I feel like nobody cares about Earth Day. I went out to get some breakfast this morning, and when the barista gave me my large coffee and my bacon egg and cheese, instead of saying just, “Thanks,” I said, “Thanks. Happy Earth Day.” And he kind of just looked at me for a second, he couldn’t process what I’d just said, like it was clear that I was definitely the first person who had wished him a happy Earth Day, and he didn’t know how to respond. So I waited there for an awkward second, and then he took an extra one of those cardboard sleeves and put it around my coffee, even though it already had one. Now it had two.
Was that his way of telling me that he didn’t care about Earth Day? Like, for every happy Earth Day, he’ll go ahead and waste another coffee sleeve? I thought about getting into it with him, starting a whole, “What the hell man?” back and forth, like, “Are you wasting that sleeve just because I said happy Earth Day?” Like, was he just trying to show off how little regard he had for the planet, for waste, for unnecessary trash?
But before I had a chance to open my mouth, I thought, well, maybe he was just trying to be nice, in his own way. Because aren’t those sleeves made out of mostly post-consumer recycled waste? I think they are. At least, the ones at Starbucks are. This was a much smaller coffee shop. It wasn’t even a coffee shop, not really, more like a corner deli, the kind of deli that sells everything, coffee, sandwiches, cigarettes, toilet paper. I guess calling that guy a barista was a little much.
And these sleeves, they weren’t the cool eco-friendly rustic, brown, ragged-edged sleeves you see at most of the hip coffee shops downtown. No, these were glossy, and they advertised Stride chewing gum. So I was wondering if maybe the people at Stride were just giving them away to random bodegas around the city. “Here you go! Free sleeves! Free advertising!” A real win-win.
But, even a sleeve made out of non-recycled pre-consumer material, I guess that’s still much better than the old fashioned Styrofoam coffee cups you used to see everywhere. So maybe this guy, giving me an extra sleeve, maybe that was his own way of expressing solidarity, like, “Yeah man, happy Earth Day to you too. Look how far we’ve come, as a society, as deli workers. You don’t see nearly as many non-biodegradable cups as you used to. All thanks to small changes, like these sleeves. Here, have an extra. Happy Earth Day.”
Of course, he was really just staring at me blankly, and any response was mostly up to my interpretation. Still, in the spirit of Earth Day, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, I’d take his gesture as a friendly one, as an eco-friendly one. I thanked him again and went home.
But sitting there in my kitchen, I couldn’t get the extra sleeve out of my head, regardless of the potential positive intentions. It was just such a waste. I didn’t need it. Here I was, going around to random delis, trying to spread some Earth Day cheer, and I was just contributing to the lack of respect for Mother Earth.
It may seem like such a small thing to get bent out of shape over. And I’m not trying to brag or anything, but it’s common knowledge amongst my friends, my family, my coworkers, that I’m the most Earth-friendly guy around. I love the earth. I’m always walking around with my head down to the ground, one, to admire it, the earth, I just love looking at it, and two, I’m scanning my immediate surroundings for any litter. If I spot some litter, I immediately pick it up off the ground.
If there’s a trashcan nearby, I’ll pitch it in, I’ll brush my hands together in satisfaction, looking around at everybody, seeing if anybody’s looking at me, maybe thinking to themselves, wow, that guy really cares, he really loves the earth. And maybe the litterer might even still be around. Maybe he or she saw me pick up their mess. Maybe that person will be touched, like, jeez, one person really can make a difference. If there aren’t any trashcans around, I’ll put it into this biodegradable tote bag that I carry on me specifically for this reason, for finding trash but being too far away from a trashcan. The tote bag says, “I heart Earth,” you know, but it doesn’t say the word heart, it’s a picture of a heart.
And then when I do find a trashcan I’ll dump out the contents of my tote bag which, depending on how far away I’ve been from a trashcan, it might be pretty full. One time it was very full, and when I finally found a trashcan, when I finally started dumping everything out, some police officer came over and was like, “Hey buddy! You can’t dump your trash into that trashcan!” and I was like, “What are you talking about? Isn’t this what the trashcans are here for?” and he was like, “Yeah, for individual pieces of trash. You can’t dump all of your trash in there. That’s a hundred dollar fine.” And so I told him, about the tote bag, I showed him the tote bag, I explained that I go around scanning the earth for litter, than I collect it and dispose of it properly.
The police officer looked at me and even though his facial expression remained quite stern, I could tell that I’d gotten through to him somehow. He took out his ticket book and started writing out a violation. And then I thought, oh man, maybe I haven’t gotten through to him. But then he showed the ticket. And this is what he wrote: “Name: Litter – Violation: Pollution – Recommended Sentence: Awareness. Compassion. Renewal.”
I looked him in the eye. I said, “Something has changed inside of you, hasn’t it?” and he said, “Yes. Yes it has,” and he opened up his hand and the wind took the ticket and carried it into the air. So I was like, “Wait a second, what are you doing?” and he said, “I just wrote up pollution, for littering,” but I was like, “But … but you just littered. That ticket. That’s going to fall somewhere. That’s litter.”
And then I looked at him again, and it was the same as before, an almost identical facial expression, but still I could tell that even more had changed inside of him. This time it was more than just awareness, more than simply an expansion of his universal consciousness. This time there was a tinge of remorse. He flipped the page in his ticket book and wrote another citation, but this one was for himself, for littering. The fine was pretty steep, five hundred bucks. And this time he ripped the ticket out of the ticket book, he handed it to me and told me to hand it back to him. I did. I nodded at him, like saying without saying, “You’ve taken a big step here officer,” and I think that he was saying without saying, “Thank you.”
Look, I’m just one man, one man who loves the Earth. I really, really love it. My favorite Planeteer was always the earth Planeteer. Whenever I have to pick out a color, for anything, I try to choose an earth tone. When I’m at a restaurant and the waiter asks me if I’d like a glass of wine, I always ask which one has the earthiest flavors. If I have a daughter someday, I plan on naming her Bertha, so that way I’ll get to say Earth every time I say her name. Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I’ve tweaked this statement somewhat. I always say, “Be the change that you wish to see in the earth.” Because I love the earth even more than Gandhi did. And whenever people say, “Wow Rob, who came up with that quote?” I reply, “Me. I did.”