We are a species that loves stories. From the oral tradition of our early ancestors to present day movies, podcasts, books, paintings, photography, art, pottery, theatre, and music, we connect to story telling.
In our fast-paced culture, many products are massed-produced and have no real story. These products may come from exotic countries like China, Bangladesh, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, but their stories are silent.
I wonder about the people making those products, their daily lives, their stories. But they remain an enigma because they are hidden from the consumer. It almost seems that turning products into commodities means we don’t need a story.
I was at a party several weeks ago, and was talking to a woman who complimented my necklace. It was one of Seeds for Kindness’ cork necklaces, and her comment gave me the opportunity to tell her about the ecological importance of cork: its sustainability, and the uniqueness of the tree itself: the only tree that can grow back its bark and in doing so store more carbon and oxygen. That cork necklace had a story.
In the check out line at Whole Foods’ this week, as I started to take things out of my cart and put them on the conveyor belt, the check out girl saw my guitar string bracelet and said, “wow, that’s cool.” I told her it was made out of used guitar strings, and jokingly said that I imagined that some young up and coming rock and roll musician might have played that string on his guitar, or a young girl just learning to play, or writing her first song. Instead of throwing it in the trash, it was now a piece of jewelry, connecting me to music. The bracelet had a story to tell.
Garbage comes in and never comes out:
The US has among the highest percentage of landfills in the world: 69% of our garbage goes to landfill and only 24% to recycling/composting and 7% to incineration. Compare this to Germany with 0% landfills, 66% recycling/composting and 34% incineration. The Netherlands and Austria have 1% of their garbage going to landfills.
Recycling New York Style 1890’s:
Fifth Avenue in New York City was legendary for many things in the late 1800’s including filth. It was common to just throw garbage out of the windows of houses onto the streets.
Voter outrage over trash resulted in the city electing a reformist mayor William Strong, whose first choice for “garbage czar” was Teddy Roosevelt, who turned the position down in favor of New York police commissioner instead. The man who took the job was Colonel George E Waring, a Civil War veteran, who before the war had worked as a civil engineer.
Creating an army of street cleaners called The White Wings, Waring created a new form of garbage collection known as Reduction and Recovery (what we would now call recycling).
Households were required to have different receptacles for waste:
- Put into Garbage Receptacles: kitchen or table waste, meats, fish, bones, fat.
- Put into Ash Receptacles: ashes, sawdust, floor and street sweepings, broken glass, broken crockery, tin cans, oyster and clam shells.
- Put into Rubbish Bundles: bottles, paper, pasteboard, rags, mattresses, old clothes, old shoes, leather scrap, carpets, tobacco stems, furniture stuffing, and straw. (excerpt from: Garbology, by Edward Humes, published 2012, Penguin Books).
Waring oversaw the building of a sorting facility where useful materials could be sorted from the receptacles after collection and before disposal. This innovation was a forerunner of what is now an industry standard for sorting trash: The Materials Recovery Facility.
Give a story, tell a story:
Sharing statistics on trash is not the most uplifting information I could pass on, but it bears repeating that we really do have a nation-wide and planet-wide problem with trash. And we Americans aren’t recycling as much as we could. So it seems to me to be even more important than ever to support creators that re-imagine trash into useful things, or artists that seek out truly sustainable material; to find the products that are made by hand, and that have a story.
The products we represent at Seeds for Kindness have a story.
With every Ocean Sole Flip-Flop animal there is a story, including how many flip-flops were removed from the ocean to create each animal.
With every clock made out of used bicycle chains and reused computer mother boards the artist has removed those used components from the trash and turned them into whimsical time pieces with a story.
We all love a story…
Maybe by giving a story, or a gift with a story, we can touch another’s heart, bring forward bubbling laughter, and help reduce the refuse on land and in the oceans…and that would be a wonderful seed for kindness.