Thursday, September 23, 2010

Planet Etiquette

Why did it take me months of writing etiquette columns to think of perhaps the most important topic I could address? It is in my mind really the quintessential of all etiquette columns. How is our etiquette concerning the planet on which we live? I try to be mindful of taking care of our delicate planet on a daily basis. I am serious about recycling as is my partner Greg. All of the wine and beer bottles, cans, newspapers, cardboard, plastic bags and vegetable scrapings are all recycled. We use to recycle over 2000 pounds of vegetable scrapings every year when operating the Windsor House. Our garden has good soil as a result, although a ton doesn’t really make as much difference as it sounds. However, every ton of waste not put into the landfill is to the good of the planet. It amazes me how reckless people are today about the garbage they produce. Coffee cups are strewn along the highway. There are some people who I see regularly picking up discarded pop cans from the roadside as supplemental income, there are so many. The highways in the US and Canada capture so much litter that there are now laws in place to combat offenders. We should know better.

And to those of us who smoke, it is hard to believe how cavalier we have become of making the streets our own personal ashtray. Nothing could be more disrespectful to our visitors and fellow citizens. The town of St. Andrews actually employs someone to pick up cigarette butts as a summer job. How pathetic is that? This reflects so badly on our beautiful town and on the self esteem of our residents who feel it is their right to use the streets as a trash bin. And the sad fact is that no one can point a finger at any one group. I have witnessed this behavior from young and old and all socio-economic classes. It is arrogance at its very worst.

Before I come across as too self righteous, I admit to contributing to this total disregard for the fragility of our planet. I waste water like there is no tomorrow. I don’t turn off lights as I might when not in use. I don’t follow through on certain excellent suggestions from the Department of Energy on ways to use less electricity and conserve natural resources. I drive too much, although I must admit to ‘using’ other gas guzzlers to pick up and drop off my mail in Calais.

So, what do we do? What do I do? Here we are living in one of the most ‘happening’ places on the planet as far as energy goes and we treat it with little respect. We take it for granted. We don’t want to see our streets littered with cigarette butts, yet we constantly flick them away. We’re not doing that consciously because we know someone needs employment to pick them up. We do it unconsciously. It’s like spitting or swearing or wearing clothes that don’t fit, or bullying or beating our children or spouses. It has become a way of life and it must stop. It soils our surroundings in such a negative way.

I can remember a time when there were no leash laws and there were no ‘pooper scooper’ laws. Walking down the streets of Paris or New York was a bit of a mine field. Suddenly people decided to end this horrible and lazy disrespectful behavior. Today, even in our small seaside tourist town, there are leash laws and special dispensers of plastic bags. For the most part, everyone with a dog is careful to follow these regulations. That is considered real progress. And fortunately no one is inconvenienced.

It’s time to take the next step. We have made a major step forward by banning herbicides and pesticides in our small town. And a local company is testing organic fertilizer. The province provides home energy analyses for practically nothing, with incentives to improve energy efficiency. There are recycle centers which are constantly improving. There are many chances for us to all make a smaller footprint on the planet. What is keeping us from taking advantage of them?

In my opinion, these values must be taught at home and reinforced in the school system. Given the high cost of ‘deposit’ fees, this should be pretty easy when it comes to bottles and cans. Newspapers are trickier because you actually have to stack them up and take them to the recycle bin, and you get no cash in return. What a pity! Do it anyway. I find that every trip I take to the recycle bins gives me a sense of doing the right thing and it feels good. But maybe that’s just me. So many people feel the same way. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all did?