I jammed the pizza box into the garbage bag and tossed it in the garage. The biodegradable pizza box from tonight’s dinner is made of cardboard. I stuck it in a plastic bag. The recycling people won’t take it. The grease stains somehow disrupt the recycling process. The waste management company won’t take anything unbagged. That pizza box, if I left it in the back yard, would disappear in three months. Protected by its mandatory plastic cover in a landfill, it might last a five hundred years. The bag itself doesn’t decompose. It disintegrates into microplastics which over time will make their way to the ocean. Fish food for the future.
Today, Susan took a vacation day. Instead of working, she gardened. Really, she ungardened. She filled bags after bag with groundcover torn from our beds. She eliminated a meadow. We’re planting a lawn. Seems today, were the opposite of environmental. We’re anti-environmentalists. I’ve read countless articles about how a varied plant environment better supports the natural world. Spiders spun their webs among our sprigs. Pollinators swarmed our wildflowers. Toads and snakes lurked beneath the tangle of ground creepers. The garden was alive. If things go well. By mid-summer, it will all be grass—green grass, devoid of life.
Just as I wrote last summer in my blog post An American Obsession, it’s time to clean up our property. We’re beginning our long-term countdown to moving away from Gettysburg. It’s a vague plan. We’re not sure where we’re going, and we have no idea when, but we’re going. Our kids will soon move away for good, we’re nearing retirement age, and our nonprofit management careers are easily transferrable to other communities. Eventually, we need to sell our home, and in our conservative area, an attractive property means a green yard.
Currently, our backyard’s a disaster. There’s that overgrown garden, extending twenty-some feet from the back of the house. At one point it was crops. I hated farming. Too much work for too little yield. A groundhog ate all of our lettuce. We turned it into a wildflower meadow.
The rest of the yard is strewn with mountain bike obstacles. There’s a twenty-foot stretch of dozens of awkward and uneven rocks—all weird angles with wheel-sized divots to navigate. Three tall logs, uncomfortably close together, to hop, one wheel at a time, and ride over. And I built a forty-foot “skinny,” a line of cinderblocks laid end to end to ride like a balance -beam. Whenever I complete a bike ride, I roll around to the back of my house and take a lap or two around the yard.
It’s a complete pain in the ass to mow.
But I’m not ready to let it go. The garden, sure. I’ll throw out grass seed next month and fertilize frequently throughout the summer. As much as I hate to get rid of our environmentally friendly meadow, I know what sells. But the mountain bike obstacles? I’ll keep those to the bitter end.
When Sophie and Eli were young, our backyard was their playground. I attached a raised platform, known as the pirate ship, and swings to the three massive, sixty-year-old pin oaks in the corner of our yard. Tiger mosquitoes hadn’t migrated this far north yet, and the kids could play outside for hours. Since then, first drought, then inundation with too much subsurface ground water took out all three trees, and the mosquitoes arrived. Now, to spend more than two minutes outside requires bathing in DEET.
With mosquitos swarming 24/7, our back yard became a fairly useless place. A screened porch sits off the back of our kitchen, and I rarely venture beyond that. Except for my quick mountain bike loops, the only time I spend out back is doing chores—mowing or gardening, slathered in insect repellant.
There’s really no reason I can’t set up a composting area in our back yard specifically for pizza boxes. We already have a small cage in the yard for garden scraps, although we’re hesitant to compost groundcovers, especially lamb’s-ear, which we have in abundance, due to its propensity to take root anywhere it settles. I’d like to see if I can turn our pizza box landfill waste into arable soil.
When today’s snow stops falling, I’ll fish that pizza box out of the trash, build a chicken-wire cage, and start my experiment. As a family, we’re obsessed with pizza—typically ordering carryout a couple times per week. When you add in the homemade pizza we make weekly, something close to half our meals are pizza. If I’m going to take action for the environment, pizza is a great place to start.
I’ll report back next year with an assessment about how well it went. If I can keep a hundred-plus pizza boxes out of the landfill, I’ll feel that I’ve done my part for one tiny piece of the environment.