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Rethinking Plastic Waste

A mother's practice becomes a son's career and personal choice

When after my mother past away and emptying out her home became necessary, I inherited countless bottles of shampoo and lotion, decorative soaps, candles, and teas. My first inclination was to pitch it all into the trash, but I am not the kind of person who can throw things away willy-nilly; my career today is dedicated to keeping trash our of our landfills and waterways. And so, I made the commitment to use everyone of them that was still viable, which made for many cluttered shelves, drawers and boxes wondering if I will ever get through them all.

Teas, candles, and soaps were surprisingly easy to address. Several teas went to work to share with my colleagues. The only tea I have left is a Christmas flavor that I’ll probably save again for next year. At home, only two boxes remain (which reminds me, I should heat up some water). Note: loose leaf means less packaging to throw away.

During the winter, I would make sure candles were lit in the evening while enjoying a cup of tea. The candles are all but gone; the time change limited the burning hours. Except for that one night when the power went out. I think Rob was surprised to see how gleeful I was to light the house up with candles in every room.

Given the small size of Mom’s decorative soaps, it was fun to frequently choose a seashell, robin egg, or fancy French milled bar knowing I would never get bored with them hanging around in the shower too long. Some of them were so old that they had lost their sent, which was best for me. Last in the pile is a soap molded into a chicken…I think it will be difficult to negotiate down the arm or across the leg without it feeling like a handful of rocks.

Some of the lotions had to be thrown due to their age. A few of them had separated, which is of course a good indicator that they are no longer viable. The others I’m slathering on, particularly over the winter months when my skin becomes so dry. What I am not appreciating is smelling like coconut, menthol, or pears, but I can grin and bare it, thinking of how many times Mom apologized for having not tossed them away herself. Her guilt was brief as we knowingly shared in that moment of parent and child that dismantled obligation for love long ago.

That leaves me with the shampoos and a subsequent “aha” moment. So many bottles winding up in a recycled bin that apparently are no longer being recycled. So much waste! Most bottles are gone now with just a few travel sizes to go. It’s taking longer to use them, because midway I realized that there is no reason for them to exist. Manufacturers and retailers have figured out that bar shampoo is easier to ship without a lot of post-consumer product. I bought one while visiting Barcelona, despite knowing that they will “last longer than most relationships” claimed on their sidewalk sandwich board. Just a couple swipes across the hair, and I have enough lather for my head and beard. For me, no conditioner required.

As I mentioned, being environmentally conscious was a career choice, but it is willingly a personal one. Wouldn’t you know, I have my mother to thank. For her, being a depression child meant you conserved everything, which in many ways is environmentally sound. Maybe it's time to revisit those ideals that keep waste down and left out of our landfills or incinerators.

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