This morning I left a book called Greenopia on one of the tables at my local coffee shop, in the hope that it might help one more person in Los Angeles live more sustainably. I thought about how I try to make a difference in my own life and started wondering if it helps at all. The result was a little poem – a bit of a Seussian eco-rant!
Eco-clutter. It’s a word that may already exist but I think I might have actually coined in an article I wrote in 2013. It refers to clutter generated by attempts to be environmentally conscious – like the plastic containers and glass jars I save for food storage, cute plastic spoons from the ice-cream shop I can use for kids’ snacks, and all the stainless steel water bottles that clutter our kitchen cabinets. My desk and shelves are piled with notepads made of sheets of paper printed on one-side, padded envelopes destined for re-use, old greetings cards saved for arts and crafts projects. And then there are the many tote bags lying on my car seats and folded up into tight little balls in my purse. Eco-clutter is particularly hard for me to purge because it was accumulated out of good intentions.
So today, I decided to give away some of my tote bag “collection.” I have almost religiously used tote bags for many years now to avoid using plastic or paper bags. I’ve been seen up close the devastating effects of the former on wildlife when participating in Los Angeles River cleanups. When the river is full, plastic bags wrap themselves around the trees choking them like colorful but deadly plastic scarves. Thankfully, California and more and more countries, states and cities are banning plastic bags, and soon hopefully everyone will use their own bags for their groceries. This evening, I walked into our local Trader Joe’s, bought my groceries and then awkwardly asked one of the managers if I could leave some re-usable bags for other customers to use. I could tell he thought it was an odd request, but then he smiled, thanked me and took the bags. Maybe they’ll just become part of someone else’s eco-clutter, but hopefully they will find their way to someone who needed a little nudge from a stranger to re-think their shopping habits.
Some people we meet inspire us to change things about ourselves. My good friend Cheryl is one of those people for me. I met her first as my chiropractor. I had some problems with my lower back and over the course of several visits, she was able to make some adjustments to my spine to align my vertebrae again and relieve my pain. But it was the adjustments she made to my head that have been more lasting. One of the busiest people I know, Cheryl not only built a successful career as a chiropractor but has spend a life of activism, protesting wars and unfair political or social practices, marched for women’s rights, feeding the homeless during the holidays, planting gardens in blighted spots in the neighborhood, counting whales for an international census, and pushing local businesses to consider their impact on the environment. One day when I was ranting to her about how much I hate Styrofoam, she invited me to join the green committee she had established for the local Chamber of Commerce. As part of this group, I was able to work with other people like her who not only got upset about environmental destruction and waste but also tried to change people’s attitudes and behavior. At first I felt I had nothing to contribute to such a group, but with encouragement from Cheryl and the others, I joined them campaigning against plastic bags, organizing Earth Day events and teaching kids at my son’s school the importance of recycling their lunch trash. Thanks to her inspiration, I plucked up the courage to run a series of programs on sustainable living at the local library and write a green column for the local paper, all of which contributed to my desire to write this blog.
Cheryl also loves art and a few years ago shared with our family an amazing documentary film, Between the Folds, which spotlights the work of several contemporary origami artists. I watched in awe and immediately wanted to curate an exhibition of these artists’ work. My first traveling origami exhibition, Folding Paper, opened in 2012 and is still traveling around the US, and my second Above the Fold, opens this month. So what to give to someone who has inspired my professional and volunteer life so much in the past decade? Well, like me, Cheryl loves art, origami and books and hates waste, so I decided to give her my copy of Trash Origami, one of the many wonderful origami instruction books by Michael G. LaFosse and Richard L. Alexander. The book explains how to recycle waste such as gum wrappers, junk mail and cardboard boxes into butterflies, gift boxes and board games. As she folds her trash into beautiful works of art, I hope Cheryl takes a moment to realize that she has been a terrific model to others of how not to waste a life.