Monday, January 28, 2013

To Trash or Not to Trash

A friend recently asked me this question:

"What is the Christian response of someone who DOESN'T have MCS, is trying to live more chemically aware, and is blind-sided by a purchase?  I bought a box of 40 kitchen trash bags, and didn't realize they were fragranced until my kid opened the box and used one in our kitchen trash can last night. Do I go ahead and "take the hit" so that others don't have to and use up the bags?  Do I give them to the struggling young family across the street (explaining why I'm parting with them, of course, so they can decline them if they want) and then go buy unscented bags for myself?  Do I send the remaining bags straight to the landfill?  The bag manufacturer put a little logo on the package that I overlooked that says ‘With Odor Block.’  Had I seen it, I would have known that meant scented and not bought them, so I don't see blaming the manufacturer. I'll probably send an email to let them know I didn't mean to vote with my wallet for that product, just so they know. They're really strongly fragranced and I don't like them one bit, but I hate being wasteful and it seems abusive to give them to someone else."

What do you do with a toxic product that is somehow in your possession?  It's a good question. As someone with chemical sensitivities, keeping fragranced or otherwise problematic products in my house isn't an option, but I've wondered about giving those sorts of items to others. One argument for doing so is the fact that most people use those products anyway, with or without my assistance. In the end, however, I've personally decided that I can't in good conscience give people things that I believe to be toxic, despite the fact that they choose to use the same or similar products themselves.

It wasn't easy at all for me to come to that conclusion. I hate waste, believe in generosity, and have always considered myself pretty good at re-using, recycling, and re-purposing things. To throw something away that someone else would find useful feels wrong on many levels. I've come to believe, though, that I need to be a steward of the knowledge I've acquired about chemical toxicity. Whether other people know, believe, or care that products harm them doesn't change the fact that I do.

This issue came up at Christmas. My college-aged son was home and opened a gift that was highly fragranced. It immediately went into the garage, to remove it from my airspace, and we began discussing its future fate. My son mentioned the possibility of giving it to someone else. I try not to give my young adult kids too much direct advice unless they ask for it, and I don't remember exactly what I said. I do remember, though, that at one point my son asked, "You want me to just throw it away, don't you?"  Yep, I did. He threw it out, which I know wasn't easy for a poor, struggling college student watching every penny. I truly believe it was the right thing to do, though, and I really appreciated his willingness to do it.

The specific issue of trash bags has also come up in our family. My hubby unintentionally came home with some fragranced bags once. I decided that trash bags were sort of a special case. They were going to be thrown out anyway, so they might as well be filled with other trash before making their trip to the landfill. We kept them in the garage, filled them out there, and they never came inside the house.

Sometimes a problematic product will offgass over time and can be somewhat redeemed. The process of redeeming versus disposing of something is addressed in the Bible. In Leviticus 14:37–53, God gave the Israelites detailed instructions on how to proceed when they found mold in a house. The instructions included scraping walls and removing affected stones to try to remediate the problem. If the mold continued to spread, the house was to be torn down and taken outside of town for disposal. When throwing something away seems like poor stewardship of resources and somehow ungodly, I remember that passage. In God's hierarchy, people are above things, and when things threaten human health, sometimes they just need to go away.


Christa Upton said...

Oh, this is so true!!! Excellent passage that is relevant to this.

Martha McLaughlin said...

It does help put things in perspective, doesn't it?

DebraSY said...

This is a thoughtful post. I don't feel good giving people things I wouldn't want to receive, and especially things that might hurt them. I hereby make peace with the landfill.

Martha McLaughlin said...

Making peace with it is a good way to phrase it. I still don't always feel comfortable throwing things away, but it comes more naturally than it used to, and I'm convinced that sometimes it's the right thing to do.