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September 2005
Extending Our Compassion
By Andrea Vendittis

 

For the past ten years, I have been a regular attendee of vegetarian and animal rights conferences across the U.S. I do whatever I can to attend these events not only to share information, but also to learn what others are doing to help animals and spread the news about veganism. One topic of concern for me has been the importance of simplifying my lifestyle to reduce the impact it has on the earth. This includes recycling and minimizing waste.

I have been trying to bring this message to animal rights events, but have been met with some resistance. It seems that the subject of personal waste reduction and recycling is not of interest or concern to many animal activists. In fact, the correlation between animal welfare and the environment is totally overlooked at these events.

Recently, I attended a major animal rights conference and was troubled to see vast amounts of waste being discarded without any regard to the environmental consequences. Everywhere I looked, trashcans overflowed with styrofoam, paper cups and material that could have easily been recycled with some thoughtful effort—but there were no recycling bins in sight. It was unfortunate that no one was aware that the seemingly innocent act of tossing out a cup has such negative effects on the very beings we were united there to save. Or that tons of water and other resources had to be used in order to turn raw materials into these bottles, cans and boxes.

Why don’t activists understand the impacts of their material choices like they do their food? Animals need a clean environment to live in that isn’t polluted by our toxic waste and trash. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles die annually by accidentally consuming our plastic bags. Fish choke in our streams from toxic groundwater—a side-effect of not only factory farms, but our trash landfills. We need to evaluate our waste habits and trash production so we can avoid contributing to such harmful acts.

Vegan Hypocrisy
Unfortunately, even if we follow a vegan lifestyle, our daily purchases and habits still contribute to landfills harmful by-products, pollution, and deforestation. But just as we choose a soy burger over a hamburger, we can choose to participate in creating environmental pollution or consciously think about what we are buying and the true cost that went into making it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, landfills produce more methane gas than cows! Isn’t the production of methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas, one of the arguments against eating meat?

On the same note, have you ever really thought about the resources that go into the fruits and vegetables we see neatly wrapped in a styrofoam package on the co-op shelf, or frozen vegan meal that comes on a plastic tray, shrink wrapped in plastic, inside a cardboard box? These convenience items may be vegan, but they are also incredibly destructive to our environment—consider the energy it takes to produce them, the cancer causing by-products released into the air and streams, the animals who suffer because of that.

Furthermore, many items are packaged in containers that cannot be recycled or are wrapped up in so much excess packaging that it takes a chainsaw just to get to the product. Even if some of these containers are recyclable, many Americans—many animal activists—still end up trashing billions of containers every year. Many of us simply believe we don’t have the time or energy to do anything about it, or feel it really won’t make a difference. The benefits of reducing consumption might not be readily measured, but it is the personal satisfaction that we are doing our best to help the earth and its creatures that matters.

It’s the Little Things That Count
In order to remain true to our commitment to help animals, we can think of the following points before we purchase anything: Can this item be recycled? Is this item in too much packaging? Do I really need this item?

One simple way everyone can make a difference is to use cloth bags for all shopping needs—not just groceries. One won’t have to be confronted with the choice “paper or plastic” (both of which are destructive), and this discipline contributes to good habit formation. Keep several bags in the car so they will always be on hand for unexpected stops at the store. Remember how difficult it seemed to read every label before eating something? Now it seems like second nature and we do it without thinking. Developing earth-friendly habits and reducing waste can be just as simple.

A good alternative to disposable water bottles is to invest in a water filter that can be used hundreds of times before it needs to be changed. And who needs disposable cups when ceramic coffee mugs, stainless thermoses or glass cups can be used at home, work and travel?

Another positive action that is well worth the effort is to refuse to buy products that are in non-recyclable or excessive packaging. This may sound like an impossibility, but do we really need muffins that are in hard plastic containers or snow peas wrapped in a tray with cellophane wrapping? Call or email the companies that produce products in non-recyclable materials and suggest that they use more environmentally-friendly and less wasteful packaging. This provides retailers with an incentive and an opportunity to improve. Remember that every phone call or comment a company receives represents many more people that didn’t make the call, so make it matter.

Let’s talk plates and flatware. Have you ever thought about bringing your own ceramic dinnerware and reusable utensils to potlucks or restaurants that use disposable and/or styrofoam plates and cups? This is one of my favorite thoughtful acts since it helps the environment and also demonstrates to others that “green” living is easy and a normal thing to do. When one thinks about the landfill space that is permanently occupied for each disposable plate or cup we use, it seems totally unnatural to even think of using an item “just once.”

Every time we do something kind for the earth, we are remaining true to our convictions and are setting a positive example for our friends and family. It might seem like our actions are too small to make a difference, or that our negative contributions are not significant, but apathy is the most damaging of all. It falsely teaches us that environmental degradation is out of our control and that we are doing enough simply because we are vegan or that we recycle. Most importantly, an environmentally abusive lifestyle teaches others around us that this is an acceptable way of life and normalizes it. Each and every one of us has the power to reduce our negative impact on the earth by making every action matter, and with each positive action we take, we get closer to how it feels to live a kind and compassionate life that includes all species, plants, wildlife and our precious resources.

Andrea Vendittis is an environmental and health educator. She has been a vegan for over 15 years and continuously seeks ways to reduce her impact on the earth. Visit reusablebags.com and www.epa.gov/recyclecity for more information.


 

 


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