I typically take out our kitchen trash once every two weeks, along with our recycling. We donate our compost to a weekly drop-off every Saturday morning. We use biodegradable kitchen bags made by GreenPaperProducts, and of course, our cat litter is made up of recycled newspaper pellets, which are easily decomposable.
The easiest way, I’ve found, to get started changing your waste output habits is to find a cause that you truly find inspiring. For me, I’ve always been a lover of animals. We share this earth with thousands of different species, and I try respect their place here as much as my own on a day-to-day basis. Reducing my waste, energy consumption, and carbon footprint are only a couple of ways in which I continually attempt to positively influence the world around me and also inspire my friends and family members to make similar positive changes in their lifestyles as well. Jane Goodall, one of my role models, once said, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
I know that global climate change is a scary subject to think about. I feel intimidated at times when I think about it. So, once again, the easiest way I’ve found to cope with such an overwhelming force is to break it down bit by bit. I choose a handful of land mammals, marine animals, and avians to focus my energies on, allowing their advocacy to inspire me each and every day (if you think you’d be inspired by the same, take a look at this map of endangered species across the globe to garner a couple of reasons for yourself!). I have made small changes accordingly, and have lowered my impact on these animals’ environments, and that – along with encouraging others to do the same for their selected totems – is what is within my ability to do every day. I am proud of myself for the changes I have made and the inspiration I have both received and given.
Making small changes like the type of garbage bag I use in my kitchen and what type of litter I buy for my cats does have an impact, no matter how small. My coworker and I had a discussion while looking up at that balloon trapped up against the ceiling, and she has since decided not to give out balloons to visitors anymore. To me, that was a breakthrough. I felt like I had enough influence to impact her decision, and that – in turn – made my advocacy more substantial. If every person made one small change to their routine, I do believe that there would be a massive shift in the slow decline that we have begun to see in our world, its many environments, and its atmosphere. Again, I prompt you to select a subject – no matter how small it may be – within the natural world that you are passionate about and let it inspire change in your life.