For Christmas, my parents gave us a night’s stay at the lovely Cape Kiwanda Inn on the Oregon Coast, and we decided to take advantage of this gift over the past weekend. The gift certificate, which I mentioned earlier came wrapped in a bath towel, was a great “green” gift, because instead of getting a “thing” we received an “experience.” Nothing to throw away or get tired of here, and there’s nothing Adam or I like more than a day spent on the Oregon Coast.
The hotel we stayed in is located in Pacific City, about an hour away from our hometown. We spend as many weekends as possible on the coast, touring the various beach-y towns lining Highway 101. PC is one of our favorite towns, because it’s essentially a quiet fishing village with a very low-key tourist trade. The Inn is one of the major exceptions to this rule, and so we got to be pampered tourists for an all-too-brief amount of time.
Our hotel room was beautiful and filled with state-of-the art luxuries – a gas fireplace, a sliding door with a balcony overlooking the ocean, a two-person tub, champagne waiting in an ice bucket upon our arrival. And even here, at the height of a lavish night away from home, we couldn’t help but be environmental activists.
If there’s one thing the Green Garbage Project has done, it’s make me minutely aware of how my every little action can impact the planet. This is not to say we spent our mini-vacation mired in environmentalist guilt; far from it. Instead, we had to make a concious decision to – just for a night – check ourselves out of the environmentalist mindset and just live in the moment for a change. With just under 200 consecutive trash-free days, we gave ourselves a day off.
Did we throw anything away? No. Did we leave our dirty towels on the floor to be washed after a single use? No. Did we crack the sliding door to sleep to the sound of the ocean surf while the gas fireplace was on? Yes.
One of the things I have learned over the course of our 6 trash-free months is the simple fact that, very occasionally, we have reason to indulge ourselves. If we are working to save the planet, we’re also working to save our quality of life, and so the modern environmental movement must consider that, by and large, our society will not embrace environmental activism if this means deprivation of the things that make our lives worth living.
I’ve recently finished Vanessa Farquharson’s book “Sleeping Naked is Green,” about a year in which the author makes one green change each day. I’m currently reading “No Impact Man,” about Colin Beavan’s attempt to leave zero impact on the planet for one year while living in New York City. And in each of these books, I encounter the same sentiment: that most realistic environmentalists realize that, in order to stop the degradation of our planet, the human race (or the Western world, at least) must make immediate, large-scale lifestyle changes. At the same time, every green change matters, no matter how small, when we’ve looking for a cumulative effect.
And so there I was, torn between duct-taping shut the mouth of the little shoulder-perched environmentalist I wear around and trying to spend a sustainable night in a fairly unsustainable environment, when I received a little ray of hope and a sobering reminder why we’re doing this project in the first place.
Our hotel participates in Project Planet, an effort between hotel and consumer, which aims to have hotel patrons opt out of traditional but environmentally taxing services like having the sheets and towels washed and changed each day. A little note about this project hung from our bathroom towel bar and rested on our bed. We were happy to oblige, but even better, this is such a small change, I imagine it’s one others choose as well.
On the other hand, we headed down to the beach after a high tide and some rough surf to look at all the flotsam that was newly piled on the beach. Everywhere we went, we saw garbage washed ashore with the driftwood and kelp. It was all plastic. Plastic spoons and plastic tampon applicators and plastic chew containers, styrofoam, condiment containers, and on and on. I’m desperately afraid that, 10 or 20 years from now, the amount of plastic on the beach will have increased, not decreased. Seagulls were picking their way through the refuse, and I kept thinking about how we now know that sea animals all across the world are ingesting little plastic bits they mistake for food. They’re washing ashore dead with bloated bellies full of human junk.
So what’s my point? That I took a moment to relax with my husband and chose to put our carbon footprint on the back burner for a small moment in time. We spent our weekend walking on the beach and found that the beach, the environment, and yes, our planet, are things we’re willing to save, no matter what the sacrifice.