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Confessions of an Eco-Mom

Saturday Apr. 1st, 2017

I am an eco-warrior. It is my mission in life to teach people how to reduce their impacts on the planet and work toward leaving a better world for my daughter, your kids and our grandkids.

The truth is, I am also a hypocrite. An educated, professional, “I do this stuff for a living, but I still can’t seem to get it right all the time” hypocrite.

In the spirit of Earth month, here are my top 10 confessions of how I’m killing the planet (sorry, kid. Hope your generation figures it out!):


Recycling

I hate recycling. I do it religiously, but I hate it. All the clutter in my house drives me crazy. How on Earth do I have so much trash to recycle? And separating out my recyclables is such a pain. My time can certainly be better spent than rinsing out organic ketchup bottles. Besides, only 30% of what can be recycled actually gets recycled…wait, what? So basically we just don’t care 70% of the time? Well that’s depressing.

Food (or more appropriately, food-type products)
I let my kid eat Pixie Stix. And white bread. And gummy bears. I may or may not be eating gummy bears as I write this. But at least I’m making up for it by feeding her organic Annie’s boxed mac ‘n cheese instead of that gross Kraft stuff.

Food (actual food)
I love avocados. And salads in the middle of winter. And steak. According to the World Watch Institute, 51% or more of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by conventional animal agriculture. I’m not great about eating with the seasons, but I do only eat sustainably raised meat—holistic management can actually improve the soils, reduce erosion and improve wildlife habitat.

Stuff
I have OCD…Obsessive consumptive disorder. I can’t even pretend it’s borderline. My life consists of endless hours spent moving piles of stuff from one place to another. Did you know that America has enough square feet of self-storage units that literally every man, woman and child in this country could stand inside a storage shed at the same time? Studies show that 60-80% of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption. We spend more on shoes, jewelry and watches in this country than on higher education.

More (and bigger!) stuff
I have a love-hate relationship with Costco. As a single mom, the sheer economics of getting 96 rolls of toilet paper for under $20.00 can’t be undervalued, especially when the recycled TP costs 4 times as much. And while I love that I can buy some organic food, my 10-year-old and I don’t need/can’t eat 10 pounds of cheese or a 5-gallon bucket of broccoli before it goes bad. So when I clean out my pantry/fridge and throw away garbage bags full of expired or rotten food, I try not to think about the fact that 40% of food in the US goes to waste. Or that 28% of ag land is used to produce food that is never eaten. Or that 13% of American households are food insecure.

Even more (and faster!) stuff
Amazon, you had me at “Prime”. Free 2-day shipping, and pretty much anything I could ever want? What’s not to love? Umm…maybe the ridiculous amount of packaging they use? Or the fact that Amazon shipped more than 1 billion items around the world over the 2016 holiday season? Or how about the fact that when I shop at Amazon, I’m not keeping my dollars in my community or giving my business to our awesome local stores?

Plastic, the worst kind of stuff
I avoid single use plastic like the plague. We are drowning the planet in single use plastic—Americans use 1,500 plastic water bottles a second, and every year we produce 330 billion single use plastic bags. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the oceans. Not to mention the toxicity concerns, like phthalates, BPA, and carcinogens. But I have a kid, so avoiding plastic altogether is impossible. Nobody warned me about all the (ahem…cheap, disposable, toxic $%*#) “stuff” kids can’t live without! Am I a horrible parent for hating birthdays? And Christmas? And Easter? And the dentist?!? Seriously, why do kids get presents at the dentist? Here’s some food for thought: 3.1% of children globally live in the US but own 40% of toys consumed globally.

Water
I love long hot showers. When I’m standing in the shower, that glorious, blissful, steamy heaven, the last thing on my mind is the 2½ gallons of water I’m using every minute… Or the fact that 1 in 9 people worldwide don’t even have access to clean drinking water.

Traveling
Traveling is one of my all-time favorite activities. I travel to visit family, for work, for grad school, and for the simple joy of adventure and experiencing new cultures and communities. But air travel has one of the highest emissions impacts per person. In the past 6 years, I’ve been on 44 airplane trips. My gallivanting emitted over 28,000 pounds of CO2 equivalent, or 329 trees planted and grown for 10 years. :/

Gadgets
How many devices does your family have? Between my kid and I, we have 4 iPhones at various stages of functionality, an iPad, iPod, MacBook, desktop computer, Samsung Galaxy and a portable DVD player. I’m pretty sure I can only use one device at a time, as hard as I try to multitask. There are more mobile phones in use than there are people on the planet. Americans throw away 50 million TONS of e-waste each year. E-waste is 70% of the toxic waste in landfills, leaching mercury, lead, and brominated flame-retardants into our soils and waterways. Our addiction to tech is literally killing the planet.

Now that I’ve successfully ruined your day, I want to leave you with this: Our choices DO make a difference. I’m killing the planet, and I’m a conscious consumer. Think about the impacts of the folks who aren’t paying attention to their consumption and trying to reduce their impacts. If we all start paying attention and make small changes, cumulatively we can make a huge impact. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as we all do something.

I probably won’t stop flying to visit my family, but I will commit to lowering my impact in other ways—no single use plastic, no more OCD, eating only sustainably raised meat, buying local, using my iPhone 5 and computer until they die, and I’ll try to go a week without buying anything from Amazon. Happy Earth Day (but really, every day)!   

Heather Higinbotham is a Montana girl, passionately working to protect the landscape and communities that inspire and ground her. She is literally writing the book on being an environmental hypocrite. When she’s not busy saving the world, she can be found adventuring with her precocious kid, sleeping, soaking in hot springs, drinking tea, writing poetry, and trying to make the world a better place.