Saturday, October 15, 2011

Being a Caretaker: Cleaning Up Mother Earth with the Hackensack Riverkeeper

A few years ago, I was looking to do some volunteer work and bring more meaning into my life, and I helped cleanup the Emerson Woods in Emerson, New Jersey, with Bergen SWAN, a group instrumental in preserving them from development during my teen years. A volunteer Carl told me about a group called Hackensack Riverkeeper which he enthusiastically volunteers for, and for the past few years, I've participated in a handful of their multiple river cleanups each season.

Picture to the left is a bag of trash I picked up by the river at Foschini Park in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Trash accumulating.

Among the plastic bags, liquor bottles, soda bottles and cans, fast food container waste and other trash are this: bottled water.

We could drink bottled water, which is taken from a local water supply, then transported by truck (using oil), in plastic bottles (made of oil), often packaged in plastic casing (more oil), shipped to landfills or recycling facilities (using oil), or...

We could fill up a reusable bottle with filtered or tap water, or...

do as those before us did: drink from a fountain.

Pierre, a marketing guru in France, behind the bottled water craze? Jim Gaffigan, one of my favorite comedians, has some thoughts.
Jim Gaffigan - Bottled Water
Jim GaffiganCoemdiansStand-Up

Gaffigan has a point. How did we go from "I know I can get water free from any faucet, but I want to pay for it!" Even amid such hard economic times, many of us have been convinced to pay for water.

In Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder recalls her memories of Pa building a well in the chapter "Fresh Water to Drink."

"The water was clear and cold and good. Laura thought she never tasted anything so good as those long, cold drinks of water."

How precious water was to the pioneers and to all humankind who need it to drink, cook in, bath in, launder clothing, and how we give it little thought or respect in modern life.

I think a lot about the fear culture marketers perpetuate to drive our demand of products. Someone asked me about if I worry about pipes in a building bringing in the water, but drinking water that's been lingering in plastic and causes unneeded air pollution and demand for oil doesn't sound very refreshing to me.

While this MSN article, "Bottled Water: A River of Money" is from 2007, I still find the information in it staggering:

"We Americans pitch 38 billion water bottles a year into landfills -- in excess of $1 billion worth of plastic. And 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo...

About 1 billion bottles of water a week are moved around in ships, trains and trucks in the United States alone. That's a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water. (Water weighs 8 1/3 pounds a gallon. It's so heavy you can't fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water -- you have to leave empty space."

You don't need to participate in an organized cleanup to pick up trash. I've seen people doing it on their walks in the woods. You need only look outside your window to see the leftovers of our disposable culture.

In the chapter "Pa Goes to Town" an uncomfortable moment arises in Little House on the Prairie when neighbor Mrs. Scott says of the Indians, "Land knows they'd never do anything with this country themselves. All they do is roam all over it like wild animals. Treaties or no treaties, the land belongs to folks that will farm it. That's only common sense and justice."

"Land knows" - "Land," a sacred word and being, for the land is alive and a life force.

I think a lot about what we as individuals and companies have "done" with this land: litter everywhere, air, soil and water pollution. I hear a lot about "job killing" from some candidates for president seeking to lead our nation in reference to environmental protection agencies and laws (again, playing into fears), but our government is supposed to protect these very sacred things - air, soil and water - from those who would harm them. But we as individuals must be caretakers too. That is common sense and justice to me.

I also don't think land truly "belongs" to anyone. We tread on it for a short time. Remember the Native American lesson: go lightly on this world.

Start with a small change. Any change.

Reduce, and if you use, recycle.


  1. You're preaching to the choir with me, I'm with ya all the way! But I think the more folks getting the word out the better. One thing I've done with my extended family is, in certain situations, to give them cool, re-usable water bottles as gifts when they flew out to visit us (from NY to Montana). They used them while they were here and we were out there being tourists, and I know that at least some of them have continued to use them once they returned home. If anyone questions the quality of their own tap water, I just suggest investing in a water filter system. My husband is a plumber and installed one for us at our kitchen sink that has it's very own spigot, and I use it for all the water we drink and cook with. You could keep paying for bottles of water, or you could hire your favorite plumber and install a filter at your kitchen sink! As the writer of the Zero Waste Home Blog puts it: REFUSE, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I love your blog, keep on writing!

  2. Hi Amy. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I love that idea of the bottles as a gift, not only as an act of helping preserve the environment, but as economic empowerment. Saving money is something almost everyone is looking to do.

    LOVE that addition to the reduce, reuse, recycle motto. REFUSE the fear culture of marketers and politicians.

    I'll be moving in the next few months, and installing a filter system is high on the list. I've used a Brita for years and drink tap too. My company hands out single serve Poland Spring bottles for free and I wouldn't use them if you paid me.