Becoming Better Stewards

I worry at times that I’m not a better steward of the environment. Walking along a path in the park, I often spot a discarded can, bag, wrapper, etc. and sometimes hesitate to pick it up. What is my responsibility to the world with respect to this item? Do I have an obligation to clean up someone else’s mess?

I could bring a trash bag or bucket along on my walks like I’ve occasionally done in the past, but that changes the nature of the walk, transforms it into a chore rather than a peaceful meditation. On occasion during a walk, I notice almost nothing, my mind flitting from subject to subject and my body sauntering along on autopilot.

When I bring along a trash bag, it acts as a constant reminder to keep an eye out for the things that don’t belong, the discarded waste of the selfish and ignorant. The very essence of the walk morphs into something less satisfying. Not that a walk with a trash bag can’t occasionally be satisfying, but it’s not the same as the contemplative perambulation I so enjoy.

Driving along the highway, or even a busy road, I spot refuse tossed by oblivious motorists, some of it biodegradable, but the bulk of it plastic. One cannot safely stop the car on the shoulder and pick up other people’s trash. It’s likely not even legal unless you define picking up trash as an emergency.

So I have chosen other ways to help. First, I have learned to buy many fewer items than I used to. That beat-up old T-shirt can last a few more washings. The jeans with the holes in the knees and the loose threads at the hems don’t look that bad. Socks with holes in the heels work almost as well in the spring, summer and fall, though I tend to want more warmth in the winter.

Second, I try not to discard food. If I’m sick of eating the same thing four days in a row because I had to buy more than I needed for a particular recipe, I freeze the remains when possible. Otherwise, I tend to eat the food I’ve got on hand and continue eating it until it’s gone despite my desire for something else.

Third, when I have an item I no longer need (e.g., clothing or housewares or office equipment), I try to find a place to donate them. Sometimes it takes a bit of searching to find an organization that isn’t Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but those places are fine too. I just prefer to give to smaller entities that have a greater need.

I realize these are small steps, but at least they’re steps. They’re progress, even if not particularly impressive. And every year I do a little better. That’s what drives me now – the competition to best my previous efforts. Imagine what we could do if we all did a little better every year.

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