September 24, 2009

What About the Trash?

Alright, here's the real reason I wrote about scouting last week. In my son's boy scout troop, there is an expectation that every parent will be involved somehow, an expectation that I appreciate and respect. It didn't take much persuasion for me to sign-up as a committee member. (I'm also the popcorn fundraising chair for the troop; want to buy some popcorn?) I know how important scouting was for me, how it helped form my character, how it instilled in me many of the values that have helped shape my life.

Two weeks ago, I attended the first 3-day session of a training program called Wood Badge. Wood Badge is the premier training program for adult scouters, and it takes place inWhy is the beaver blue?  Perhaps because his forest home is full of trash. one form or another around the world, in many of the countries where there are boy scouts.

At Wood Badge, adults are organized into patrols, just as scouts are organized within their troops. I'm in the Beaver Patrol. We have a second 3-day training session in a few weeks. For this second session, we will camp as a patrol, hiking a short distance to our mountain campsite.

We will cook our own meals. Last Sunday, our patrol met to plan, among other things, the menu for our upcoming trip. One patrol member said he had a really good chili recipe that we could use for our first night's dinner. Of course, my preference would be a vegetarian black bean chili, not the beef chili with bacon that he suggested, but wanting to be agreeable, I, uh, agreed. Then he mentioned that he'd cook it ahead of time, freeze it in plastic bags, and all we'd have to do on our camping trip is drop the bags into some boiling water. Or something like that.

As we continued discussing our menu, I pointed out that we'd need to make sure we had some pots or basins big enough for dishwashing. One of the other members pointed out that, even though we would be camping, the Wood Badge staff had promised us trash service. "We can all bring enough disposable plates and utensils for the three days, and throw them away. They'll get rid of our trash for us, and won't have to do dishes."

Our patrol guide, an advisor to our group, spoke up. "Remember, the idea is to implement 'Leave No Trace' while you're camping."

There was a moment's silence. Then another member of the patrol said, "So... we all bring disposable plates and utensils for three days, and just throw them away. Sounds good to me."

Am I missing something?

The guys in my patrol are all good guys (the "Yes on 8" bumper sticker on one of their cars notwithstanding). They would never think of leaving their trash behind in the camp. They agree that the "Leave No Trace" guidelines are good, as far as they apply to camping, and I'm sure we'll leave our campsite looking even better than we find it.

However, if it's so important to "leave no trace" in the campsite, it doesn't seem too much of a stretch to me to insist that we at least try to limit the impact we have on the world beyond the campsite. Is it really such a good thing to keep our trash out of the campsite if we're just going to have it shipped across the mountain to a landfill that is overtaking another part of the wilderness? Wouldn't it be better to reduce the amount of trash we create in the first place?

I thought about these things as I rode my bike home after the meeting (we met in my office at church). I was starting to feel a little smug and self-righteous, until I realized that I could have spoken out a little more than I did. I am sometimes too quiet when it comes to speaking out.

I also realized that, when it comes to speaking out on producing trash, I don't have much ground to stand on. A few days earlier, I took the boys out for pizza. There were two pieces left over, so I asked for a box in which to take the leftovers home. I certainly wasn't about to waste two pieces of pizza.

But what about the pizza box? Used once, to get the two slices of pizza from the restaurant to home, then thrown away. Grease-stained cardboard isn't even recyclable. And a pizza box is no small piece of trash.

The trash and recycling containers are in the alley behind the house. I never see the trucks come empty them. Sometimes, though, I hear them, just before dawn, and I curse them for the noise they make, waking me a half hour before I had planned to wake up. And I get even more upset when I consider that, already, before sunrise, those trucks are out and about, polluting the already smoggy air.

Rarely does it occur to me in those early mornings that perhaps my best response is simply to produce less trash, and do my best to leave no trace.

Update: The Beaver Patrol has since decided that using disposable plates & utensils is a bad idea. We'll be using our own washable camp mess kits instead.

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