I used a Swiffer for the first time in my life today.
I don’t know, maybe I’m slipping, or maybe I’m at a place where I’m able to include things in my life that I’m ideologically opposed to knowing that the stress relieved by doing so is more beneficial in the long-run than twisting my way into a strict definition of who I am.
My hunch is that it’s a bit of both, but regardless, it’s got me thinking about trash.
In the Bhagavad Gita, the ancient Hindu text, Krishna, an incarnation of the preserving aspect of the Divine, has a conversation with his beloved devotee, Arjuna. The setting is in the midst of a battlefield, Arjuna about to fight alongside his brothers for their rightful kingdom against his uncles and cousins. Of course the symbolism is that we have to do this: we have to discriminate between the personality aspects that are alive in us even if it means killing parts of ourselves we’re attached to, like Arjuna’s family members. After encouraging him to live his dharma, or duty, and fight, Krishna and Arjuna discuss the various kinds of yoga. Eventually Krishna reveals his true splendour; instead of his dear friend, Arjuna now perceives the embodiment of the Divine.
It is, to put it lightly, a little much for poor Arjuna. He fearfully begs for his friend Krishna to return to his human form. He wasn’t ready to perceive the truth. Not yet anyway.
I think about that description of Krishna in his full glory. There, He is everything. He is gnashing teeth consuming enemies, and a whole lot of other vivid imagery that I can’t remember right now and I can’t find a copy of the Gita.
What else is He? He’s the trash, which brings us back to the Swiffer.
I don’t get trash. I don’t understand buying things wrapped in things that I am not buying. Why this extra stuff? What does it do for me? It goes right to the recycling, that’s what. It gives me something to store in out-of-the-way places until I gather it all up and head to the big metal bins where I can sort it out and hope something better is made out of it.
Can I recycle a used Swiffer pad? I’m going to go check.
Okay, I found proof right on the package: “Throw used cloths in trash.” Complete with a little drawing of a stickman throwing something into a garbage. This doesn’t really change the fact that I still don’t understand it all. I don’t understand the systems as we have them set up in order to dispose of the items we no longer need.
My family has a construction company. It’s based in an area that isn’t populated enough to make sense to have a sheet-rock recycling program, or so I’ve been told. This is unfortunate because, as a drywall company, they create a lot of wasted scrap materials. They’re a relatively sustainable bunch and so they do what they can to reduce waste while still working within the confines of a construction paradigm that doesn’t put environmental rights at the forefront. Last I heard, they stopped using some materials that “are known in the state of California to cause cancer” and—where it is appropriate—they’ve been known to place scraps within walls thereby increasing thermal mass and solving the problem of what to do with trash.
A few years ago I spent a summer working with them full-time. One of the houses contracted out to us was in a beautiful rural area with a gorgeous view overlooking the coulees. One of the neighbours was a town-owned lot, connected off to the side, yet sharing a fence line with the yard of the house. They were making use of these majestic hills, as is done in the area, by filling the gaps between them with trash. This was the town land-fill.
Regardless of the fact that it was an unfortunate neighbour for a house with such an elegant view, what really struck me was the agreement we made with the town. Instead of the usual giant garbage bin outside to be hauled off and dumped out at a land-fill, we spoke with the operator about emptying the excess scraps right over the fence.
Loading up the back of the pick-up with material to be dumped, we sidled right over to the part of the fence closest to the main section of the drop-off spot. Clambering into the truck bed, my brothers and I began to hurl the pieces of flat gypsum, crushed and sandwiched between sheets of paper, as far as we could.
We were taking out the trash.
It was kind of a surreal experience, really elucidating to me what the definition of a land-fill is.
Our Western society bundles up tonnes of trash everyday and send it off to be piled under layers of dirt and forgotten about. Today, along with all of that trash is a used swiffer mop of mine.
I try to live my life with awareness and allow sustainability to be an undercurrent of what drives my behaviour, yet there are times, like when staying in a house that isn’t my own, that I let it slide and clean with what’s available, even if it is a disposable mop.
On the broader scale I want to be able to see that really, it’s all Krishna anyway. I want to maintain the awareness that lets me see the trash, and the way our society disposes of it, as part of a larger whole of which my little ego is but a speck. If I can bring this awareness in, then it’s likely I’m going to make decisions that are best for the whole. Buying scads of possessions wrapped in things I’m not buying is an unsustainable practice that is not beneficial for the whole.
It gives marketers jobs and feeds the greed of companies who produce items requiring complicated descriptions of what their products can do, but it doesn’t benefit anyone seven generations down the line from us.
What are we left with? We’re left with what we always have: choice. Our own powerful discrimination. I can’t say it’s impossible, but it’s likely I’ll never purchase swiffer pads in my life. And, after my experience of them today, it’s unlikely I’ll ever use them again when a damp paper towel under a foot can provide me with just as much landfill-filling satisfaction at a fraction of the effort.
I’ll continue to choose to fill my reusable almond butter container at the co-op and to rethink purchases that contain a lot of excess materials.
I’ll do this with gratitude that I have the choice at all, and I’ll do it with conviction that really, it’s all Krishna, anyway.