Monday, August 2, 2010

How Can A Weekend at the Beach Be Depressing?

Mostly, it wasn't. On the contrary, it was actually quite relaxing and enjoyable. The weather was incredibly beautiful,

the kids were mostly well-behaved and in good humor and had some quality time with the grandparents,

and I even got to do some shell-hunting by myself for the first time in, oh, five years or so.

However, the shell-hunting was also a bit depressing. When I'm at the beach with my kids, I'm too busy supervising them, coaxing my toddler out onto the sand, making sure my daughter is using good judgement in the water - and not really paying much attention to the beach itself. But spending a half-hour or so with my eyes trained on the sand revealed more than shells. There was so much plastic! Water bottle caps, Silly Bandz, food wrappers, chunks of Styrofoam, it was everywhere! I didn't photograph it because it was just too yuk for me, I preferred to document the more pleasant views, but I do have to admit that it did put a damper on my alone time.

Reducing our plastic waste has been a struggle of mine for about a year now, since we participated in the Northwest Earth Institute's Ecochallenge last fall. I read Fake Plastic Fish religiously and am awed by the reduction that Beth has been able to make in her plastic use - and in her commitment to saving and sharing pictures of it each month! But it seems so ubiquitous, and I feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the idea of spending so much time thinking about it. And the truth is, I feel a little embarrassed by the prospect of calling up Internet vendors and asking them to use paper tape and padding for me.

Other things are tough, too. Take sippy cups for example. I know that in addition to the plasticness of plastic ones, it is also a health issue and that we should be using stainless steel drinking vessels. Not to mention how impossible the plastic ones are to keep clean, but I digress... I also know my family, and I know that we all (myself included) have a nasty habit of losing our water bottles. So, I am always balancing the desire to make the safe and green choice with the reality of replacing a $15 + stainless steel water bottle versus an under-$2 plastic one. My current compromise with that is to use the stainless steel ones when we're around - at home, in the car, visiting family or friends - so that loss is less of an issue, and having one or two plastic ones for the park, the library, or other places where I know there is a high probability of loss.

It's tough to know your limits, and not to beat yourself up about them. I'm working on it.

I am a scholar-turned-mother/activist who is interested in issues of personal balance and social justice. I have published a number of articles and offer presentations internationally on the topics of voluntary simplicity and humane parenting. Learn more at my website


  1. I know what you mean about the plastic being depressing, although I don't have to go all the way to the beach to be depressed - it makes me nuts just running and riding my bike to see all the litter.

    I try to use metal bottles exclusively for my water, but we don't have potable water at work, so if I forget to bring water from home or drink all mine - there's no going to the water fountain. So I end up buying a plastic bottle of water, which feels wasteful in so many ways! You're right though... we have to do what we can, and let the rest go. I think you're finding a good balance with your risk-of-loss assessment! :)

  2. Guinevere, your comment made me laugh out loud. I hadn't really thought of it as risk assessment, but I guess that's exactly what it is!

    I checked out your blog and see that you live in the DC area - love it there! I just went down to visit my Fairy God-Mentor for my first kid-free trip in five years, it was heavenly. We went to the spy museum, the museum of natural history and Ford Theater, and had lunch without having to whip out crayons or cut someone's food! Biking is definitely the way to go there, the roads are horrendous. Glad the Metro is so easy to use!