By Wini Hunton-Chan
What's Your Tree Group Leader, Austin, TX
Once upon a time I was an over-worked hippie. In my memory, I see myself hurrying to and from the bus or the BART with my matte-to-go in my reusable mug. A few years earlier, I had begun this zero-waste endeavor passionate and excited. But slowly, as the world seemed to get worse instead of better, I just got jaded. I hated people who didn’t bring their own canvas bags to the grocery store. I saw them in front of me in line and was enraged thinking of how they would take home ALL those plastic bags and just throw them out! I KNEW they wouldn’t reuse them. I felt like everyone who used a paper cup or a throw away to-go container personally hated me and the planet. Every time I saw waste, I felt like I had just been vomited on.
If I was thirsty and I had forgotten my reusable mug, I would go without. If I went to a party and they were using paper plates and I had forgotten my “sustainablity kit” I would go hungry. Being hungry and thirsty while taking public transit between three different cities is enough to make anyone chronically pissed off. My feelings of pride and nobility were quickly turning into bitterness and judgement. I felt like I was such an incapable and dysfunctional and EVIL person for not being prepared for every distasteful disposable situation. I even bitched a people who accidentally put my drink into a paper cup. I was not a happy camper.
Those feelings of frustration, anger and guilt got so bad that I finally gave up and quit being an activist. To my surprise, giving up was the best thing I could have done. From where I was then, I would consider myself today a sell-out. I would hate myself. But the person that I am today has outgrown the hostile, petty person that I was four years ago. The truth of the matter is that I had too much going on in my life. And our society is set up to make it VERY hard to not use disposables especially when we are busy go-getters like myself. In order to live the waste-free life which I felt was my badge of honor, I would have had to scale back on many of my activities. So the problem wasn’t really an issue of to-use-or-not-to-use-a-paper-cup but of saying “no”.
Today I am very careful about what I say “yes” to. This is a slow and steady process of de-cluttering my life. My life and thoughts and feelings must be free of trash in order for me to be lovingly empowered to create less waste. Guilt is garbage. Anger is trash. Judgement is a whole bunch of plastic grocery bags wadded up and thrown right at everything loving and beautiful. I am a lot more selective about what I say “yes” to. I do not live my life by obligation but by desire. I work less, do less, socialize only when its meaningful to me. Still, sometimes I find myself drinking out of a paper cup. When this happens, I don’t want to kill myself or cry or have a temper tantrum. I simply think, “I am drinking out of a throw-away cup. This is not what I desire to be doing. Next time this person asks me to coffee, I will invite them to my home instead.” So when I go to the grocery store and I don’t have canvas bags (which happens fairly frequently) I don’t feel bad. I take the paper bags (or the plastic ones if I don’t catch them in time) and I reuse them. But more importantly, I acknowledge myself for being human. I see that I am one of many members of American culture with goals and ambitions and loves. I embrace my mainstream-ism while at the same time slowly eliminating all things AND thoughts which are not growing, loving and full of gratitude and respect.
This hasn’t simply been my journey as an activist (I consider myself one again) but as a human being as well. When I was so busy saving the earth one plastic bag and paper cup at a time, I forgot that I was human. I forgot about nurturing myself and to acknowledge the good that is in me and everyone around me. I only saw garbage. I felt like garbage. By the time I finally gave up, I had treated most of the people around me like garbage. By striving to be a better human, I know that I am also a better activist. Now that I have passion and enthusiasm for life again, I am a much better ambassador for the earth than the hostile person I once was. I know that I am doing the best I can within the confines of my budget and my society and my knowledge and I choose to accept that everyone else is too. I no longer wake up every day prepared to go to battle with my culture. Instead, I wake up every day prepared to welcome that which is good, right and true into my life. THIS is truly the most I can ask of myself.