Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Limits of Green Living

Now that I am working on this bottle book, and have learned so much about what happens to plastic when we don't dispose of it properly, I'm incapable of walking past a discarded bottle without picking it up. Normally this activity has a neutral outcome. The satisfaction of doing a little bit of good for the planet cancels out the inherently nasty action of collecting someone else's refuse.

Last week, however, I was forced to take a brief break from my green duties. We were enjoying a slow family walk after dinner. As often happens, I spotted a crushed bottle atop a sewer grate. If left untouched, that little bottle could have easily been swept down into the sewer, out to the local Neponset River, into Massachusetts Bay, and onward to the middle of the great Atlantic. This might sound like an improbable journey - if it were children's fiction I imagine a sensitive, intelligent mouse would be involved - but it happens all the time. That's why we have collections of plastic trash as broad as states floating out in the middle of our oceans.

So, anyway, I stopped and picked up the bottle. It felt strangely top-heavy. Something brown and solid was attached to the neck. I broke it off, took a step, and noted with great displeasure that olfactory alarms began ringing inside my head. Too shattered to inspect the item myself, I quickly dropped the bottle. My eldest daughter came over to ask what had happened. I relayed my suspicions about the mystery item attached to the neck. "I think it was poop."

My daughter's highly attuned sense of smell meant she did not have to lean in for a closer look. "Yes, Dad," she said, "Yes, it is."

I left the bottle, walked home, and washed my hands. Now, after a two-week hiatus, I'm back to collecting again, but only after a quick inspection of each discarded item. The one pictured here was perfectly clean, and probably too large to sneak down the storm drain, but I grabbed it anyway. My two-year-old promptly declared himself thirsty and asked for a drink. When I poured out the contents he was quite displeased.

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