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Consumption: Week 3 of fewer paper towels

Week 3 began with me still on the same roll of Bounty paper towels I started with. We haven't gone through that roll yet. Haven't started on that big six-pack in the closet.

But it's not all about the paper towels, of course.

It's also been about me getting some space to stop and watch my mind when I'm about to behave wastefully or mindlessly. The idea "I'm using fewer paper towels" functions to open a little gap in my usual round of activity in the kitchen. Before I grab a sheet off the roll, I can pause in the gap and watch all sorts of things come up: resentment that I have to think about this, self-pity that I can't use all the paper towels I want, self-righteousness that I am thoughtful whereas others are not; doubt that this makes any difference--all the myriad thoughts that mind can give rise to. Of course sometimes the reflection comes too late--I've grabbed the paper, used it, and can pause and watch guilt, self-justification, shame, denial--all sorts of thoughts. All surrounding some idea of myself, for the most part. They come up, they go away. They come, they go. 

But then again, it is about the paper towels.

When my thoughts actually widen their compass, outside thoughts about "me" I think about the interdependent chain of events that caused this paper towel roll to appear. The forests where the trees grew. The plants where the paper pulp is made. The places where the rolls are wrapped in plastic and labeled. The trucks that carry all this stuff around.

So I did start looking at the forests. I started thinking about the paper market. It is not intrinsically bad or good. It provides a lot of jobs. It provides a lot of paper for books and newspapers (or it did). It provides a lot of forest jobs, and lots of trees where animals and birds and microbes flourish.

I did a little investigation about forestry, and sustainable forests. Very interesting stuff. Some of the material about sustainable forestry is generated by industry, but that's not all bad. The industry does not want to destroy itself, after all. Trees are like crops, but not exactly, and quite a bit of what I read was thoughtfully aware of the interdependent nature of growing and harvesting trees. 

Two very interesting sites:

http://www.sfiprogram.org/ The Sustainable Forestry Initiative 

http://www2.dnr.cornell.edu/ext/forestconnect/FO/sfda/what%20is.htm NY State Forestry at Cornell University

The writer for the Cornell site notes:

[sustainable forestry is about] ensuring that the forest resources (with "resources" broadly defined) that society enjoys today are available now and in the future.

People usually think about sustaining the value of the forest that is most important to them. This might be the value of hardwood timber or softwood fiber growing, it might be the diversity of native species present, it might be recreational opportunities provided in the region, or it might be the socio-economic culture that has developed around a local wood using industry. Sustainable forestry addresses all the resources provided by the forest. Someone probably advised you at some point to "not burn your bridges", and this advice is at the heart of sustainable forestry where you strive to retain all your options. This includes the option for timber or fiber production, the option for certain species, the option for jobs, the option for clean water, the option for recreational resources, and the option for aesthetic qualities. Because forests change, by the nature of forests, sustainability emphasizes the need to keep viable all the options and opportunities.

The nature of forests is change; the nature of the phenomenal world is change.  The aspiration of preserving forests the world for the societies of the future is remarkably responsible.   

I'll continue to use my paper towels more thoughtfully. I'll now look for towels that come from practitioners of sustainable forestry, as well as from recycled materials. Responsible and accountable. Just a little gap is all it takes to start moving from and into that world.

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Great investigation you are on Ellen. Have you read Julia Butterfly Hill's book?

Paradox of Consumption

Thank you so much for this article, Ellen. I love how you start with "It's not about the paper towels" and then move to "It IS about the paper towels". To me part of responsible consumption is embracing (or maybe accepting, or just noticing) the paradoxes which are all around. Interdependence becomes a felt experience when we examine our consumption habits and look more deeply into what our choices mean for ourselves, our families, our cities, our nations, and our planet.

alternatives to paper

Kitchen rags or small towels are useful - I would recommend Trader Joe's super-absorbent cloth which wipes up a lot and dries quickly.

Dioxin and chlorine!

an old family friend from my hometown posted this cogent note on my LinkedIn link to this piece:

"Mr. Green Jeans here....unfortunately that article misses one BIG point. Paper companies through their production methods are among the largest creators of poisonous dioxin waste on the planet. They also have issues with release of chlorine gas into the environment.... Forget sustainable forests sse a cotton towel instead of Brawny :)"

These are exactly the kind of issues that need to come to the fore in these discussions; thanks, David F!

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