28 June, 2011

Tape Is Reusable

This one goes out to my friends that work in the environmental movement. I say this with the utmost love and respect from the deepest trenches of my adoring heart: you’re crazy.

Hitchhiking in the middle of a lightning storm with an umbrella crazy? No. But definitely wacky Uncle Al type of crazy who is always a good time at Thanksgiving but doesn’t exactly warrant an invite to meet your girlfriend’s family. Nuts crazy. Loony crazy. A screw is loose somewhere and probably won’t be found crazy. But well-meaning and fun-loving enough to earn him a seat next to your Aunt Martha and right by the cranberry sauce year after year.

Full disclosure: I work in the environmental sciences, so this includes me as well. I am ok with that.

I’m coming up on the end of my first year at an environmental nonprofit in Boston. I’ve acquired many skills and life lessons including but not limited to: nonprofit strategy, networking tips, the ability to be on two phone calls at the same time, and enough business cards to make an ugly and uncomfortable quilt for a 2-D man. I’ve met incredible people, made some amazing friends, and at times felt as though I was living in a tv documentary about wacky offices and their workers, or as though Ashton Kutcher had given up punking celebrities and decided to target an ordinary young woman. This ordinary young woman was especially concerned last Tuesday that there had been a full 20 minutes of a company meeting spent talking about Justin Bieber, a topic of which she was uniquely and ashamedly equipped to contribute.

It goes without saying that as an environmental organization we are a bit more plugged into the sustainability movement. I’ve always considered myself qualifiably crunchy. I went through a long vegetarian phase, a laughably short vegan phase, a tendency to unplug all the appliances not in use phase, and, like other plaid-loving hippies, developed an undying devotion to the Discovery Channel’s “Planet Earth” series. But this last year I’ve come to realize that I can’t hold a candle to some of the people in my line of work. In my mind’s eye I thought I was Captain Planet, but really I was just a cuter version of Hoggish Greedly.

This past year, I have been yelled at for throwing away adhesive sticky tape because, and I quote, I could “use it again.” I’ve had my nostrils overtaken with the rich aroma of fruits and veggies being broken down by the office vermiculture bin. (For those of you who don’t compost, vermiculture is composting with worms.  You’re welcome.) I’ve been questioned about the amount of water I use while washing dishes, and I’ve been openly chastised for using a space-heater in the middle of winter even though the building’s heat had given up somewhere around the middle of February.

One especially enlightening event happened the day I walked into work and realized that the office garbage can was missing. After asking around, I soon discovered that it had been recycled. Not our garbage, mind you- the garbage can itself. I was told that it had been a "health hazard"and that by not having a garbage can so readily available would help me reduce the amount of waste I produced.

For the next week, I grew a rebellious pile of my leftover food and assorted sundries on the corner of my desk. Part of me wanted to make a social statement , and the other part was too lazy to walk it to the trash can next door. There were stacks of stained plastic coffee cups from the times I had forgotten to take a mug with me to the coffee shop, individual greek yogurt containers- because buying a large container and dishing it out every morning seemed to be too much of a hassle-, gum wrappers and candy wrappers and banana peels and foil from lunches and scraps of paper that were filled with many underlined and circled words and small pictures of stars. 

There is nothing like feeling righteously indignant until you realize that, hey, the other person was kind of right. I do consume a lot. Maybe getting rid of the garbage can was a touch extreme, but I rarely ever forget my coffee mug now. For some situations, it really can’t hurt to drink the kool-aid.

Perhaps we’re all a bit nutty because we care too much. There’s a strong sense of pride in being over-worked and under-paid, of caring passionately about something and actively trying to change all those bad things that keep you up at night. Does getting rid of a garbage can or stacking banana peels on your desk so you can feed your plastic bin of worms at the end of the week really make a difference? I’m not sure. But even if I have to walk outside to throw my trash away, or use my beloved space-heater less often in the harsh Cambridge winter, I like to think it’s all worth it. I’m a little less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than when I first began. But, at the end of the day, come hell or high-college-loan interest rates, I love what I do. If I have to be a little crazy to do it, then yee-haw.