Thursday, September 8, 2011


Here’s what I hate. Waste. Of any kind: talent, time, opportunity, resources. Once it’s been squandered, it cannot be replenished. Hence my loathing of SUDIs: Single Use Disposable Items: environmental stealth bombs, engineered so that their devastation is undetectable-until it’s too late.

Seemingly we cannot live without them. It is almost impossible to buy anything that isn’t encased in plastic or packaged in something solely to be disposed of once the package is opened. It makes me absolutely insane. SUDIS are ubiquitous. Every day we engage with some sort of item expressly made to perform one function then thrown away once that function is complete: straws, to go containers, string cheese tubes, deodorant, pens, toothpaste, wrapping paper, party decorations; it goes on and on.

Yesterday I had lunch with my youngest at school. I was startled to see the hot lunch kids carrying Styrofoam trays with little baggies of plasticware and paper napkins. This meant that each hot lunch kid would dispose of the following: one tray, one plastic bag, a spork, a paper napkin, a carton of milk, and a small plastic container of salad dressing. So in a lunch period (and breakfast) on any given day, potentially over 300 kids would be disposing of said materials. Multiply that over 5 week days. Multiply that over 180 school days. Multiply that district wide. And that's just one school district. 

Having been a school teacher and now a parent, I’m constantly aware of unintended curriculum: what we teach unconsciously. It’s how cultural mores are passed down, it’s why our parents’ words spill out of us almost verbatim before we even realize it sometimes. Through our reliance on SUDIs here’s what our children learn: the earth’s resources are ours to dispose of. Daily, our clear lesson is air, water and soil matter less than our immediate desire. Why? Because it’s easier. Because it’s convenient. Because it's cheaper. We are teaching our children convenience, comfort and cost trump stewardship of finite resources. This is the myth we’ve absorbed and hence perpetuate.

Thristy? Let’s stop at the convenience store and get a disposable container of liquid chemicals. Minutes later, throw away the bottle, the can, the plastic coated paper cup with the plastic lid and straw, the Styrofoam cup. Whatever. I got what I wanted. Never mind the resources and energy that went into making and shipping it. Never mind that I engaged it for a minute but it will continue to impact air, soil and water long after I’m gone. Besides, how much harm is there in a Styrofoam cup every once in a while? I’m mostly doing my part most of the time, right?

As with our parents’ words and cultural mores, we must challenge their value and decide whether they’re worth passing on. Is this what I’m about? Is this what I want my child to learn?  Are we ourselves the stealth bombs everywhere silently, swiftly wreaking destruction on each other and our children unawares?