It’s Not Easy Being Green

In December of 2007, mere weeks before Bean’s conception, Craig and I spent several days bouncing around in a Land Rover in the Salar de Uyuni , Bolivia. The world’s largest salt flat is an area of such raw, other-wordly beauty. For both of us it has remained one of the most special places we’ve had the privilege to visit. And yet, the town of Uyuni, the launchpad for this area, is literally a dump. As you approach the town along a windswept plain dotted with only low-lying scrub, every small bush, every stick and every rock has a small piece of garbage attached to it. The wind has blown the refuse of the town out into a wide rubbish halo on all sides. The sight of all those shredded plastic bags was deeply depressing. I decided then that I would try my best to avoid plastic bags altogether from then on.

Now we in the West are very self-congratulatory when it comes to the environment. We would never pollute our natural landscape so! But the citizens of Toronto learned a lesson the summer before last: when no one comes to collect your garbage, what exactly do you do with it? It is very easy to take the moral high ground when a tidy garbage truck arrives weekly and removes the evidence of your consumeristic lifestyle. Within a couple of weeks of our city workers strike, Toronto was a stinky pit, bags of trash piled up in parks, and with a guilty conscience my family, like so many, drove our garbage up north to our cottage municipality where we had dumping rights.

For the last five years or so, I’ve often lain awake at night worrying about the world. What are we going to do with all this plastic? Are these chemicals in my skin cream really necessary? What’s going to happen to the oceans? I was very good for awhile about the plastic bags. Lucky me, the rest of Canada hopped on that bandwagon at the same time, so it wasn’t exactly difficult to take along shopping bags to the supermarket, or buy a reusable one there.

I’ve spent a lot of time questioning my environmental choices, and did not find it too difficult to change my lifestyle to be a bit greeener. Our house has long been mostly vegetarian, it’s easy not to drive in Toronto, and it is not problematic to make the switch to environmentally friendly cleaners or skin-care products that don’t contain known carcinogens. I may have patted myself on the back a few times.

The last six months have severely tipped those karmic scales. I defy you to find another industry that so promotes waste as the medical one. I was initially shocked and saddened to find that nothing is recyclable in hospital. Unfortunately, nothing can be recycled in hospital because of the risk of infection. So all of the supplies that Gavin and the millions of patients around the world use every day go straight to landfill, or end up in the ocean. Syringes, IV bags, probes, oxygen masks, tubing, diapers, disposable wipes, medicine cups, emesis basins, tape, and the list goes on and on. And because of the special circumstances I now find myself in, I am very much subscribing to the school of “use once and pitch.” I am so fearful of contamination for him that I would rather chuck out a styrofoam cup than use it again.

My question is, what can I do? I know how I can make changes in my home and in my life, but I’ve got no idea how to change the inner workings of a hospital. I’m open to all of your clever suggestions.

And now, here are a few clever suggestions for you. When shopping for the holidays this year perhaps consider a few green gifts? If you plan on buying cosmetics for a loved one, check out the helpful ratings on They examine thousands of products and give them a rating based on how hazardous the ingredients are, low, moderate, or severe. It’s easy to find products that have a “low” rating. Most of the products we slather on our bodies every day contain ingredients that are linked to cancer and toxicity, and would we not all rather avoid having cancer? Other green gift ideas include: an experience rather than a thing, (think tickets or a class) or make a charitable donation in someone’s name. The list goes on, but my lecture is over.

I’ve made a little promise to myself that when this is over and our normal life resumes, I’ll change my evil and wasteful ways. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll even discover some small way to make a change here.

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