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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bottles and Wrappers and Bags, Oh My!

By Rachael Nachtwey

Anyone who knew me as a kid probably would have described me as a high strung worry wart. Umm…still am. I’ve always been particularly upset about the state of our planet. When I was little, it was all about crying Indians and “Giving a hoot”. Then there was the floating barge of trash, the Exxon spill, the demise of the rainforests and all of it scared the bejesus out of me. Perhaps being surrounded by nature in rural Wisconsin had something to do with it. Going to the “big city” (Green Bay) and seeing the smokestacks of all the paper factories along with the dirty water spilling into the bay made me shiver. To this day, environmental issues horrify me as much, if not more, as war and world hunger. My rationalization has always been, if we cannot respect the very ground we walk on and the air we breathe, is it any wonder we struggle to respect the fellow beings who share that space? If we don’t have any problems beating up our silent, non-threatening Mother Earth, of course we wouldn’t think twice about abusing those who actually speak or act, right?

You can imagine, then, how the state of NYC takes me back to that crying Indian and scares me. On one hand, I know that urban living is an environmentally sound way to live in itself. I also love the fact that there are tons of Greenies in this town who do their best to consume little and recycle what they do use. Yet, I am appalled by the number of people who clearly do not give a hoot, consuming and littering to their heart’s content. I constantly see people pop off bottle caps, unwrap cigarette packs, finish their burgers, and drop the remaining packaging directly onto the street as if there aren’t trash receptacles every few feet!

The trash issue is even more blatant as Ethan grows older and becomes more independent. Now that he’s hit the two year mark, we often leave the stroller behind and take actual walks together. If you think you have a good sense of the litter and pollution of a city, take a stroll with a toddler. His eagle eye will he stop to inspect every petrified stick, dead beetle, or dog turd on your route. He will also heartbreakingly examine every candy wrapper, broken bottle, and Starbuck’s sleeve. You were used to averting your eyes to this before but what can you do when a 2-year-old points to it and asks you specifically what it is?

“Ocky!!” is all I’ve been able to say, sufficiently bug-eyed. Now he mimics me. “Ocky?” he’ll venture as I vigorously nod, leap over the offending item, and whisk him away. But it kills me that we have this “conversation” every few steps. It’s bad enough that the city never seems to empty the garbage cans enough and that people drop their refuse on the street but let’s take one step back. New York is such an “on the go” city that I wonder, for example, what percentage of meals are eaten out. Translation: How many paper boxes, plastic wear and worst of all, Styrofoam containers are used in a day and why?

Recently, I passed a downtown deli, packed with the business lunch crowd. Clearly, none of them were going anywhere; yet, all of them were eating out of disposable containers (packaged in plastic bags no less – extra wince!) This establishment had made the decision to accumulate mass waste for the sake of ease. Part of the reason I pack fruit and nuts in my bag at all times is to avoid these very situations. I try not to contribute to this lifestyle. But then again, I, along with so many people, am part of a fast food generation. Most mornings, we leave the house in a tizzy, knowing we can stop somewhere along the way for our sustenance. Plus, we are so used to everything being fast and disposable, we don’t even think to ask our local deli or coffee joint if they have real plates, silverware, or cups for us to use if we are sticking around.

How mind boggling all of this must be to a small child! Why is it, he must wonder, that I can’t touch so much of what is part of my environment? How does he make the distinction between a crayon and a cigarette butt? And why is so much of what I use going straight into a trash can? he must think. Luckily, Ethan, like most kids that age, has a great time playing with the safe trash….empty water bottles, Kleenex boxes, container lids, etc. He’s also very much in that helping stage so we regularly take trips to the garbage room where we deposit the recyclables.

As for what’s “ocky” on the street, my goal is to set a good example and educate. The first step, they always say, is awareness and I think this kid is learning quickly. In fact, kids today seem to be very in tune with environmental issues, taking an active role in greening up their lives. And this warms my heart…just about as much as that dude in front of me at the bodega who just refused a plastic bag. Hmm…cute too, huh? Sorry but I think I’ve gotta test out my new eco-friendly sneaks and run.

Til next month!

Nachtwey is a Brooklyn Nanny, a freelance writer and regular contributor to Hip Slope Mama. She can be reached at Rachael.Nachtwey@gmail.com.