If We Were 5 Years Old, We Would Know How to Protect the Environment

About the author: Viccy Salazar joined EPA in 1995. She works in our Seattle office on waste reduction, resource conservation and stewardship issues.

Everyday, I try to teach my kids not to waste, to share, to do unto others, to pick up after themselves, to take only what they really need… you get the picture. The great thing about kids is that they really want to do those things and they want to be nice and fair about how they interact with their friends. kids As I was thinking on Earth Day, I was thinking how these are the exact same lessons that we need for environmental protection. We can protect the earth if we just obey the basic rules we all learned when we were 3 years old. Here are the rules as I see them:

Share. We need to share the resources and not hoard for ourselves. The resources available to us need to be allocated among many communities and species. I think, in particular, of water and food distribution where some have so much and others have so little. We don’t have a choice but to share the earth so we must learn to share the earth’s resources so all of us can survive together.

Don’t waste. Don’t waste means to make the best use of the resources we have. It obviously relates to things like recycling and turning off lights but was I was thinking about it, I realized it also means don’t use resources if you don’t have to. Take a bus, buy a smaller house, have a high gas mileage car, don’t buy things you don’t need, borrow instead of buy. I find I need to remind myself of this lesson a lot.

Pick up after yourself. To me this mean don’t pollute. When we pollute, we are leaving our mess for someone else. Our environmental laws like RCRA, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are all basically trying to say, if you make the mess, clean it up or only make a little mess. Then I think, but if all of us make just a little mess, it turns into a really big mess which isn’t sustainable. So, we are looking into new solutions like Product Stewardship. Product Stewardship requires companies taking responsibility for the end-of-life management of the products they make and sell. The same lesson we teach our children, you are responsible for your own messes. Don’t put it on anyone else. We still have a long way to go.

I know there are a few more rules but I need to go and practice the rules at home. I’ll check back next week. While I’m gone, let’s all think about how the rules apply to us and our daily activities.

I invite you to leave a comment with your own rules and share them with others in your life to spread the environmental word.