Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Talking Trash (a 2016 wrap-up)

Talkin' Trash again.

One of my mathematical friends came up to me yesterday and said, "I just want you to know that now, every time I put out my garbage can, I think of you."  He paused and then asked, "Does that sound horrible to say?"

I guess it's not as bad as saying, "Every time I see you, I think about my garbage can".

Me giving my BFD talk.
Last summer at the big math meetings, I gave a big talk.  The audience contained what seemed like a gazillion people, but it probably wasn't that many: maybe only half-a-gazillion, or maybe a third of a gazillion people.  It was a BFD talk (that's army-speak for a Big Deal talk), and I spent a lot of time preparing the talk, trying to think of some way to launch the talk that would be interesting and new and also understandable for an audience that contained undergrads and graduate students all the way up through senior mathematicians.  So I started the talk by telling people that the previous year (2015) my family put only 11 trash cans at the curb, and from there I sort of led people into the real subject of the talk, which had to do with teaching math.  But people remembered the trash part best.

So here at the winter math meetings, I have lots of conversations about trash, but for once I'm not the person starting the conversations.  I keep thinking I should compile a list of the surprising questions I get on this subject.  Tonight's question was, "Do you use essential oils?"  I totally love the question one serious person asked, somewhat nervously:  "Do you make all your guests eat all the food on their plates?"   (Then the person added, as if this answered the question, "Well, I guess you compost."  I'm still not sure how the cogs were linked up in that person's mental machinery).

But the truth is, the further along I get into the trash-reduction world of mine, the easier it becomes. It's not just easier to avoid trash, but it's also easier to risk being weird in my pursuit of trash avoidance. Today I  breakfasted on home-packed trail mix (zero trash, more habit than challenge by now).  And then for lunch I went to where a bunch of other math folks were headed: the food court at the mall.  At the sushi stand, the only option for getting a meal was to put the sushi rolls in styrofoam clam-shell containers, and so I nearly turned away sadly to look for alternatives . . . but then I turned back and asked one of the cooks, "Is there a way to get lunch without the styrofoam containers?"  Total weirdo, I know.

My planner bag has a zippered pocket
for my spoon and chopsticks.
The chef was startled at the question, but then asked, "Are you going to eat your meal here?"  I was; he handed me a plate.  I filled it up with my favorite sushi rolls, added the wasabi and soy sauce directly on the plate, had them add the sea weed salad, and paid for my lunch.  Since I already carry my chopsticks in my planner bag  everywhere I go, it was a perfect zero-waste meal.  At one point I thought to myself, "Have you really gone over to the crazy side?  What if *everyone* did that?"  But then I realized that if everyone asked for alternatives to styrofoam, the sushi stand might stop using styrofoam, which would actually be a good thing.  So Trash-Free Lunch plus moral certitude.  I'm tellin' you, I'm becoming one of those people.

And the funny thing is, it's not just me.  Because I walk around these math meetings, and people stop me to tell me that they're carrying their own reusable mug.  Or that they've started being much more anal about recycling.  Or that they didn't hear my talk themselves, but someone told them about it, and it's made them rethink why they get a paper napkin under their water or a paper coaster under their beer, if it's just going to go in the trash anyway.

Even my own kids, who because of my "Don't Drive Them Crazy" rule I've tried very hard not to coerce into my garbage-geekdom, have caught the bug.  The year 2016 was even better for trash avoidance than 2015; this past year we put out only 9 cans.  I was telling J-son this -- my ultra-hip J-son, my cool, don't-make-waves J-son, my Mr. Fashion J-son -- and his response was, "Wow.  We're going to have to work hard so we can beat that for next year!"

So here's looking at 2017, hoping it doesn't get too wasted (in the garbage sense of that word).  I'm not only avoiding putting trash at the curb at my own house, but there are trashcans all around the nation getting less use than they used to.  Maybe I haven't helped to avoid a gazillion trashcans . . . but I'll settle for a third of a gazillion, or even a tenth of a gazillion, for now.

1 comment:

  1. I don't do as well as you do, but I try to do more each year. We routinely put out way less trash than our neighbors, and tons more recycling. Keep up the good work!