Lesson From A Pet Bottle02.24.11

Twenty years ago when I moved to the rice-field turned bedroom town of Isesaki about 100 kilometers from Tokyo, recycling was almost unheard of. Home garbage was disposed of in two categories: burnable and non-burnable, which was dumped in landfill. Although this was also the norm in Chicago in the late 80s, my hometown of Seattle was already requiring mandatory recycling of aluminum, steel, glass and PET bottles. Japan seemed so orderly and neat that I expected it would have an efficient recycling system also. In Tokyo, there was a system in place, but the move to the countryside-turned-burbs revealed how localized it was.

I self-righteously fumed about the lack of environmental awareness, but soon succumbed to the pressures of daily life and limited language; after all, it was so much easier to not think about it too deeply…one large bag of burnable trash to put out on burnable day, and one (or more) large bags of non-burnable trash to put out on the other. Occasionally my conscience bothered me a little bit, but finding alternatives seemed overwhelming.

A while later, a seminar sponsored by the city office caught my attention. Aimed at housewives, it was on environmental awareness and ways to minimize our impact on the planet. I felt a complex mix of emotions: superiority that I was already aware of the issues; irritation that my language level was still so low that I probably wouldn’t be able to understand parts of the lecture, read the handouts, or participate in any meaningful way; and incredulity that what I had assumed was an immovable wall was in fact not. My city was waking up to some of the issues it was facing, and would be making policies and crafting strategies in response. It did this with no help from me, and today Isesaki has a pretty good sanitation system including a pool heated by the waste disposal plant, recycling of aluminum, glass, steel, PET bottles, and voluntary but widespread recycling of milk cartons, ink cartridges, and even plastic bottle caps.

Somebody told me a long time ago that I was a lot like Jacob in the Bible, but I gave up too soon- I struggled and plotted, fought and argued- but abandoned the struggle before dawn, before receiving the blessing from God. Since then, I’ve tried to balance these two truths. Not all “causes” are mine to fight, but the ones that are, I must not weasel out of or quit too soon. My task is to prayerfully discern which are which, let go of the ones that are good but not mine, and continue to follow through on the ones where my name is written…not giving up hope or commitment in spite of apparent lack of results.

A future post will be about a seemingly “immovable wall” I am sensing a call to wrestle with. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about yours. And as I sip on some green tea from the vending machine, I’ll keep in mind that yesterday’s trash has become today’s treasure.

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12 Responses to “Lesson From A Pet Bottle”

  1. I absolutely love your writing style. Flows so beautifully.

    So fabulous to hear how Japan is learning to manage their garbage. Nice!!! Seattle rocks at recycling and managing their waste. I am guessing the rest of the world is not far behind.

    I think that you made the right choices about letting that one go. The one coming up is truly yours to ride! I am excited to see you fly!

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    Posted by Julie on 12/13/09 February 24th, 2011 at 1:52 AMReply

    • I’m wondering which bird to take flying lessons from. The hummingbird uses a phenomenal amount of energy just trying to get food while the hawk floats in the updrafts and seems to enjoy the ride while taking in the view.

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      Posted by Andrea Johnson on 12/13/09 February 24th, 2011 at 2:51 AMReply

  2. Andrea, I love this article. Thank you for sharing yourself and your real life struggle to be faithful to what you feel called to. I hear discernment in what you share, which is a daily process for me. A recent prayer I’ve added to my day to help me to be faithful, is “Lord help me not to do more than you desire, and help me not to do less.”
    Love to you,
    Eva

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    Posted by Eva Sullivan-Knoff on 12/13/09 February 24th, 2011 at 3:48 PMReply

  3. Can hardly wait for your next post. You should run a wager with your readers on just what that wall is.

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    Posted by Andy Larsen on 12/13/09 February 25th, 2011 at 1:10 AMReply

    • Done! If anyone gets it right, I’ll personally take them to a great onsen (natural hot spring baths). Only catch is they have to get themselves here first. Fear not, friends, this one doesn’t have mixed bathing, so guess away.

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      Posted by Andrea Johnson on 12/13/09 February 25th, 2011 at 1:51 AMReply

  4. My memory of recycling and caring for the environment is that, when we lived in Sakawa, Mom always put our food garbage in the side strainer in the sink, so the liquid would drain out, and then wrapped it in newspaper on a certain day of the week to put out. Also, in Chigasaki there was the Chirigami kokan, where a truck playing Japanese traditional tunes on a loud speaker came by and we handed in our old newspapers and got one or more rolls of toilet paper in exchange.

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    Posted by Kristine L on 12/13/09 February 25th, 2011 at 2:17 AMReply

    • And would you believe they still come around with the same music, particularly in rural areas? Very few women stay home these days though, so I don’t hear them much in the city. A lot of school PTA associations do recycling drives monthly, so there is even competition between the city’s program and other groups. Then there are the homeless and other under-employed who sometimes show up early on recycling day to take a share of the aluminum in spite of possible fines aimed at discouraging this behavior. I wonder if the city couldn’t work more cooperatively and spare themselves some expense?

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      Posted by Andrea Johnson on 12/13/09 February 25th, 2011 at 3:37 AMReply

  5. Hi Andrea, I’ve been enjoying your many postings this month!
    “My task is to prayerfully discern which are which, let go of the ones that are good but not mine, and continue to follow through on the ones where my name is written…not giving up hope or commitment in spite of apparent lack of results.”
    Amen to all that!

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    Posted by Deborah on 12/13/09 February 26th, 2011 at 11:31 AMReply

    • Now the hard part is sticking to it- one day at a time. Writing is always so much easier than doing…

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      Posted by Andrea Johnson on 12/13/09 February 26th, 2011 at 1:29 PMReply

  6. Andy, thank you for sharing your blog with me. I recall living in “The Home” in Bellingham where glass was collected and we burned all the burnables in the home, and garbage was plastics and other “non-burnable refuse”. That was the early 80’s. I just heard yesterday that in DC they are going from green back to styrofoam coffee cups and plastic spoons? … we need to take care of all that God has entrusted to us.

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    Posted by Scott Baker on 12/13/09 March 2nd, 2011 at 12:49 AMReply

    • I hope you plugged your nose when they were burning the plastics! There are probably a lot of things we do today that by tomorrow’s light will seem pretty bizarre, but DC going back to styrofoam- if it’s true- is pretty hard to fathom.

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      Posted by Andrea Johnson on 12/13/09 March 2nd, 2011 at 1:29 AMReply

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