"Vinny, do you know why mommy sends those?"
"Because I don't want to send you with plastic baggies that will end up in the landfill. Do you know what a landfill is?"
"Let me show you."
At that point, I got on the internet and together we looked at pictures of landfills. The first thing he noticed in the photos was how many birds there were, so I pulled up some pictures of birds who ate plastic. We talked about how sometimes trash gets picked up by the wind and ends up in storm drains. I showed him pictures of the great Pacific garbage patch, and this upset him a lot. He is particularly fond of sea animals. "Mommy, does my favorite sea animal eat plastic?"
Vinny loves sharks. I've never heard about sharks endangered by plastic, but I decided I would give it a look. Sure enough, we found a video of a shark with plastic wrapped around his mid section, cutting into his skin. It had created a gash about 3 inches deep. A man was trying to rescue the shark and was eventually able to catch the shark, get the plastic off, and release him. Yikes.
We had some great conversations that night about the fact that people just don't realize the damage that they are doing, and about how its important to do what we can to help. He has always understood recycling, so we also talked about how recycling raises some issues with pollution, but is still better than nothing. I was glad to see him go to bed that night feeling secure and confident in his ability to deal with his friends. He said, "I'm gonna tell my friends that I'm not a baby, I just don't want to fill the earth and the ocean with trash because I love birds and sharks." Haha. The type of person Vinny is, he probably will go on to educate his classmates about the importance of reusable containers.
The next morning, we packed Vinny's lunch like usual and off he went. He came home, opened his lunch box, and said, "Mommy, I brought home my trash so we can recycle it." I try to send waste-free lunches, but there are some things that the kids like that involve trash. He took out the leftover container from his squeeze applesauce and a wrapper from a breakfast bar.
"Those aren't recyclable, sweetie. They go in the trash can."
He looked at me with this look of utter distaste and confusion. "Then why did you send them?"
"Because they are what you like. But we can try to find alternatives if you want. I mean, Tiana really likes the squeeze applesauce, but you can bring your applesauce in a container with a spoon tomorrow next time, if you want."
"Yes, do that. I don't want to make trash!"
I sighed and realized I had opened a bigger can of worms than I had intended to. I would truly need to be more conscious of my shopping. I've tried to take this one step at a time -- I mean, five years ago, I didn't even recycle because I was too lazy to get a second trash can and walk the extra ten yards to the recycling receptacle in our condo complex -- but Vinny doesn't really take anything one step at a time.
Trying to do the best I can, I decided to check out Sprouts, since I heard they have a bigger selection of bulk items than Whole Foods. I packed for the trip and brought lots of containers for my bulk items. It turns out they are much less "bring your own" friendly than Whole Foods, since they apparently have no way to remove tare weights. It was kind of a hassle. I'm just going to have to find cloth bags that are equally lightweight, because their system just automatically removes the bag tare. They were really apologetic though and did their best to accommodate. Ultimately, their bulk section is really something amazing. I'd heard that they have bulk spices to fill your own spice jars too, but I couldn't find them. They do have all kinds of bulks snacks and cereals and dried fruits and candies and grains and coffee and well... you name it. I got a snack mix somewhat like the Cheez-it snack mix that the kids like so much. I also got dried cherries and chocolate covered pretzels and some dark chocolate covered raisins (which are totally going to be my undoing since they are amazing). Tiana wanted to sample all of it. So cute. She insisted that we get wasabi peas. A worker overheard my insistence that she wouldn't like them and offered to let her try one. Oh man. Am I terrible mom for thinking that was funny? She first said, "Yum," then started to panic and looked like she was going to cry. He handed her a chocolate covered pretzel and she eventually got over it. Needless to say, we didn't get wasabi peas. I also got a ton of their French vanilla granola with the intention of trying to make my own granola bars so Vinny doesn't have to feel bad about throwing the wrappers away. It was a very long shopping trip, but we really stocked up on stuff, which was good.
So, today, I am trying to do more than talk the environmentalist talk, but it turns out that walking the walk can often be harder than it looks. Until you really start thinking about all the trash your groceries produce, it's easy to ignore, but as I unpacked my groceries today, I couldn't help but think about the fact that, despite my efforts, the groceries I was putting away would eventually produce quite a bit of trash. Sure, we could go waste free if we stopped buying things like cheerios, of if I could make everything myself and never buy things like frozen pizzas or frozen burritos, but I work full time. I hate to admit it, but there are boundaries. There are not enough hours in the day for me to homemake things like bread and crackers. And I envy people who speak of great grocery stores where they will cut off a block of parmesan and stick it in your cloth, but I have yet to find a local grocery store with such a bulk cheese section. Oh well. I bought locally farmed organic cheese instead. Can't have it all, I suppose. What is it that that song says?
"Keep on waiting, waiting on the world to change."