Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Messer/Anti-Messer Total Mind and Body Workout

I've written on my blog before about my practice of picking up litter when I walk around my town. It's a simple way to do something useful. I focus primarily on cans and plastic and glass bottles because I want to make sure that they get into the recycling containers rather than the main garbage stream. I'm especially concerned about glass bottles because they can be broken and thus do serious damage, but I hate seeing beer cans lying around the streets of my town (it makes a bad impression and seems so . . . low brow), and the number of plastic bottles is astonishing. I always think of that Texas-sized plastic island of garbage (oops; just looked it up; it's now twice the size of Texas) that's floating out in the ocean somewhere. I don't want to see that become even larger. 
Anyway, my husband and I were out walking last Saturday (it was my birthday), and we encountered the usual array and picked up a few things as we went. He noted that if people aren't even respectful enough of their environment to realize that when they leave their bottle or can in the street or on the grass or sidewalk, they're polluting, then what hope do we have to address something as huge as global warming. That's the surface of the earth where they're abandoning their trash, but for some reason it seems just fine to them to simply drop or throw whatever they're carrying and go forth. How can we expect people to make the big, hard sacrifices they will have to make to solve the big problems if they can't do something so small as put their item in an appropriate receptacle?
     This discussion got me into thinking that I needed to get more intentional about my litter walks again. That is, I used to carry bags with me (one for recyclables, one for regular garbage) and then take the booty home to my own receptacles. But for the past few months, who knows why, I haven't been taking the bags, but just pick things up and drop them in other people's receptacles as I go. Sometimes this limits me because I can only carry a few things in my hands at once, so I have to leave some things behind. 
    This week, then, I started with the bags again. There's an unusually large amount of stuff lying around. I think it's because the big snow has now melted, revealing the multiple layers of leavings and droppings. And as I was walking, and picking, I realized what an excellent workout this is. First of all, as the baseline, there's the walking, which I do briskly. Second, there's the mental and visual acuity involved in spotting the items. Third, there's the quick pivots needed to cross the street or duck down an alley or veer over toward the bushes or whatever to nab the item. Then, there's the bending and the reaching (across a puddle, snow bank, or dog droppings) and (sometimes) the stretching (if something is under a bush or in some other hard-to-reach place). Then there's the memory factor when I don't have the bags--that is, keeping track of where the closest recycling bin is or isn't.  Finally (this might not really be the final benefit; I might think of more, or you might), there is the benefit of mental fitness that comes from the meditation on the earth and the people who live on it and how they do or do not care for it and why they do or do not. Try it. Soon you too may look like Jane Fonda with her red leg warmers. As with so many other problems, perhaps appealing to self-interest is the way to a solution.


James Poznak said...

Of course, you are much better looking than Jane Fonda (inside and out), even if she does have leg warmers.

Susan Messer said...

Aw, shucks.

Margaret P. said...

I enjoyed catching up with your posts this afternoon. I was on travel for work a lot the past month.

But on this topic, I have an interesting story. I was in Bali last week, and I went on a tour of a traditional village. The first stop was the cemetary, which had a lot of plastic bottles strewn about. I asked the tour guide--a man from the same village--why this was so.

His answer was intriguing, but didn't quite satisfy me. He said that traditionally food was wrapped in banana leaves or another type of leaf--organic objects that biodegrade. So tossing this packaging to the ground was not a problem. Today, he explained, people don't understand that plastic doesn't biodegrade, but they are trying to raise public awareness about this.

Another interesting, somewhat related point. He explained that the Balinese burial process involves burying the body in the ground for three years, digging a bunch of them up, cremating them, and disposing the ashes in a body of water--thereby involving all the natural elements. The cemetary ground itself has thus been recycled for thousands of years. Something we could think about in the West...

Susan Messer said...

Wow. Bali. I'll have to hear more about that some time. I see what you mean about the guide's answer not being totally satisfying. As if a person couldn't distinguish between a banana leaf and a plastic bottle? I can see that there might be some connection, though, between being used to discarding things and continuing to do so. Having receptacles available would certainly help. And in this country we did have that big "Don't be a Litterbug" campaign in the 50s or 60s. I think it kind of worked but needs to be revived. And I like that story about the burial process. They've found a way to recycle something that takes up a lot of space in this country. I'm a cemetery devotee so would have a hard time letting them go (or having a place to go where my ancestors reside), but I often notice that they are often far lovelier than places where the living live.

Anyway, really good to hear from you again.