Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Recycle because the world needs it. Lessons from Wall-E

If you haven't seen the Disney Pixar movie, Wall-E, you should really check it out. Watch it a few times and you'll really get the important environmental message this movie is trying to convey. It's a big one hidden by some adorable characters, but totally worth understanding.

The movie is about a sensitive trash compactor robot named Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter•Earth-class), who was left on Earth after the planet had become so toxic that humans could no longer survive on it. He and his many robot companions were part of "project cleanup," spearheaded by the corporate bigheads at the Buy n Large corporation. While robots scoured the Earth, humans were supposed to live in vacation-liner luxury on a BnL ship near a lovely purple nebula, and then return when the mess was all taken care of.

Unfortunately, as the years passed, things have gone a bit wrong. The humans are now on year 700 of their space vacation, and Wall-E lives a lonely existence on a planet covered in skyscraper-high spirals of garbage he's built. He spends his days with a little cockroach pal, compacting trash and collecting intriguing bits of garbage.

Through Wall-E's eyes, we see what humanity has become. Low space gravity over many generations and centuries of time has turned humans into boneless blobs who scoot around on antigravity chairs, constantly eat and drink BnL fast food products, and are waited on hand-and-foot by robots. They're all constantly plugged into the internet, doing everything in virtual reality and obeying every command to "consume" that's piped over the BnL ship's loudspeakers. This almost seems too close to current reality as we watch our nation today do practically the same thing; become obese by being less active and consuming more and more terrible food.

One of the terrifically interesting subtexts of Wall-E is that our hero robot has survived over 700 years by recycling. By gathering up pieces of useful garbage and storing it in his garbage truck home, Wall-E always manages to have spare parts that he can use to repair himself. Through this message, we can assume that Wall-E and his robot counterparts are more suited to take care of the planet because they had no need to create more waste, but, rather have to reuse it to survive. The humans, however, have only become more deeply programmed over the years. They eventually return to Earth less capable of taking care of it than when they left. They learned nothing other than to be consumers and to produce more waste.

Although some people feel this movie is dark and degrading to humans, it does give us a smack-in-the-face about what could actually happen if we don’t do something about all the waste we create each day.

If you think about it, we’re constantly bombarded with messages to buy the new latest gadget, whether it be a new Blue-ray player, or a plasma TV, even if our current DVD or tube-TV is still in good working order. With these new purchases comes more trash; sure we could give it away to someone else, but then where does it go from there? Usually to some landfill to rot in the middle of the ocean. Gross.

Even locally, recycling still hasn’t caught on like it should. For example, in my current dietetic rotation, I’m working in School Food Service. While here, I’ve observed what kids eat each day (whether from the cafeteria or not), and what they throw away. I’ve been absolutely disturbed by two things: 1) The amount of food kids throw away, and 2) The lack of recycling by the kids and school administration.

For example, I stood by the garbage cans in the cafeteria at lunch while kids threw away entire lunches of un-opened yogurt cups, un-touched turkey sandwiches and packages of pretzels, and half-full containers of water and milk. I couldn’t believe that kids were doing this! Don’t they care how much this food costs? Apparently the parents don’t know about what’s going on, because if they did, they wouldn’t waste their money. Well, I wouldn’t at least.

Rather than throwing all this food away to go pile up in landfills, the school should start a composting program. At least some of the food could be turned back into soil rather than just go to waste.

Then, with recyclable bottles, cans and paper bags, they just go straight in the trash too. The kids just don’t rather that instead these items could be turned into a new product that someone else could use.

Due to my frustration, I meet with the school administration in an attempt to correct this situation. The assistant principle told me that the custodians just don’t have the time to help recycle, and so, they wouldn’t reinforce this important message, even though there are bins in the school and a recycling program within the town. There is a school environmental club that was supposed to be responsible for taking the recyclables to the bins outside, but for some reason they stopped doing it. So now, the recycling just gets thrown in the trash.

The elementary school in this school system is the only one to have an intricate composting program, but that’s only because 10 adult volunteers have taken this upon themselves. Without them, nothing would happen.

Today we have no excuse to not recycle or even compost scrap food (or unwanted food in the case of the students). We need to do this to prevent our world from becoming something that needs a Wall-E to clean up. We also need to do it for our children and our children’s children. Otherwise, they might end up like the obese blobs vacationing in space that we learned about in the Disney movie.

On this day where American has sworn in a new president, we need to take responsibility for our environment. Take a lesson from Wall-E: We have to recycle, we should compost as much as possible and we just need to learn how to produce less waste. Believe in change and make it happen. If we don’t, we’ll have nothing left to pollute.


Linda said...

excellent post! I think recycling should be mandatory. I am overwhelmed and saddened by the amount of trash I see in schools, malls, businesses, etc. I am trying to teach my children about where garbage goes...they did see that movie. We are going to start composting this spring. I think we can all do our part...but somehow it never seems like enough.

by the way...I just got your book "New Rules of Lifting for Women"...love it!

MPeters said...

Thank you so much for eloquently voicing the concerns of many across this nation. You are a true inspiration! I loved Wall-E and have taken this message to heart. I believe that we all need to take responsibility for the planet and our own welfare here.

I also use New Rule of Lifting for Women and am on Stage 3. I love how it has transformed my body!!!