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Commentary: Earth Day

By William Holston

Dallas, TX –

April 22nd marks Earth Day - an effort to raise our awareness about the need to protect the environment. Commentator William Holston says he's gotten the message and hopes others do as well.

This Earth Day, I'm inspired by Colin Beavan's book, No Impact Man. Beavan set about for one year to live in such a way as to make no environmental impact. I'm not prepared to give up the electrical grid quite yet, but I am motivated to find ways to reduce my environmental impact.

A few weeks ago, my friend, photographer Dylan Hollingsworth, took some photos of a raft of trash on White Rock Creek. The photos were startling because of the amount of plastic water bottles and Styrofoam choking the creek. Anyone who has volunteered at White Rock Lake's monthly clean up, knows the vast amount of plastic bottles that litters the shores of this local jewel. I was really proud that my friends Carissa, Daniel and Penn organized a group to clean up the mess. So, at least temporarily they cleared the trash that filled that part of the creek.

We dispose of immense amounts of materials. 4.8 billion tons of paper products are sent to landfills in the United States each year. We junk 4 trillion plastic bags each year. All of this has to go somewhere. Some of it winds up in our oceans. 46,000 pieces of plastic float in every square mile of ocean. This has caused the Pacific Gyre, a great garbage patch twice the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean. It takes a long time for this material to disappear too. Opinions on how long vary widely, but some conservative estimates are that it takes a glass bottle 1 million years to biodegrade, fishing line: 600 years, and plastic beverage bottles and disposable diapers: 450 years. Aluminum cans would take 80 to 200 years to biodegrade, 50-years for styrofoam cups, and those ubiquitous plastic bags: 10 to 20 years . Wouldn't it be better not to use this stuff at all?

I just couldn't bear to continue to add to this problem. I quit buying any disposable drink containers and always use a reusable water bottle. I routinely carry a travel mug for coffee. I finally gave up on those plastic grocery bags in favor of my own reusable ones. And no more disposable razors.

I've been carrying a garbage bag in my daypack. When I hike, I pick up bottles and trash and find quite a bit of it is recyclable. My wife and I have been recycling since the 80's. Our next step is starting to compost.

A couple of my friends have found very creative and inspiring ways to put trash to use. Harvey Lacey has formed a team and designed a tool to turn non-recylable plastic trash into building material, which could be used in the third world as inexpensive building supplies. Lisa Walter's a local entrepreneur. She started Banner Theory, which uses discarded vinyl from billboards to make extremely stylish handbags, and briefcases.

Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of the first Earth Day said of that first earth day: "The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air - and they did so with spectacular exuberance." This Earth Day, I hope that exuberance leads more of us to make a difference. That is unless you like looking at trash.

William Holston is an attorney from Dallas.