Reducing my plastic use

Plastic pollutes our oceans

A Recovering Polluter Finds Solutions through Awareness

Let me begin by saying that I have been meditating for many years and that meditation is integral to my life. And, I want to be sure that you all know I really, really care about the planet. Awareness about the importance of caring for our planet began back in grade school.

Years ago, I became very interested in ecology. It was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring that awakened me in the 5th grade to a great desire to do something to save our planet. I learned about the need to avoid pesticides, to preserve our forests, to avoid using fossil fuel. From that moment until now, I have been caring, big time. Generally, I follow a plant-based diet, I recycle as much as I can, and we even installed solar panels on our roof. Whenever I can, I walk instead of driving and have been an avid bike rider since childhood. I also stay informed about global-warming and climate-change action and I’m careful about recycling anything plastic that I ever use. We’ve all seen those photos of sea turtles, dolphins, and sea birds entangled in plastic waste and it just breaks my heart.

In other words, I consider myself a generally good and caring person who cares about the future of humanity and our fragile planet.

Did I mention that I meditate?

Meditation is for me a beautiful tool for finding a sense of well-being and a connection to the world around me. It helps me ground myself so that I can respond better to life’s challenges.

Meditating daily has led me to know myself better and make better choices.

And, I have even found that meditation has helped me to feel differently about situations that are distressing or cause me pain.

It also helps me to feel connected to everyone and everything.

So, imagine my shock and distress when I realized that in spite of all my “self awareness” I was still doing something so unconsciously. I was contributing to pollution. That sudden awareness made me realize I still had to face some dark and blind sides to my way of thinking.

This awareness make me realize I was polluting the planet. Big time!

Remember I said I recycled plastic?

Well, recently I discovered the truth about recycling plastic.

Plastic is actually difficult to recycle. It is made to sound easy by ad campaigns funded by the oil companies.

According to Consumer Reports, “The Big Problem with Plastic,” less than 9% of all plastic is actually recycled. In other words, hardly any of those plastic containers I diligently take out for the recycling truck every week actually get recycled.

Until this awakening, I, like millions of other people, felt guilt-free, because, I recycle my plastic. But as I read the report, I found out that there are so many factors that go into plastic being dumped, incinerated, buried, or sent overseas, rather than being recycled: Lack of manpower to sort plastic, funding, fuel costs, just to name a few. Not to mention that fewer than 10 states in the U.S. actually have recycling laws.

What really hit home after reading this report was jus how much plastic I actually use. I decided to take a photograph of all my plastic containers, and use it as a meditation image:

Awareness of so many plastic bottles in one bathroom
Plastic bottles in one bathroom!

A New Realization

I was shocked to see all the bottles I had when I took them out of the cabinet and put them on the counter. Eleven bottles; in just one small room. Now, if I apply the formula of less than 9% of all plastic is actually recycled, my eleven bottles will show like this: 9% of 11 bottles = 0.99.

That is, less than one bottle out of my pile of bottles will actually get recycled!

It was pretty sobering.

But wait – it gets worse. I went to see my plastic usage in the laundry room:

Laundry bottles:  awareness of the amount of plastic we use
Becoming aware of how much plastic I use

Eleven bottles again! And, following the same statistical analysis, not even one whole bottle will end up actually being recycled.

What to do?

I decided to take my thoughts and new awareness into my meditation.

Why meditate?

Because the benefits of meditating are enormous and I knew it would help me to find answers:

Usually, mindfully centering myself can be beautiful tool for finding a sense of well-being and a connection to the world around me, but meditation can also be a powerful tool for transformation and improvement.

Different types of meditation help me ground myself so that I can respond better to life’s challenges.

Practicing daily leads me to know myself better and helps me to make better choices.

Online meditation, with help from others, can help me to identify my shortcomings and improve my behavior.

Above all, learning how to feel connected to everyone and everything, is one of the greatest benefits of meditation practice, and leads to an expanded way of seeing and noticing the world around me.

Applying each of these reasons to deepen my daily meditation helps to support my wish to make better choices, expand my consciousness, and work more effectively as an individual in a large confusing world. By being committed to doing my part, however small, I help make the world a little better.

So, how does this all work for recycling plastic?

This New Awareness Meant I Needed to Change:
How I Think, How I Act, Who I Think I Am

Perhaps this is the greatest lesson of all regarding meditation.

Meditation can lead to real, lasting change. In what I do and who I become as a person. In who we all become as a society, as a world. It comes down to awareness.

An answer did come to me, and it was more simple than I could have imagined: I needed to use less plastic. I could no longer allow myself to assuage feelings of guilt for using so much plastic by telling myself “I recycle.”

It took some time to use up those plastic containers. And yes, I did take them out the recycling truck with the hope that some of them would actually be recycled. And then I found simpler, yet effective, set of products to use. Take a look at the difference today in the bathroom:

Simple bar of soap replaces plastic bottles:  awareness leads to real change
Awareness led me to reduce plastic

I am so happy! I was able to simplify and find products that come packaged differently and which do not use plastic. Soap wrapped in biodegradable paper. Shampoo in a bar. Conditioner in a bar. No more big plastic bottles around the sink.

This just goes to show:

Meditation can really work.

Meditation can lead to changes. I become more aware.

Meditation can improves my life and meditation can even help us save the planet.

Even in the laundry room. . .

Laundry sheets instead of liquid in plastic

These laundry sheets are packaged in biodegradable cardboard and are simple to use.

Which laundry room would you prefer to have?

Which bathroom would be more friendly to the earth?

Reduce what you use and save the planet

Meditation is not simply a solitary exercise to find a sense of inner peace. It can become a tool for the real changes so needed in this world and for the future of our planet. Even a small change, in something we do every day, is something positive. Each day we can return to meditation to help find the answers we seek.

Let us remember the words of one person who has done so much to help increase our awareness of our interconnection with all life forms:

The great environmentalist Jane Goodall

Let’s take inspiration from Jane Goodall. Let’s keep working, thinking, reading, meditating, improving, and sharing our ideas, to make our world a better place, one small act at a time.

Updated April 22, Earth Day 2023 by Patricia Colleran

About the Author(s)

[email protected] | Website | Read more posts by this author

Longtime teacher, now trying my hand at writing. Especially dedicated to people's real-life experiences.

Editor of collection of bilingual poetry, published by Cafh Foundation: Landscape of the Soul: Poems of Community and Hope by Hipólito Sánchez.

Translator of Living Consciously and Words Matter, by Jorge Waxemberg.