Considering the circumstances of 2008—a time of looming recession, political fracas and environmental crisis—it seems as if a deeper examination of the ritualistic New Year's resolutions is in order. I ask around and am told by an exuberant reader that to find out about things that matter, I have to talk to Green Mary, the queen of green.
Green Mary engages in greening on a professional level and actively contributes to waste diversion and eco-education. I soon discover that she is here to talk about what most people try so desperately to ignore: our garbage, and what happens to it after we throw it away.
Attend any greened event from here to San Jose, and it's quite possible that Mary will be there with her crew, providing trash-diversion opportunities at every step and generally greening up the premises. At the end of an event, the garbage is sifted through by hand: the compostables are composted; the recyclables, recycled; the reusables, reused. This is how diversion happens, with people elbow deep in garbage, sorting, sifting and saving the rest of us from smothering to death in our own crap.
I ask Green Mary, who has greened events for literally millions of people, to supply me with a list of must-do's for 2008. The following list has been paraphrased by me and is not ordered by level of importance. Consider it a grab-bag of planetary opportunity. If everyone picks away at it, then surely change will be inevitable.
— Where are our good earth-keeping skills? Many of us have conscious good housekeeping skills, but for some reason, as soon as we enter the real world, we become incapable of behaving in a green manner. We throw things away, don't compost, consume and toss in the trash and generally behave as if nothing done outside of the home really counts. Big mistake. Rethink this one.
— We suffer from carelessness collectively. Find the recycle guide in the center of the phone book, or visit www.recyclenow.org. Familiarize yourself with what can be recycled or reused and where, and then form a collective on your block. Do a toxic roundup (this includes pharmaceutical drugs, which now contaminate 80 percent of our streams). Offer to take in a neighbor's leftover house paint, or take turns doing battery runs. Help each other keep toxic crap out of the landfills.
— What can we share? Stop being so fearful and share your leafblower with your neighbor. Does everyone on the entire block need his own leafblower? Share tools, share mowers, split the maintenance bills, buy less.
— Collect all compostable food waste and toss it in the yard waste bin. Remember, in the tricounty area, only Sonoma County has no landfill. The landfill is closed! This means that all of Sonoma County's trash is shipped to Marin. Once that fills up, there is talk of shipping Sonoma County's trash via train to Nevada.
— Instead of buying something new, go to Garbage Reincarnation's wonderful Meecham Road salvage yard, Recycletown, and find treasures of all sorts: futons, free house paint, firewood, salvaged lumber, cheap compost and more. For more info on compost, visit Sonoma Compost Company at www.sonomacompost.com or call 707.578.5459.
— Do not buy plastic, disposable water bottles. Ever.
— Bring your own bags, cups, utensils and mugs with you when grabbing takeout or attending a festival—anywhere you might be given styrofoam or throwaways. Even to-go food can be put in reusable containers. Figure it out and make it happen! Generally, used paper coffee cups, styrofoam, plastic cups, straws, lids and utensils are not recyclable. They are garbage.
— Why do we always have to be one step behind Europe? Learn about the California Product Stewardship Council at www.caproductstewardship.org. Demand producer responsibility.
— To many of us, the outdoors has become an abstraction, something we dash through during trips from the car to indoor areas. Volunteer in the natural world. Spend your weekends outside. Eat lunch in the sun. The more we experience and see the world around us, the easier it is to care about it.
— Take a tour of the nearest landfill anytime motivation and commitment begin to waver.