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Mops and Buckets: A Parable

The question has now been posed (what happened to prevention) and I can't help but interject with a story or parable David Orr tells all first year students in his Environmental Studies class:

Mops and Buckets

It’s been said that we are a society driven by a “mop-and-bucket approach” to life. David Orr, professor of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, likes to tell the story of the entrance exam for an asylum in the midwest. In the exam, candidates to the asylum are led into a cement-lined room with a row of faucets on one wall, fully open, gushing water. Leaning against the opposite wall are dozens of mops and buckets. Those who have truly lost their way in this world inevitably run for the mops and buckets. Anyone with their wits intact simply turn off the faucets.
Logical, right? Turn off the faucets and prevent the flooding. Yet how difficult it seems for us to similarly turn off the “faucets,” in all their many guises to, for example, prevent pollution. For decades we attacked pollution with mops and buckets feverishly capturing the gritty and grimy stuff coming out of smokestacks and chimneys into our air and from out- flow pipes into our state’s waterways. Scrubbers and wastewater treatment plants have served us well, but how much better could it be if we never generated the nasty stuff in the first place?
Going beyond the mop-and-bucket approach and turning off some of
the many “faucets” in our lives means keeping valuable soils on the land and
out of our waterways; it means preventing the generation of hazardous waste
by using only non-toxic household cleaning, maintenance, and yard products;
it means reducing the volumes of garbage we generate by bringing fewer
over-packaged goods into our homes; it means reducing air pollution by
ridesharing or carpooling to work on a regular basis; and it means preventing
air, water, and land pollution by reducing energy and resource consumption.
We’re learning that it can be much cheaper to engineer manufacturing
processes so they don’t produce nasty stuff in the first place, but it’s
means shifting attention from the end of processes back up to the front
of the production line and asking ourselves some very basic questions.
Despite the fact that the world is full of rich sellers of mops and buckets,
it has become increasingly clear that we can continue to mop and mop and mop,
or we can embrace the prevention ethic and start turning off those pesky
faucets in our lives.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Doug Kievit-Kylar, Pollution Prevention Planner
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Environmental Assistance Division
103 South Main Street
Waterbury   VT   05671-0411
phone: (802) 241-3628
FAX: (802) 241-3273
e-mail: Doug.Kievit-Kylar@anrmail.anr.state.vt.us
"Smart people solve problems. Geniuses prevent them."
-- The wisdom of Albert Einstein --