Point of View

The problem with throwing stuff ‘away’ and the beauty of recycling

September 13, 2013 

Awakening in the mornings before daybreak, hearing the rooster’s crow in the distance announcing the approaching presentation of a new day, I look toward the Eastern sky and say, “Good morning, Earth!” This is not necessarily the way my husband welcomes the morning. Easing into the day with a cup of coffee and silent recognition is his way of saying, “Good morning, Earth.” Either way, we come together in a genuine appreciation and affection for our home here.

Earth and its functions and processes are mysterious, marvelous, magnificent and majestic. Realized or not, Earth bonds all mankind. We depend on its natural resources for our existence and end up as dust on the planet, regardless of country of origin, social status or education.

Mankind is Earth’s stakeholder and caretaker, responsible for food production and land, water and energy usage decisions. The protection, distribution and disposal of “stuff” made from Earth’s resources can determine the health and well-being of a community and country.

Disposing of “stuff” is an international challenge. In some countries, landfills are on river banks or ocean shores. By searching trash, landfills or dumps on Google Images, we can view pictures of garbage on beaches. Seeing waves breaking on garbage shorelines and taking trash out to sea is dismaying.

Plastic packaging often entraps animals. The seemingly harmless drinking straw is often misinterpreted as food by these animals. These are the unintended consequences of throwing our stuff “away.”

Using the word “away” when it comes to disposing of cardboard, aluminum, glass, plastics, papers cigarette butts and just plain garbage is what we know. Whenever we are finished using something, we throw it “away,” meaning we take it out of our current location and put it in some other location.

What does “away” mean? I like the simple definition of “not here,” so it is some other place, but “not here.”

Remember, there is no “away.”

In the ’80s, in many counties, “away” was containers placed under overpasses or along the roadside that quickly filled with trash and other household items. “Stuff” from over-filled containers blew into rivers, creeks and the countryside. When it rained, pollutants from these containers washed into the waterways. When containers filled, people would throw their bags of trash, old refrigerators, stoves, tires and tree limbs “away” on country roads, rivers, creeks and down hillsides of someone else’s property.

Fortunately, a more sustainable practice of throwing “away” at trash and recycling centers was developed, which greatly reduced random dumping. Staffed recycling centers are the best examples of putting recyclables or trash in the appropriate bins.

The families of our son and daughter started recycling because it was one simple thing they could do for Earth. Four-year-old Hudson welcomed the responsibility. Being new at this myself, when I decided to stop throwing things “away,” I asked Hudson, “Is this recyclable?” He would identify what was recyclable and what was not. Now, all six of our grandchildren are dedicated to recycling and motivating their parents to keep it up.

Getting started in recycling is simple: Look on packaging for the little triangle that indicates how an object can be recycled. Also, look at the symbols on fast-food containers. Many companies, as stakeholders in Earth, manifest their social responsibility (in some cases motivated by government regulations) by buying only products that are Earth-friendly and packaging their products in recyclable material.

It is encouraging that many corporations are redesigning their products to reduce packaging, which not only reduces trash but also reduces the amount of greenhouse gases needed to create the packaging.

Recycling reveals a mindfulness, a connection and a bonding and duty between mankind and Earth. It takes discipline to sort recyclables, but we can do it. To foster this mindset, each morning – in your own way – looking toward the Eastern sky with appreciation and simply say, “Good morning, Earth.”

Emily Slusher, an education and sustainable practices consultant, lives part-time in Whittier.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service