Duluth eco-vigilance event is May 18

For many months now, my colleagues at Sustainable Twin Ports and I have used this space to share suggestions for living a more sustainable life. These tips have pertained to everything from gift-giving to poop-scooping. But nearly all of them have two things in common: the need for a little extra thought and perhaps a little extra effort in our daily lives.

Of course, there are times when all of us can feel a bit short on the energy required for such vigilance. Some days, you may want to sit down to a thick, juicy steak without thinking about its carbon footprint — 20 pounds of carbon dioxide for a 12-ounce cut — or crack open a cold beer without sweating how many gallons of water it took to make it: 28 gallons for the contents of a 12-ounce can or bottle.

On such occasions, it can be helpful to recall those “a-ha” moments or experiences in life when you first realized the impact that your activities and choices have on the world around you. (That is, assuming you’ve had one of these.)

Mine came in 1993, under a searing sun as I waded through a virtual sea of empty plastic pop bottles and detergent containers. No, it wasn’t an acid trip. Rather, I was working a college summer job at a recycling facility. I was assigned to the “bottle pit,” where trucks dumped all of the incoming plastic bottles collected from residences. My instructions were simple: Pick through the piles and put every item that wasn’t stamped with the recycling codes “1” or “2” into an open-top container box alongside the pit. That meant pulling everything stamped 3 through 7. These made up about half the total volume of bottles, along with other fragrant fare that shouldn’t have been in recycling at all, like containers of spoiled cottage cheese and soiled Pampers. I ended every day shellacked with a dark, sticky filth whose consistency you could only replicate if you were to use molasses as sunscreen for a day at the beach.

After weeks of putting all of the non-1s and -2s in the separate container box, I asked our foreman where the boxes went to when the trucks came to pick them up. His answer: “The dump.”

“Why?” I asked. “All the bottles have a little recycling symbol on them.”

“Yeah, but no companies around here want those types of plastic, no matter what they say on them,” came the reply. “If we can’t sell it, we toss it.”

The enormity of our waste stream struck me right there: Of the myriad “recyclable” bottles I had waded through, half of them were still headed for a hole in the ground. (I should note that more types get recycled more widely today than in 1993, so don’t despair.)

The moment of that realization still packs an emotional punch. And it motivates me to commit the extra time to investigate which plastics and other packaging can be recycled locally and the extra effort to avoid those that can’t.

I believe that many of us who are passionate about sustainability can point to a similar emotional experience or moment in their lives. So, it’s no wonder that a venerable Minnesota environmental advocacy organization has put the power of these personal moments at the center of its effort to combat climate change. Right now, Climate Generation (formerly the Will Steger Foundation) is asking people to record or write about their experiences for posting on its website, climategen.org, under the Climate Minnesota Stories category.

I encourage readers to visit the site and spend some time with the posted stories. I’m confident that you’ll find some echoes of your own experiences, and I would encourage you to add to the collection.

Climate Generation is also holding a “convening” here in Duluth at the Depot on Monday, May 18, beginning at 6:15 p.m. The goal is to bring neighbors and colleagues together to share experiences in person, and inspire each other to take action. I hope to see you there.

Michael Kooi is the board president of Sustainable Twin Ports. You can email him at mkooi42@gmail.com.

If you go

WHAT: Climate Generation Convening

WHERE: Duluth Depot

WHEN: 6:15 p.m. Monday, May 18

WHY: To share and inspire action. Guests include renowned climatologist Mark Seeley and Duluth Mayor Don Ness.

Read the full article online here.

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