Last summer my friend Andrea Miller, who lives in West Vancouver, British Columbia, invited me to her 44th home environmental party. While sipping coffee and eating cake I heard for the first time that my lifestyle was contributing to the destruction of the planet.
Until then I had assumed that it was "they" who were causing all the trouble – the paper mills, the chemical plants, the politicians. It came as a shock to realize I was just as irresponsible. I assumed I was doing all I could by recycling! It never occurred to me that the products I used, the plastic bag I carried my groceries in, the car I drove and the food I chose were damaging the planet in much the same ways as the actions of those I pointed my finger at. It all seems so obvious now, but before the summer 1989, for me at least, it wasn’t.
I came home hungry for information and spent the rest of the summer reading, talking to people and trying out new ways of living. I built a composter, stopped buying kleenex and paper towels, carried around my own mug and bought a string bag. I cleaned my bathroom sink with baking soda and persuaded the corner deli to use cardboard trays. It wasn’t as difficult as I imagined. In fact, it could even be fun – and most of all I arose each morning feeling more centered and more in touch with Creation than I had ever felt. I started thinking "small," "community," "nurturing," and "sharing."
And then I could no longer keep it to myself. I had to find out what others were doing and share with them what I was doing. So I held my first home environmental party!
I gathered my friends together, carefully choosing only those with whom I felt completely comfortable. I told them what I was up to. To my amazement they seemed genuinely interested. In fact, they encouraged me to have another party and gave me suggestions on how to make it more practical. "People want specifics," they kept telling me. "That’s what you can give them."
So began my adventure in hosting home environmental parties. After doing them many times over I am convinced that this is one of the most effective ways of raising awareness and bringing about change. One does not need to be an expert, only eager and honest. Anyone can give one. Here’s how I do it!
I think of the event as having three parts: the Introduction, the Problem, and the Solution. During the Introduction I offer food and refreshments, allow time for people to introduce themselves, and share a bit about myself. This has proved to be a community-building experience. Neighbors have discovered each other. Old friends have become reacquainted. People who have known me for almost 15 years have for the first time entered my home!
I explain that I am not an expert on any of the issues but just an ordinary person who is learning to walk gently on the earth. A photo of the earth taken from space is a useful way to begin talking about how beautiful and unique our earth home is. It is one inter-connected, inter-related system. And it’s the only home we have.
Then I introduce the Problem – and the reason I have invited them to my home. We are destroying the life on this earth. On a flip chart I have collected about a dozen facts which describe the destruction. I comment briefly on each. Some of these are general statements: "We are running out of space to site landfills." Others are more specific: "Americans go through 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, only a small percentage of which are now recycled."
The third part is the Solution: I introduce the three steps I follow: reduce, reuse, and recycle. In order to begin healing the planet I reduce the potential flow of waste through my home by practicing selective shopping. I refrain from buying unnecessary products and select products with as little packaging as possible. And I avoid plastics. If I can’t reduce anymore, I reuse everything as many times as I can. This can become quite a creative step, and if I can’t reuse it, I make darn sure I can recycle it!
I stress that I think of the steps in that order. Recycling is not a panacea – it is the last step. At this point I display the non-toxic cleansers I use, the cloth lunch bags, the recycled paper products, the mug and straw and utensils I carry in my shopping bag. We walk through the house and see my recycling system – simple baskets and boxes. And I take them outside to see the trench into which I throw kitchen wastes and the compost where I "cook" my garden clippings.
We come back in and share more ideas. Everyone’s energy level is high. Information and ideas come fast and furious. For many who have talked about walking more lightly on the earth, they now can begin taking those first steps. For others, these two hours have laid open a whole new way of seeing themselves in relation to the earth.
I close by stating the benefits I have discovered by becoming a home environmentalist: I feel empowered because I have reduced something that was global into something more manageable, actively involved, myself, in healing the planet, and become more in touch with my spiritual center. I then ask if they will join me in reducing, reusing, and recycling.
In the process of making changes in my life and learning to live in harmony with the earth, I have adopted some principles. If they have not been brought up during the discussions, I share them at the end. First, it is tempting to name enemies as one learns about the destruction of the planet. But because we are inter-connected, we must work together. Everyone’s viewpoint needs to be heard. Each of us is part of the problem, and each of us has a bit of the truth.
Secondly, there is a limit to growth. Therefore, we must start thinking of ourselves as conservers rather than consumers.
Thirdly, our elders have much to offer us. Those who went through a world war and a depression are a valuable resource as we learn to be conservers.
And lastly, one does not become a home environmentalist overnight. It’s important to begin slowly. Take on one area at a time, whether it is eliminating chlorine as a cleanser or setting up a recycling system. And gently involve the rest of household. Change is always threatening.
I sense there is not a lot of time to be quietly doing our own thing, hoping that eventually someone will join us. So become an activist! Hold an environmental party. It’s fun! It’s easy! And you’ll be doing Mother Earth a great service.
Contact Heather at 1822 Copalis St. NE, Tacoma, WA 98422.