Jim thought that he was a pretty good member of society. He paid his taxes, never stole, and helped people across the street when necessary. Yet somehow he managed to do an immeasurable amount of damage without realizing that he was doing it.
Without a Thought
Jim walks into the local fast food establishment, only one of about a hundred in his city. He orders a nice breakfast for himself and takes it away in a paper bag, with about two dozen paper napkins and a half dozen plastic ketchup packets along with a plastic fork, a plastic knife, and a plastic spoon which even Jim finds to be oddly placed as nothing in his order requires the usage of a spoon. He then walks over to his favorite coffee shop because he doesn’t care for the coffee offered by the fast food establishment. He gets a cold coffee drink and because he doesn’t particularly like the sensation of a cold drink in his hand, he gets a coffee sleeve to put over the cup. He also gets a bunch of sugar packets to sweeten the coffee and a few straws.
A little bit later Jim goes out and gets lunch, and the procedure repeats once more. He goes to a fast food establishment, gets lunch that is neatly covered in paper, comes in a paper bag, and comes with more paper napkins than a dozen people would need at an average meal that involves eating chicken covered in barbecue sauce. In case you are wondering where all of these delightful products that were created using trees that were at one point about four or five times older than Jim has ever been, they all have the same destination: a petroleum based bag that will sit in a landfill for long enough that Jim’s grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to pay it a visit and say hello if they so wish.
A Lack of Caring?
We have to wonder what is going through Jim’s mind when he puts these paper bags full of paper and plastic into the rubbish bin, never to be seen again by anyone alive in his generation and perhaps only to be poked and prodded by the scientists of the year 2512 in an ongoing effort to determine where the humans of Earth went wrong that caused them to need to relocate to a massive space ship a la the film Wall-E. The better question is, what is not going through Jim’s mind as he does these actions? Precisely nothing related to the future of the bags and the plastic and paper products contained within. Maybe he is thinking about the meal he consumed and how tasty it may have been, but certainly no thought is given to the waste that he has produced in the process of getting some semblance of nourishment into his body.
He gives no thought to the destination of the many styrofoam cups that he throws away every week in his workplace. All he knows is that he is done with the coffee and he wants to be rid of the filthy cup that once was treasured to him and provided him with a delicious source of caffeine, fat, and sugar. Again, this has nothing to do with a lack of caring on his part. I can tell you as the person who created the fictional Jim that he is a genuinely kind and caring person. He simply suffers from a sort of societal myopia because he is not thinking about the impact that his actions will have hundreds of years from now. He certainly does not look at products that advertise how incredibly good they are for the environment many generations down the line because as far as he sees, they are twice as expensive as the brands that he buys and therefore are not necessary.
Disposable Yet Renewable
What people like Jim don’t realize is that long after they are done with their garbage, it is still lingering around. There are numerous companies that continue to work on products that are just as disposable as the paper plates and cups that our man Jim loves to use, but they are designed to be put into a composting bin or put onto a compost pile. Moreover, for those who wish to go even further with their garbage, there are now alternatives to plastic bags which actively biodegrade while in the landfill which ensures that the garbage contained within will biodegrade faster, assuming that it has a chance of biodegrading at all. (Do not try to say that sentence ten times fast, please.)
The better solution to Jim’s problem would lie in avoiding the disposable products whenever possible. For example, instead of having ten styrofoam cups of coffee per week, he could use a nice ceramic cup and fill it up and gently wash it out as necessary. That way, absolutely no garbage is created. Of course there are people who will argue that this is a waste of water. I will argue right back to those people that water is a renewable resource whereas the majority of paper products come from non-renewable resources and therefore have a much stronger impact on the environment than washing all of the ceramic cups in the average office.
What is the use, you may be thinking, of trying to convince people like Jim to recycle or use reusable products when there is a chance that he will turn to you and tell you that you should mind your own business? For everyone that pushes you aside, you will come across some people who will be genuinely unaware (as our friend Jim seems to be) that what they are doing is destructive beyond measure and want to do something to change that. Even if you spoke to one hundred people and only one of them came to start using reusable products and cut the disposable products out of their life, it would be worth it for that one.
Don’t worry, this is not some sort of cult where you will have to pay dues or sacrifice contact with members of your family. It is all about the long run and remembering that in a world where scientists have found corn cobs in garbage bags dated at least fifty years, it is worth knowing what to do to reduce your own personal impact.