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In Our Own Backyard:

In Our Own Backyard is a weekly column covering environmental justice and climate change, and how these issues impact our families every day. If you think oil spills, contaminated soil and toxic water

Kay Bolden | 4/27/2017, 7 a.m.
What are we Wasting? “Everything is connected to everything else,” is often called the First Law of Ecology. But it’s ...

What are we Wasting?

“Everything is connected to everything else,” is often called the First Law of Ecology. But it’s often hard to see – or care about -- the connections while we’re busy working, raising families, caring for older parents, and dealing with the never-ending tasks and crises in our daily lives.

We have evolved into a disposable, throwaway society. From disposable diapers to one-time use razors, convenience trumps conservation. Why wash dishes when paper plates are cheap and plentiful? Who cares if we left the lights on all night, or if the food scraps went into the trash instead of the compost bin? What’s the big deal?

Our disposable lifestyles waste far more than water, electricity and food. We are wasting time to recover and heal our planet, and we’re wasting the talent of a generation of children who are growing up in toxic environment.

And while efforts to recycle harmful materials have been rising steadily, there is still a huge gap between suburban and urban communities. Recycling, reusing and reducing in low-income neighborhoods often lags far behind more affluent, educated neighborhoods, for a variety of reasons:

• People living with daily economic stress don’t perceive recycling as a priority. When you are trying to pay your light bill, or scrape up gas money, it’s hard to be concerned about whether your plastic water bottle hits the trash or the recycle bin.

• There’s no clear pay-off. We don’t always see or feel a direct connection between tossing that soda can in the trash, and how toxins from landfills leach into groundwater and soil.

• We’re not informed about how excessive levels of lead, arsenic and other contaminants can affect brain development in young children, cognitive functions, health problems and behavior issues.

• There’s a lack of ownership in the community, a sense of powerlessness that winds its way through every aspect of life.

What can we do?

• Cultivate plants in our own backyards that help heal the earth. Geraniums, hyacinths and sunflowers soak up heavy metals, and beautify your neighborhood.

• Reuse things we don’t need. Donate them to nonprofits rather than tossing them. Or band together with neighbors to have a garage sale.

• Save money and support our local economy by repairing clothing, shoes and appliances instead adding them to the landfill.

• Stop buying disposable items whenever we can. Drink water from a refillable, non-plastic bottle; some have built-in filters.

• Switch to reusable grocery and produce bags. Trillions of plastic bags are discarded each year and they can take up to a thousand years to degrade. While they’re degrading, they’re releasing harmful chemicals into the ocean, groundwater and soil.

• Buy pesticide-free produce from local growers, or grow our own. Adding more plants to our diets reduces consumption of meat from commercial farms. Runoff from barnyards, feedlots and cropland carries away manure, fertilizers, ammonia, pesticides, livestock waste, oil, toxins from farm equipment, soil and sediment into our water supply.

• For more information about how you can start reducing waste in our own backyard, visit WillCountyGreen.com.

When we waste water, energy and food, we also waste money, time and talent. It’s a lifestyle we can no longer afford.

Kay Bolden is an author, Times Weekly blogger, youth advocate, community activist and urban farmer on Joliet’s southeast side. She’d love to hear your thoughts on sustainable living, economic justice, and how we can all live together on the only planet we’ve got. Follow her on Twitter @KayBolden or drop her a line at Kay@KayBolden.com