Summer Slacking: Vacation Throws a Wrench Into Sustainable Living

Without the structure of the school year, Linda Sharps struggles to keep up with her vow to live green.

(Illustrated by Lauren Wade)

Living in Eugene, Ore., with her family, Linda wrangles two rambunctious boys while ignoring the laundry.

Confession time: I bought paper plates the other day. I've also been using paper towels more frequently in the last few weeks. I did make a solemn promise to myself and the Internet that I would cut way back on disposable paper products (toilet paper not included; sorry, commenter who suggested that I reach into my toilet bowl to splash myself clean instead of wiping). But I've been slacking lately.

I've also been stocking up on prepackaged snacks, despite the upsetting statistic I read that food packaging accounts for almost two-thirds of total packaging waste by volume. That was from a 2007 study; it's probably much higher these days based on all the 100-calorie packs and those newfangled puree/mashed food bags I see everywhere in stores. 

Things have been falling apart a little on the green-living front is what I'm saying. I can trace my current lack of commitment back to a particular date, it seems: June 17, the last day of school.

This doesn't mean that with the onset of summer I stopped giving a damn about the environment. It's just...well, having the kids home all day is kiiiiind of a rough gearshift. I work from home, and I've been finding myself leaning more heavily on conveniences as the weeks go on. Paper plates make lunch cleanup go faster. The kids can grab packaged snacks on their own while I hunker down on a deadline and try to tune out their raucous games of I'm Godzilla and You're an Unsuspecting High-Rise Building—no I'm Godzilla, no I'm Godzilla. Oh, my God all the Godzillas go outside.

Also, we've been on the go a lot during the weekends, camping in southern Oregon or staying in our family cabin on the Umpqua River. All those handy paper products start getting really tempting when you don't have access to a dishwasher, you know what I mean? Packing for a weekend getaway seems to always mean we rely on more packaged goods overall, down to the disposable facial wipes I use in lieu of a washcloth and soap.

I'm not unaware of the irony here. Summer is all about appreciating the beauty of the great outdoors, and yet I'm using this time of year as an excuse to lower my green-living standards? It's sort of like admiring my fitness gains while shoveling an entire pint of ice cream into my food hole, not that I have any experience with such behavior.

I think back to a family camping trip a few weekends ago and how one evening we all marveled at the sight of an osprey diving for fish in the Rogue River. The scenery was so wild and glorious—the rush and tumble of the water, the triumphant cries of the bird, the round eyes of our children as we pointed out the massive nest she was returning to. We stood there gulping great inhales of the sparkling-clean air, then trooped back to our campsite and ate dinner off Dixie plates, which we threw in the trash.

Yeah. I know.

Summer already feels like a time when my family's carbon footprint increases by a toe or three. We travel more often; we use appliances more frequently (so! much! laundry!); we run the air conditioner during sweltering afternoons; we use more water for the plants (although I definitely won't be overwatering the lawn); we frequent parks and pools and popsicle stands. The good news is that farmers markets are everywhere now, but aside from our natural tendency to become locavores, everything else seems to fall more in line with the overconsumption side of things. If anything, summer should be when I double our environmental efforts, not abandon them altogether.

I tell you this in part because I want to motivate myself again and create some accountability for my actions, but I'm also curious if any of you have experienced a similar challenge. Does it seem harder to stick to your green-living goals during the summer? 

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