Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Conundrum of Earth Day Celebrations, and How Green is Your Wallet?

Since I have been away on a family trip for a few days, I am launching into a more in depth post that covers two separate, but related issues.  Once I get the time to download photos of our trip, I will post more on that.

The Conundrum of EARTH DAY Celebrations:

Earth day is fast approaching - this Saturday, to be exact.  Do you have your day of celebrating all planned out yet?  Do you have particular rituals to ring in another year of 'trying' to be grateful for our earth?  Or do you let things roll, participating in random activities that suit you?  Or beyond that, do you let Earth Day come and go without really acknowledging it at all? 
I have to admit, I was shocked when I recently read that Earth Day has been around since 1970. According to Wikipedia:

Earth Day, celebrated April 22, is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment. It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in in 1970 and is celebrated in many countries every year. This date is Spring in the Northern Hemisphere and Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

It was not until we moved to the Boston area about 10 years ago that we became aware of various activities to celebrate the Earth, and began to take more responsibility for our environmental actions.  Although there are many different activities here in our area to participate, the one which works for my family is the Charles River Cleanup.  We spend half of Earth Day walking down by the river, picking up an enormous amount of trash.  My husband loves this day, as he gets to wade into the river to capture discarded bottles, balls, and the many odd items (one year he found a tent!).  I found him wading boots on Freecycle just for this day every year - I'll post photos next week!.  My kids love that the Cleanup organizers hand out munchies and serve hotdogs at the end - and everyone gets a free t-shirt as well.  I love that we are out doing something physical in the fresh air, enjoying friends who do the same thing every year, and beautifying our community.  None of this costs us any money, and no one is trying to sell us anything as we do it.  
But not all 'Green', Earth Day activities are like this.  I'm sure if you are breathing, you have heard, watched, become aware of the scads of advertisements for 'green' this or that out in consumerville.  I have noticed that as more businesses are jumping on the 'green' wagon, consumers get the sense that by buying their products, we are doing something wonderful for the earth.  When in reality, we are still consuming, still moving away from recycling, and still keeping big business in business.  I came across good information at the Huffington Post.  Susan Linn talks about the marketing that is sent out to children regarding being green, and referring to Earth Day.  It always makes my blood boil to read how folks are targeting kids with advertising.  But it seems ludicrous that they think kids, who understand global warming so much better that some adults, would fall for their tactics.  Unfortunately, they use so many chemicals in their foods that they are hard for a child to resist, and they end up succumbing to the ridiculous feast.  I have actually read that participating in the fast food frenzy is much like being addicted to drugs.  Ok.  That's really scary.

How Green is Your Wallet?

As I said above, we just returned from our recent family trip.  Actually, we finish our trip tomorrow as we stopped off in Baltimore to visit family overnight, so we can cut the last leg of our trip into 2 more manageable pieces.  We went down to Williamsburg, Virginia, to check out the colonial community they have there.  It was a really beautiful area, and the weather, though rainy for much of the time we spent there, was much warmer than up north.  The people were fantastic - what they say about southern hospitality is really true.  We had so many people interested in who we were, why we had come down, how our drive was, etc.  But what we noticed right away was the lack of 'green' initiatives with the Colonial Williamsburg complex.  The place is HUGE with at least 5 hotels under the Williamsburg name.  There is the actual colony and shops, numerous restaurants, and museums as well.  Now, I have had the opportunity to stay in a few hotels lately, though I would not call myself much of a traveler. However, in my experiences, there has definitely been in shift toward more thoughtful, resource-saving activities such as re-using towels, recycling bins, glasses in the rooms, and a move away from styrofoam containers.  Well, I am sad to say that where we stayed, we had quite a bit of plastic/styrofoam dishes and cups for meals, plastic cups for drinking in the rooms (which split open within the first using, and so had to be tossed (in the recycle bag to bring home)).  I was shocked that it was not until we walked all the way through the colony (about a 30 minute walk) that we saw our first (and turns out only) recycling bin for glass, cans or plastic - none for paper, outside a sandwich shop in the merchant's center - not even the colonial part.  

I was really surprised to see that here we were in this preserved colonial community, and yet no one was working to preserve the present, so we could have it in the future!!

Is this a southern thing?  A Virginia thing?  I started thinking... it really pays it forward to research how your hotel recycles and reuses resources before you make the reservation.  And of course, I will be sending a letter to the corporate offices to share my opinion, with the hopes that they will begin to think about how to better use their products and processes in order to contain some of the resources we have left.  
But do you think about this before you travel?  Do you think about what mode of transportation gives you not only the best price but the best use of mileage as well?  Do you think about bringing your own food for some/all of the trip to minimize your own cost?  Do you think about camping versus hotels?  Do you have some secrets about how to be resourceful where others (hotels, restaurants, etc) fall short?  Definitely share them here!  And don't be shy - many of you readers are from other countries/regions and we could all learn from what you have to say!

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