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Out of Sight/Out Of Mind

Posted on March 7th, 2011

A couple of unrelated events occurred over the past couple of weeks that became quite tied together in my head. First, Bloomberg had Meredith Danluck and Thomas Morton in as part of BGREEN, its initiative in promoting environmental responsibility. Second, Amazon decided to let Prime members get access to all sorts of streaming media (movies and TV shows, namely) for free!

As a bit of an nerd, I am the proud owner of series like Planet Earth and Life. Plus, the sound of David Attenborough’s smooth voice can lull me into sleep like nobody’s business. I was pleased to find out that the Blue Planet series was available as part of the Amazon Instant Video collection, so I dove in and started watching it.

I continue to be amazed at how diverse and resilient life can be on this planet. Lakes, seas, and oceans can be teeming with life of great varieties, all being a part of complex ecosystems and food chains. Even at the greatest of depths, devoid of sunlight, organisms have found a way to thrive in shocking abundance. (I will say, however, that some of the animals at these depths are among the most hideous that I’ve ever seen; good thing they live in nearly complete darkness.)

Enter BGREEN. Meredith and Thomas were part of a crew that went out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. As part of a VBS documentary called TOXIC: Garbage Island, they set about witnessing and researching how industrious nations have affected the makeup of the ocean. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they found what they were seeking: “garbage island.”

Since I don’t want to spoil the documentary for any potential viewers reading this, I’ll stick to my reaction: I was disgusted to see what they saw. We have contaminated the planet in the places furthest away from civilization. Worse yet, there doesn’t appear to be much that we can do to clean up the mess that we have created.

When I looked into how I have contributed to the problem, I realized that it was mostly due to the attitude that I (and many others) have towards waste; once it is out of my immediate vicinity, it all but vanishes from my memory. Indeed, once the door of the compactor chute closes behind me as I walk back towards my apartment, anything I dropped off there ceases to exist.

And that’s the crux of the problem: we fire and forget. For the most part, I have thought very little about what happens to the disposables after they leave my hands for the last time. I often don’t think about how tons of garbage get hauled away towards who-knows-where, and how mountains of waste are being built on a daily basis. It doesn’t usually occur to me how contaminants can make their way into the water table, or how things that aren’t biodegradable can make their way into the oceans.

Now this post is starting to sound like doom and gloom, and the sad reality is that the situation is quite grim. As more and more human beings fill the planet, and as more capitalistic and consumerist societies pop up, the rate at which waste is generated will likely increase. And the number of places where we can put it will likely decrease. Yes, technology may play a big part in curbing the problem, but I am wary of depending on that.

So, just as it is with many challenges of our time, the solution lies in the hands of the individual. It always starts with one, it seems. What can I do to make a difference? Well, here are a few ideas that have come to mind:

  • declining to take plastic bags and cutlery from places where I get groceries and food
  • eating at restaurants as opposed to taking out
  • bringing lunch to work
  • using water bottles as opposed to disposable bottles of water
  • asking you to do the same

The good news is that, in many places, it is easier than ever to do the little things that can add up to make big differences. Recycling facilities are becoming better and more accessible. Curbside sorting stations are popping up. Companies, like Bloomberg, have adopted measures to dramatically reduce waste while increasing the use of compostable materials. My church has started a recycling program during its services. So there’s hope. We just need to keep that hope in mind, and to do our small part.

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