To be clear, I’m talking about this definition of consumption: the using up of a resource, not this definition: a wasting disease, especially pulmonary tuberculosis. Although maybe we industrialized countries do have a wasting disease that we have not yet labeled as such.

I’m writing this directly following our Environmental Justice Discussion Group discussion of the documentary The Sacrifice Zone: Life in an Industrial Wasteland. The Ironbound district of Newark, New Jersey, is one of the most toxic neighborhoods in the country. Maria Lopez-Nuñez, a Honduran-American resident there, is waging a war for environmental justice. She is part of the Ironbound Community Corporation, one of the most effective environmental justice organizations in the country. The Sacrifice Zone follows Maria as she leads a group of environmental justice fighters determined to break the cycle of poor communities of color serving as dumping grounds for our consumer society. The film is available to rent for $4 on Vimeo on Demand. It is quite eye-opening and is just a 35-minute time investment.

In our discussion, we talked about our buying habits, our consumption, because this neighborhood is home to the Port of New York and New Jersey, the busiest port on the US East Coast.

We would not wittingly make it harder for others to breathe or to shorten their lives, but our consumptive actions are doing just that. I find that pretty sobering.

I learned this phrase “hard empathy” recently. The kind of empathy you feel for someone in a situation that you yourself have not been in. It can be more difficult to imagine how someone else would feel in those situations.

This is something you can practice. I learned how from a TEDtalk by Jane McGonigal, a game designer and futurist. At around 12:50 in the TEDtalk, she describes an exercise in which you go to any news source and find a story that is outside your frame of reference and try to imagine how it would feel to be in that situation. (If you are hooked into the Family Action Network (FAN) interviews, her name might sound familiar, as she was just interviewed in April 2022. Watch that interview on YouTube here.)

I applied this concept to some of the situations described in the documentary. There is one scene when a young man is outside being interviewed and it’s nearly impossible to record him because airplanes are constantly flying overhead. I tried to think of situations when I could not be heard and how frustrating that had been.

But, I digress. What if we consumed less? Would our lives be worse? Would we be sad?

I’ve read so much evidence to the contrary, that having fewer possessions actually makes us happier. (I’m presuming that anyone reading this has their basic needs met.)

If you were tasked to consume less, where would you start? This is a tricky one for me. I guess I’d look at the areas in which I’m wasting as a clue to a first step. I thought of something! I buy my deodorant through a subscription and I just got one delivered though I’m not even close to running out. I know that sounds kind of crazy but it is a paste that comes in a little glass jar and I can’t just walk into a Walgreens and grab one. I just canceled the subscription and asked them for ideas for where to buy it locally. This would be ideal. It might cost a bit more that way but shopping locally means that those businesses will be able to stay in business.

Speaking of which, we are so happy to be part of the cover story of the Spring 2022 sustainability-focused edition of Our Evanston, a Retail Community Magazine. Here is a digital copy of that issue. Editor Ande Breunig started a facebook group in 2020, in response to the pandemic and a concern for the local businesses, called Support Evanston Shops, Salons, and Studios that became a place for locals to both ask for suggestions for sourcing locally and give glowing reviews to their favorites. Owners are also welcomed to post about their offerings. The overwhelmingly positive response to that group gave Ande the idea to create Our Evanston, published quarterly, beginning in 2021. You can find it for free in Evanston shops.

I know that I’ve put this ecological footprint calculator in a blog post before but I just can’t get over the fact that I would need two Earths because of my lifestyle. ME? Two Earths?! I was happy to be able to update one of my answers to reflect that my energy is coming from a renewable source because my community solar subscription is online. What would I need to do to get it down to only one Earth, I wonder? I think the fact that I live alone is really messing with my score.

Some of the questions in the calculator are about food choices. Based on those questions I decided to sign up for a CSA again this season. 80 percent of our produce will be grown within two miles of our home! I just need to get creative about all of the Swiss chard that is in my future.

I live in Evanston and my employer Erlene and I participate in a waste subcommittee of the Climate Action Resilience Plan (CARP) Implementation Committee. (It’s a mouthful.) We recently did some visioning that has me imagining how the concept of local could be further implemented. Particularly how waste could and maybe should be managed more locally. In Evanston we have nine wards. Could you imagine if each ward had to deal with its own waste? I would imagine that we’d all waste less if we had to deal with it onsite, so to speak. Right now there aren’t even ward offices, something I really don’t understand. I think it’d be valuable to not only have offices but for alderpersons to have office hours like professors do.

I don’t personally use Twitter but I absolutely love this tweet by Mary Annaïse Heglar: “The thing about climate is that you can either be overwhelmed by the complexity of the problem or fall in love with the creativity of the solutions.” Mary and her friend Amy Westervelt have a podcast called Hot Take that I’m really looking forward to listening to. I’m hoping to hear more inspiring thoughts.

I think this article about how to store fruits and vegetables is on topic. Sometimes it’s not that we’ve bought too much produce, it’s that we’ve stored it incorrectly and it’s gone bad because of it. The official title of this guide on EcoWatch website is How to Store 31 Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Less Food Waste.

There are a lot of unusual tips in this guide, but my favorite tip is storing celery in aluminum foil. What?! I’m definitely going to try that one.

Author Details
Zero Waste Consultant | Collective Resource, Inc.

Mary Beth strongly believes that, “It’s always better to be doing something rather than nothing.” If you’re thinking of composting at home, she can help you work out what your particular “something” can be.

She’s confident a solution can be tailored to fit anyone’s needs and ambitions. “Anyone who eats can be a CRI customer, whether you are an individual or a large organization. I want you to understand the advantages of composting, and I can show you how CRI can make it easy.” Mary Beth has successfully designed waste diversion strategies for individuals, schools, houses of worship and other communities. She’s received the governor’s Environmental Hero award for her work at her daughter’s school. Whether you’re starting with a backyard bin, a kitchen bucket, a worm farm, or large-scale commercial collection, Mary Beth can be your good-natured guide.