What difference does it make?

I don’t know about you, but each time I am at the supermarket and have placed my items on the counter to check out, when the cashier asks if I will need plastic or paper, my immediate response always is: “What difference does it make?” But I never say it aloud. That is partly because I don’t want to be seen as a heartless and uncaring person toward our Mother Earth, who provides all the goodness I’m actually shopping for at this very moment. 

But a few weeks ago, when I was at the store and the cashier as usual asked the same question, I did actually say it loud enough for her to hear, “What difference does it make?” And to my surprise, she answered back saying, “You’re right sir, it might be too late to do anything about it.” 

“I’m sorry for being pessimistic,” I said, to which she responded, “You’re not being pessimistic. That’s our reality now.” I was astounded by the honest and matter-of-fact way the cashier, a young lady who, I thought, might be working as a part-time employee while studying at a nearby college, expressed herself. That’s when I found myself feeling guilty and apologetic. 

I told her that it was because of the insensitive and careless habits of the older generation that I am a member of, that she and her generation will be inheriting a world filled with pollution and global warming. But the young girl wouldn’t listen to my apology. “Our generation is equally guilty,” she said, turning her attention toward the next customers. She asked if they prefer plastic or paper. 

There’s no question that global warming and pollution is a fact of our current life. According to a recent front-page article by The New York Times, “NASA scientists announced Wednesday that the Earth’s average surface temperature in 2018 was the fourth highest in nearly 140 years of record-keeping and a continuation of an unmistakable warming trend.” This is an alarming statistic that should urge all of us to take precautionary measures to decrease the speed of the consequences of our actions. 

It is very reassuring to see that there are many who, being aware of the dire consequences our Earth is facing, will do anything possible to make a difference. These people will categorically refuse to use plastic bags. They will come to the store with their own shopping bags. 

On the other hand, there are others who, after all the warnings we as a society are faced with, appear to be perfectly comfortable placing items that should be properly recycled into a waste basket. 

It is compelling to realize that recycling has been with us for centuries. Early men and women recycled every tool and household item primarily because natural resources were hard to find. For them, simply dumping a household item or leftover food was considered to be immoral. 

But for 21st-century humans, who have been blessed with the luxury of accessing items available at a click of a button, recycling can been seen as a chore or mere inconvenience. This, even though it is now common knowledge that it helps reduce harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere. There is also a large segment of our population that considers all this urgency about global warming and pollution to be simply a political hoax or fake news, even though it is hard to disregard the inconsistency of the weather, the rising of the temperatures and melting of polar ice. This is hardly a chapter from a science fiction novel. 

To respect the privacy of the young cashier, I would never ask if she does actually recycle, or if she is convinced that it is too late to do anything about it. Still, I hope she does. 

But in my case, should I say, after an honest soul-searching, recycling has become much more than just an attempt to stop global warming or pollution. Recycling for me is a way to return the favor back to the nature that has been so graciously and benevolently hospitable to all the creatures living on this planet, especially to us humans.


Varoujan Froundjian is a graphic designer, Photoshop artist, writer, cartoonist, information technology and wine expert who also drives a limousine for local livery. He can be reached at varoujanfroundjian@gmail.com.