I participated in my second Sunday Parkways of the 2019 season yesterday.
The day was warm and sunny, and lots of happy people were enjoying themselves walking, bicycling and skating along the route. There were a number of folks trying to get to or from home in their cars, but by and large they all mnaged to get where they were going with what looked like relatively little aggravation.
In short, it was a lovely event, enjoyed by thousands of Portlanders.
This was my twelfth season volunteering as a Mobile Mechanic. I've been quite happy to volunteer, even if I've actually been asked to ply my skills less and less frequently over the years. (With a bike repair station at every park along the routes, I've been asked for help far less frequently along the Parkways routes; yesterday I did not perform one single repair during my shift.)
At each park along the route, dozens of booths from various businesses and non-profit orgs tried to attract the public's attention. At most of these booths, schwag was in great abundance. (I always help myself to things like reflectors and patchkits, which go into my refugee bicycle project.)
Nearly all of it was plastic junk: silicone bracelets or keyfobs, plastic water-measuring devices from the city water utility, sunglasses from a credit union. In a year's time a lot of this stuff, taken home in Parkways participants pockets, will end up in a curbside free box or in the trash. Most of it was made in China and required no small amount of fossil fuels to make and transport to the United States.
In fact, there is an entire industry devoted to providing corporate schwag for companies to hand out, all in the name of branding.
The more I see of these things, the sadder I feel.
When are we going to get away from this? And why is it taking so damned long?
I don't know.
But I do know that every encounter I have with this reality is inspiring me to make some profound choices about how I live, what I consume and how I deal with the leftovers.
It's a struggle, of course.
My clothing comes from somewhere.
The packaging for my food, most of which I cannot produce myself, also cannot be recycled (though we're good about washing out and reusing plastic Ziploc bags ad infinitum).
My medication comes in a syringe that cannot be recycled, and which by law must be disposed of by burning, which means all the leftover chemical residue goes into the air we breathe; is that really a good idea?
For decades, the bicycle industry has struggled with how to dispose of spent inner tubes and worn-out tires, which cannot be recycled easily or affordably. When I worked in the shop, tires were disposed of in the landfill, or bundled and sent to facilities for burning -- again, imagine all that rubber and oil going into the atmosphere. For decades, bicycle clothing has been made of Lycra, itself a derivative of plastic. When Lycra is disposed of, it cannot be recycled. And so, if no one wants it anymore, off to the landfill it goes.
And all of this is directly connected to the mass of consumerism that drives our global economy, our socialization, our very way of human existence in the Western world.
What can I do to stop supporting this big picture without hermiting myself off from the world?
I need to ponder this awhile. But first, another bicycle ride.