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Climate crisis, school shootings every day, frightening political division, the rise of unregulated artificial intelligence, biodiversity loss on an epic scale–it’s easy to get overwhelmed! And indeed, when I first watched the Netflix documentaries, Seaspiracy and Breaking Boundaries, I flew into an absolute panic. And, in fact, I think both these films, especially Breaking Boundaries, are so important that I plan to write summary reviews of each in future posts. For now, this is the process that got me out of my overwhelmed paralysis.
At that time, I was tracking the cycles of the planets–this was the *Starshine* Astrological Planner my friend Larkin and I created for the A Little More Free podcast. Jupiter was lining up for its annual opposition with the Sun. Any time an outer planet opposes the sun, it is at its closest to us of any time that year (when it is conjunct the sun, it lies on the far side of the solar system from us). I found myself wishing for salvation and feeling only the dire and oppressive nature of the world situation. Where was Jupiter, the great Benefactor? This, by the way, is something I’ve often struggled in vain to find with Jupiter transits: Jupiter is supposed to bring blessings and expansion, the cosmic Santa Claus. And yet, I have rarely found this to be the case.
Jupiter was bright in the night sky, and I called upon it in my distress. Who knows how these realizations come, but I suddenly understood that if no help appears on the horizon, that I am being called to become the help. I realized that this must be why Jupiter transits sometimes pass without incident: because we fail to answer the call to be the solution, to be the answer to our prayers, to give with great generosity.
I leapt back onto social media after nearly ten years away from it and tried to rally my friends and family to the cause. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck. Besides the fact that I was never willing to resurrect my Facebook page nor to grant Instagram access to my contacts which meant my circle of influence remained small–no one seemed to really care about the crisis in the oceans! I couldn’t even get my family and friends to commit to stop eating seafood, which I see as the only way to slow down the terrible juggernaut that is unethical commercial fishing. I’ll share more about all that another time.
While I was flailing around in my distress, I came to sit in a series of campfire conversations with folks I’d worked with on a project earlier in the spring–most of them members of Sustain Floyd, a local sustainability non-profit. One of them, Fred First, a longtime Floyd resident and activist, spoke words that have stayed with me and given me hope: “Don’t get discouraged if you can’t solve everything. Pick one thing that you can do and work on that. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have if you keep working on your area, and just keep working at it and don’t give up!”
So I calmed down and decided to pick something close to home that I could get my hands around and actually work with directly. I chose local recycling because it’s always been challenging in Floyd County and although it’s kind of boring (it’s always been boring to me) it really doesn’t work well here. And I’m actually going to tell how it stopped being boring and turned into a tiny miracle.
As background, this is a really rural county, and we who live outside town limits have to haul our own trash, and the county’s recycling programs are limited. We definitely don’t have single stream recycling! Interestingly–or synchronistically–around that same time, the county sent out letters with our annual property tax statements announcing new recycling intitiatives and Sustain Floyd resumed a recycling initiative of its own that had languished during the pandemic.
The county’s letter turned out to be a bit premature–they have major budget and resource hurdles to overcome. The state of recycling most places in this country is primitive due to many problems in the waste stream that cannot be laid at the feet of one small county government. Sustain Floyd was beginning to organize recycling drives to collect and process harder-to-recycle items like #5 plastic, plastic film, batteries, and many more items. So, I got involved. I started volunteering. And I began to more dilligently recycle everything I could. This, by the way, resulted in an almost imediate reduction by half and then eventually by two-thirds, the volume of trash we haul to the dumpsters! Michael has enjoyed not having to carry the trash every week since we can now go three weeks between trips.
I dug deep. We were working on a deep clean and reorganization of our basement, and I kept finding recycling puzzles in odd places, and sending emails to Jackie, Sustain Floyd’s president. When you get really serious about recycling and waste, it raises a lot of questions! But I guess all my questions inspired Jackie to ask me to be part of Sustain Floyd’s presentation to this year’s Industrial Design class at Virginia Tech for the sustainable design competition that Sustain Floyd sponsored.
It was so amazing to be part of that! The students blew me away with their talent and creativity. Apparently, my recycling puzzles turned out to be highly entertaining. I was mostly fuzzled with annoyance at all the everyday design flaws I kept encountering, but most people found it novel and it was a big hit. So I’m sharing the presentation slides here again.
Sustain Floyd and its group of growing volunteers are now planning to hold monthly recycling events. We’re finding a readiness and receptivity in the local community that wasn’t there even a few years ago. I think people want to do something, and this is something that ordinary people can do. Sustain Floyd is doing its best to ensure that the recycled content is properly prepared and makes its way into good hands, so that’s something people appreciate too. And this is something you can do in your own community–either partner with an existing non-profit, or create your own volunteer group. And, late breaking news: one of the other people involved in the presentation, a local business owner, is stepping up in a big way. Details coming soon about just how that will look, but it’s amazing the snowball effect it can have once you get in there and get your hands on something and it’s concrete.
I feel galvanized and hopeful! Which is a far cry from the overwhelmed despair I felt at the end of the summer. I haven’t yet found a way for people to realize that when they eat seafood, they are contributing to criminal enterprise and the indiscriminate destruction of biodiversity in the oceans, as well as a high death toll among highly intelligent non-human persons–dolphins! And no, Joe Rogan, I don’t care that dolphins supposedly occasionally commit sexual assault. That would be like saying that just because some humans are murders we shouldn’t care about indiscriminately exterminating people for convenience.
For now, I’m working with the problems that are right in front of me, working with the skills I have, and hoping that this will ripple out in ways I might not have imagined. I certainly never imagined I’d be part of the design project! Read more about that in Household Recycling Problems for Industrial Designers.
I suppose the take-away motto is: Dream Big, Start Small. But it’s also that when you’re feeling overwhelmed and like there’s no saviors, maybe you are meant to be the savior.
Dream Big, Start Small.
NetZero Company has a whole line of everyday sustainability products. Most of them are aimed at eliminating plastic, which I now see as a hazardous material, given the fact that it’s so enduring in the environment–it’s going to be here in thousands of years and animals keep eating it thinking it’s food and choking and dying, and 32% of plastic ends up in the oceans!! And only 12% is recycled and only 2% is effectively recycled, and even in the best scenario, most of the plastics you and I use are only recyclable once. I especially like their stainless steel bento boxes. They’re classy looking, seal tight with side latches, and are stackable. These durable storage containers can provide years of use and at the end of their use, they’re infinitely recyclable! You can try the 3-pack set or start with just a single bento box. Here is the full collection of products:
Munchie Box Stack – 3 Pack Stainless Steel Bento Box Set
The Munchie box – Medium Stainless Steel Bento Box
The Munchie box – Small Stainless Steel Bento Box
The Munchie box – Large Stainless Steel Bento Box
And you can put it all together with the insulated tote!