What’s the difference between a national park during the government shutdown and a dresser drawer filled with rows of meticulously roll-folded T-shirts?
One is a picture of human fallibility, the precarious nature of our social contract, the conspicuous consumption of disposable goods and the negative consequences of under-regulation and over-production.
The other is probably out of toilet paper.
These interrelated images from these first weeks of 2019 — spritely Marie Kondo bringing her popular joy-through-tidying method to untold American households through Netflix and litter-laden national parks — are a Rorschach test for how narrowly or broadly we view our relationships with and impact on the environment around us.
Is it disconcerting to see a scenic vista with paper goods and plasticware flowing out of a garbage can like so much molten lava? Spork yeah, it is.
And are my T-shirts now folded and arranged so the prints smile up at me each morning? They don’t call me World’s Best Grandpa for nothing.
But like an invasive species in a delicate ecosystem, more than 100 million pounds of waste still materialize in our national parks annually, even when federal park employees are there to ferry it away at regular intervals.
And to get to Kondo-caliber tidiness, most of us have to shed a mound/mountain of shirts that just might get a new lease of life as painters’ rags (50-lb. box, $42.50 from ERC Wiping Products … “We make wiping easy!”) and that create a vacuum begging to be filled by the next round of joy-inducing fan gear and fast fashion.
It’s abundantly clear that we can’t rely on our current crop of elected officials and CEOs to make any kind of strategic, sustainable decisions up river. Which makes it incumbent upon us to do whatever we can to manage and mitigate what flows downstream.
We can’t just ask ourselves of an object, “Does it spark joy?” We need to struggle with whether it causes others pain, even if the sweatshop, slaughterhouse, refinery, landfill or incinerator is not in our backyard — or on our continent.
The struggle is real. I’m struggling. The struggle of trading disposability for durability, the struggle of carpooling, the struggle of how delicious meat is.
But there’s strength in the struggle. I’m not suggesting that we all become hemp-clad vegan wind turbines. We live in a consumer-driven economy with many varieties of Oreo and our ancestors labored day in and day out with only one variety of Oreo so we could have a better life.
In the struggle, there’s a striving to innovate. Consider StockX. If you don’t traffic in sought-after sneakers, streetwear, watches or handbags, you may not be familiar with the Detroit-based “Stock Market of Things.” It has catapulted to global repute by confidently connecting the supply of and demand for niche products.
Like StockX, our problem begins where the market ends. The price I pay for gas includes taxes for road maintenance (theoretically), but not for inhalers for asthmatic children in Southwest Detroit. Nor is the environmental impact of my Styrofoam cup imputed into the price Dart charges Tropical Smoothie Cafe or what they charge me.
Enter SchlockX. SchlockX.com is not an evironmonumental climate-change-changing killer app. At least not yet. To start, maybe it can be a space where people like us, who care about the environment — but sometimes want to order via the app rather than bring our reusable cup to every newly opened Tropical Smoothie Cafe — can come together to deal with our schlock …
SOCRRA, South Oakland County’s recycling center, is my Graceland — much like the fair’s detritus is a veritable smorgasbord-orgasbord-orgasbord for Templeton in my favorite and the most important scene of Charlotte’s Web.
SOCRRA rocks. Nationally, contamination sends an average of 25 percent of single-stream recycling contents to the landfill; SOCRRA’s goal is 5 percent. And they have a whimsical app, Waste Wizard, who will let you know with the wave of his wand, what is recyclable and how: socrra.org/waste-wizard.
There is a physical and psychological distance between the ease of carting your recyclables to the curb and the effort of getting yourself and your stuff to your local drop-off center. But even a beautiful, brimming bin misses out on some important ecopportunities.
SOCRRA, along with most materials recovery facilities (MRFs!), can’t process Styrofoam, plastic bags or scrap metal on the same conveyor belts as all our boxes, bottles, etc.
Enter SchlockX so we can have our smoothies and drink them, too.
Here’s my very real offer: I will schlep your schlock. Fill out the form on the very real website and I will come to your house, pick up whatever the Waste Wizard says can be dropped off at the center and truck it to Troy. No charge, though I accept virtually all varieties of Oreo.
Here’s the very reasonable catch: We need a critical mass of Schlock Blockers to make this sustainable, so recruit some neighbors to get in on the action.
Shimmy to schlockX.com and let’s spark some joy in this untidy world.