Not so much | Choices for the Future

I used to think I knew the answers to a lot of environmental questions. You know, the “paper or plastic” shopping bag type-questions.

Only in the last decade or so have I realized how little I know for sure. A hard truth to accept at first, but I have, and I welcome the humility that comes with it.

Accepting the truth was easy once I realized that not knowing doesn’t mean that I’m uneducated or ignorant. It reflects respect for complexity and the nuances, interconnections, dynamics and diversity of both the natural and man-made systems at play.

One thing I know for sure is that “it depends” is the most honest and accurate response to many questions.

The other day I was discussing the pros and cons of zero waste, voluntary simplicity and green products with an acquaintance who was preparing for a community-focused presentation. She asked me if I was confident we were making environmentally beneficial choices.

I answered that I thought the most valuable lifestyle change is pausing prior to making a purchase — basically, taking a moment to question the choice. Do I really need to buy this? Can I likely find this at a thrift shop? Could I use something I already have instead? I think these are the moments that make the biggest difference.

One thing I know for sure is that “neither” is almost always the best answer to “paper or plastic”-type questions.

Consumers have a lot of options today, which can be awesome and very confusing. I suggest to you that taking steps to reduce your food waste is one of the most valuable and rewarding efforts because of all the water, energy, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, labor and money that it saves.

In the U.S., 40 percent of the food produced for human consumption never gets used. It’s clear: with our global population growing beyond 7 billion, we really can’t afford to be this inefficient for much longer.

Consider giving some thought to the causes of food waste in your own home. Maybe shop for less food more often. Maybe use your freezer for leftovers to buy you time. Know that “best by” dates are just a guide and learn (trust your eyes and nose as indicators of food quality and safety). If you have Amazon Alexa, enable the “save the food” option. Let’s save the food!

One thing I know for sure is that we can do better and that every little bit better matters.

If you’re interested in going deeper to explore lifestyle choices, consider signing up for “A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World,” an NWEI discussion course hosted by Stillwaters this fall. Call 360-297-1226 or use the “Contact Us” form at www.stillwatersenvironmenta Dates will be set to accommodate the schedule of registered participants.

— Beth Berglund is a Stillwaters Environmental Center board member. Contact her at