Environmental Sustainabilitymountain musings
“The times, they are a changing” —Bob Dylan
Change is hard. It causes us to stretch ourselves in ways that hurt sometimes. Change forces us to recognize the inadequacies and faults in and all around us. This change, as painful as it may be, is the only path towards improvement. If our existence were stagnant, there wouldn’t be much point in our being here. All this being said, change is a double-edged sword: it can be positive or negative.
In regards to how we have been taking care of this beautiful planet, the changes made have primarily been for the worse. As a society, we consume without giving back. The waste that is produced each day is astonishing and alarming. The biggest problem is that most people don’t realize how much one styrofoam cup or plastic spoon can impact the environment.
The thing is, everything adds up. Disposable dishes, fossil fuels, the plastic wrappers that are covering almost every product on the market all yield waste. These modern conveniences are destroying the world as we know it.
So why do I bring all these things up? First off I love the outdoors and want the wild places to be kept in as pristine condition as possible. As well, all the activities that I love and write about are best in natural places. I want everyone to enjoy the wilderness without the waste. When participating in any activity, remember to do your part and take care of the places you visit. We are all on the planet together so it is a joint responsibility to preserve it.
One of the great ironies I have noticed as I have worked at different outdoor recreation companies is that they are often poor stewards of the land they use. Yes, the trash is picked up so it looks nice, but there is so much more to environmental stewardship than simply not littering. Taking care of the planet starts before anything product is finished and certainly before any trash finds itself on the ground. Each company is responsible for how its products are made and how the waste is taken care of. We as consumers have the duty to understand how the things we buy and use came to us and then we must be responsible for how we utilize our products.
What do I mean by this? Take styrofoam for example. It is found virtually everywhere, but its single-use purpose is detrimental to both our health and the environment. For years, studies have shown that polystyrene, the chemical used to produce these foam products, is carcinogenic.! Not only that, but it also takes over 500 years to biodegrade, meaning that the millions of tons of styrofoam that are produced each year will continue to build up for centuries, overwhelming landfills and flowing into the natural spaces of the world.
Along with styrofoam, there are many other one-use products that are creating a plethora of waste. Plastic bags, paper towels, and plastic straws are only a few of the items that most people use every day. Fortunately, there is a solution that each one of us can participate in! First off, inconvenience yourself a little bit by washing your dishes, rather than just using styrofoam or paper. Using actual towels and reusable bins for food will also help eliminate your personal waste. Next, try to minimize your energy impact. This could take the form of using your heater/AC less often, making sure your lights and computers are turned off after you use them, or walking or biking instead of driving. Once you've started decreasing your impact, share your experiences with others! This is a team effort to change the world, not a bunch of one-man shows.
As a Boy Scout, I went camping with my troop every month but we never used a single disposable dish! Each scout was responsible for bringing and washing their own plate, bowl, cup, and spoon. We had a dishwashing system that my Scout Master taught us and it worked wonderfully! On overnight river trips, the concept is the same. Each person is responsible for cleaning up after themselves. To contrast this, and this is one that most of you will relate to, almost every family reunion that I have been to has been filled with paper plates and plastic silverware. Each meal will likely fill at least one trash can and then some. Imagine the waste that could be prevented if at these reunions we started washing our own dishes! This tactic can be applied in any group setting, and though it may require an uncomfortable change in lifestyle, the benefits are well worth it.
These situations primarily deal with our personal lives, but hopefully, they will help inspire you in other areas too. If your workplace is creating copious amounts of trash, have a sustainability talk with your coworkers, the same goes for your community in general. Communication is how change is accomplished; if a problem is not acknowledged then it can never be solved.
So take a stand for the world, keep the wild places wild, and remember that we are all in this together!
Keep an eye out for future posts with more information and ideas about environmental sustainability and stewardship!