The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

March 13, 2009

Healthy bodies are good for the environment

The ferocious flu that hit me several weeks ago resulted in quite a few trips to Kaiser Permanente. During one of those visits, I noticed something in the public restroom I’d never seen there before: a green bin and green liner… telltale signs of composting afoot. I moved in to take a closer look. Sure enough… compostable liner and a sign above the bin instructing users to deposit paper towel waste there.

Sick as I was, I had my camera with me and the presence of mind to snap a few shots, while curious restroom users stared. I forgot about this green moment in Kaiser until reading the Ecology Center‘s recent issue of Terrain Magazine on BART this morning, particularly the article, “When More then the Scrubs are Green.”

The piece describes the efforts of some medical institutions, including Kaiser, to reduce waste and switch to environmentally-safer products… from the food they serve patients to the carpets and furniture installed in buildings. And it points out that while a few hospitals have made changes to lighten their ecological footprint, most go through immense amounts of waste each day, much of it toxic, in an effort to protect patients’ health. Ironic, no?

But the part of the article that really hit me came towards the end (emphasis mine):

No matter what percentage of its trash a hospital recycles, or how local its food is, or how sustainable the building, the uncomfortable truth is that modern medical practices have a big impact on the environment…. Possibly the best way for each of us to reduce the impact of hospitals on the environment is to do our best to avoid using them. That means making lifestyle choices like eating well and exercising, and advocating for better access to good food and laws that clean up our air and water.

In my case, of course, it also means getting more sleep.

We often think about the relationship between ourselves and our environment in exactly the opposite way. Pollution in our air, water, and food is harmful to our bodies. This article shows one way that our sick bodies can then contribute to further degradation of our environment. It’s a vicious cycle, and someone needs to stop pedaling!

I’m guilty as charged. I stay up way too late. I imbibe excessive quantities of caffeine (My dentist advised me yesterday to give up coffee and I replied, “But I have. Many, many, many times.”) and sugar and baked goods. My exercise routine is suing me for neglect (I will run again, I swear!) and my ass is getting flatter by the minute from so much sitting. Many of you have heard this litany from me before.

What I’m doing to my body is not just harming me… it’s harming the whole planet. Yeah, fundamentally there’s no real separation between me and anything else anyway. But on the level of everyday human experience, it’s good to have a concrete reminder that the excuse, “I’m only hurting myself,” is ultimately meaningless. When I get sick, sickness in the world increases. Medical waste increases. Medical spending increases too! Actions become ineffective. It’s all just one big FAIL.

Now, before anyone jumps on me for “blaming the victim,” I’m not saying that people don’t get sick for totally random (as far as we can tell) reasons or due to factors over which they had no direct control. What I am saying that wellness is the responsibility of all of us… for all of us.

Healthy choices we can make that have far-reaching environmental consequences include:

1) Buying less plastic
2) Choosing organic food
3) Eating more plants and fewer animals
4) Driving less and biking/walking more
5) Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation, stretching, & breathing

What are some ways that you keep both your body and the environment healthy?

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14 years ago

Thank you for raising this problem of immense waste in the medical system. It’s truly shocking how much waste is created even by one tiny procedure or visit. Almost all medical supplies are available in sealed (in plastic) packages in kits or in odd amounts (too much or too little), so if one needs just one thing, one has to open an entire kit/package and throw away the rest. The 10-packs of brand-new towels (like dishtowels) are thrown away after surgery if just one is used. One office visit generates a handful of paper, labels, etc, even with electronic medical records. This is not to mention the toxic cleaners and bleaches that are apparently required for every surface, the styrofoam “dishes” in the cafeteria, and lack of recycling bins in the hospital. Oh, and doctors generally work through any disease, unless we are at death’s door. The administrative and financial waste and redundancy is also horrendous, but not quite as visible. All in all, stay healthy and keep out of the hospital!

Cheryl Lohrmann
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

How do we get added to your blog roll? The plastic-free in Portland group Leave No Plastic Behind integrates art and participation into this discussion. We’ve been plastic-free (or trying) for two years, too! Been meaning to be in touch with you for a while…

Christy B.
14 years ago

I truly believe that food is medicine and medicine is food!

Raw grass fed milk
Manuka Honey
Real fats
Organic produce, dairy & meat
Lots of water
Avoidance of Soy & Corn

I am a foodie (yes, as evidenced by my bum) and love to eat out. I don't eat well at every meal but I d make sure to drink raw milk everyday and if I ever start to feel under the weather drink more of it and take Manuka honey.

Just watched "The Future of Food" again (this Netflix streaming system is not helping my bum but my documentary and "The Office" watching has skyrocketed!) – scary stuff.

Lara S.
14 years ago

I absolutely love riding my bike!! But I do get sick quite often. I’m on antibiotics and painkillers and who knows what more. AND I’m on natural medicines too (aminoacids and nutrients to heal my pancreas and iron to stop anemia).And antidepressants. Definitely NOT green.
You might want to do a blood test to see how your levels of immunoglobulins are. If those are down, all your efforts may be in vain and all you need is an injection… Immunoglobulins levels often go down for lack of sleep and stress so… I don’t know.
I’m up late too, I’m doing a research about phytoremediation of PCBs for college. I like it because it’s green-oriented in every way :)

14 years ago

I just read The Great Influenza and the best way to avoid illness is to avoid people. But, alas that is no fun.

My best prescription for health is to contemplate houseplants daily. Just sit down and cogitate for at least five minutes over your favorite green friend, reminding yourself that it is a relative (though distant) and that it moves and grows and reaches out but verrrry slowly and with minimal consumption. Yet, it’s happy!

Bah, you say? You don’t think those beautiful green leaves are happy in a vegetative way?

Along with this daily contemplation, you will also notice the plant developing at its own slow pace and that gives reason to ponder our own pace. Listen carefully and hear the plant whispering to you – slowwww down and live.

But don’t forget to walk and bike for exercise!

Dr. Clif

Farmer's Daughter
14 years ago

What a wonderful post.

I work in a school, so I have kids sneezing, coughing, and sometimes bleeding in my room. It’s a big germ fest and I got sick a lot the first year. If people would keep their kids home when they’re sick, it would help a lot (and I teach high school…).

My first year teaching, by Thanksgiving I had pink eye in both eyes, an ear infection and strep throat all at the same time. Who does that happen to? A teacher.

Now my immunity has built up and I haven’t had a cold in a long time, but I do still get stomach bugs (I’ve had 2 since January). I try to wash my hands often, and that’s my advice to people who are around kids or large groups of people in general. Wash especially before you eat! I’m not a fan of hand sanitizers, since there’s a whole bunch of the strongest germs that will repopulate your hands (did I mention I teach science?). But hey, if it works for you, go ahead.

Martin at PlasticLess
14 years ago

Great post, Beth.

I have thought this through before and the one point where we diverge is the bicycling. In my community, and probably many others, using public roads with a bicycle would greatly increase your likelihood of needing the services of a hospital. Walking is a better choice, and be careful crossing the street :)

14 years ago

Well, when you are dead you dont use any resources so that might be the way to go after all.

The Green El Cerrito
14 years ago

There is a nonprofit in the East Bay (San Leandro, CA) called MedShare that collects surplus medical supplies and equipment and ships them to those in need overseas. Previously, a lot of this stuff was landfilled. You can volunteer to help sort the supplies in their warehouse before shipment.

14 years ago

Sheesh… does THIS hit home (and make me feel more than a tad bit guilty).

Perhaps the desire to get into a bikini won’t do it, but the working it into my attempts at “greening” my life bit by bit may well get me back on the road to taking care of myself.

And with THAT little thought, I think its time to tuck my tuckus into bed. Thanks for the reminder!

14 years ago

Since I switched to chemical free cleaning, I have not gotten sick. I have to say our company encourages sick people to stay home. The less we infect the less Kleenex is used.

14 years ago

When you’re contagious, for goodness sakes, stay home! Don’t go to work, or school, or even the grocery store if you can help it. Keep the germs to yourself and save some gas while you’re at it.

And employers, don’t be idiots when it comes to sick days! Do you really what your employees infecting other employees and bringing down the entire company? No? Then give them enough paid sick days and encourage people to use them! And don’t expect them to bring a doctor’s note for the cold — it promotes overuse of antibiotics, is a waste of money for employees and their insurance co. (if they have insurance), is a waste of time, and could result in them getting others sick.

14 years ago

firsties! um yeah beth – u wrote at about 3:30 am this morning. go to bed