I walk frequently on the grounds of a Catholic seminary a quarter mile away from our house.  The paths wind past the Stations of the Cross and statues of Mary, through a beautifully tended garden of trees and flowering plants, over a small bridge that crosses a lily pond.  It is lovely.

I am puzzled and sometimes angry to see how much litter is left on the grounds by visitors.   I pick up the wrappers, plastic drink bags and straws, cups, napkins and put them in a garbage can.  Why can’t they?!   Pope Francis’s message to respect the earth has clearly not been heard by his flock as they wander the grounds of the seminary.  I notice my judgment clouding my peace, and I try to pick up the trash as an act of love.  I try.

The profusion of litter in the Philippines, especially plastic, is striking.  I have seen it in many countries in Asia and also in eastern Europe and Africa.  Litter finds its way into the streams and canals.  It is an eyesore and also a danger, as clogged drains make flooding far more likely.

Americans litter also, but we are more conscious as a whole (and penalties are stiffer).  An American consumes far more on average than a Filipino, but we have dumps and recycling centers where we can, if we choose, dispose of our mountains of waste.   There seems to be no solid waste collection in our town, so it is up to every household to deal with its own rubbish.

This means that every few days, I go out to the garden area and make a small fire in which I burn paper and plastic.  This felt so “wrong” to me – burning plastic?! – and yet it is what we must do.

The town of Silang has joined many others in banning the use of plastic bags, encouraging shoppers to use baskets and sturdy bags instead.  Yet there really is no alternative for the vendors who sell tiny quantities of soy sauce, vinegar, grated coconut and other condiments.   Fresh fish come home in plastic bags, and so does meat.  Wrapping in newspaper and banana leaves works for some foods, but not all.

I noted that the town of Concord, MA has just banned single-use water bottles.  So on both sides of the world, we are trying to learn new habits.

A paradox:  Filipinos may litter more than Americans.  They are also far cleaner.   A different pair of flip flops waits at every threshold, including the bathroom, so that dirt from the outside is never carried into the house, nor from the house proper into the bathroom.   I haven’t yet mastered the protocol, preferring to walk barefoot in the house.   This behavior is tolerated.  Barely.

Every morning, the sound of stiff brooms sweeping:  Lina and our neighbors are sweeping their yards, gathering the leaves that have fallen overnight onto the dirt below to be burned or (at our house) composted.  A neighbor sweeps the cement gutter along the road and pulls weeds from it, preparing for the rainy season.   In Vietnam, the sidewalks are swept regularly by homeowners and by street sweepers.   The closest thing to this in America might be shoveling the snow off our sidewalks.  I know no one who rakes their lawn every day.

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