July 24, 2014

What does a used Swiffer Pad have to do with Lord Krishna?

laandfill garbage trash

A few months ago for the first time ever, I used a Swiffer, a disposable mop.

I don’t know, maybe I was slipping.

Or maybe just able to do things I’m ideologically opposed to because relieving stress by doing it is more beneficial 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. Specifically, I’m thinking about the unconscious way I can consume things only to throw large amounts of material into the garbage.

What happens to all that trash? I throw it down the chute in that tiny, smelly room in my apartment building.

But that’s not the end of it, that’s just the end of my awareness of it, or the end of my physical relationship with it.

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 with 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 in human form, Arjuna now perceives the cosmic presence 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 have this continual awareness of the truth. Not yet anyway.

I think about that description of Krishna in His full glory. There, He is everything. He is the space between heaven and earth and all the quarters, the splendor of a thousand suns, boundless form on every side, gnashing teeth consuming enemies, and a whole lot of other vivid imagery that attempts to describe with language the experience.

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? It said right on the package, “Throw used cloths in trash,” complete with a little drawing of a stickman throwing something into a garbage.

I 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, the rolling hills of the river valley.

One of the neighbouring lots was the town landfill.

It was an unfortunate neighbour for a house with such an elegant view, but 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 landfill, we spoke with the operator about throwing the trash right over the fence.

Loading up the back of the pick-up with material to be dumped, we sidled it over close to the main section of the dumping 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 a surreal experience, really elucidating to me what the definition of a landfill is.

We bundle up tonnes of trash everyday and send it off to be piled under layers of dirt and forgotten about. When I actually think about where the stuff I throw out goes, it’s kind of unfathomable. And now, there, along with all of that trash, is a used Swiffer pad of mine.

I try to live my life with awareness and allow sustainability to drive 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. And 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 packaging.

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.



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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr / Bill McChesney

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