Thursday, January 10, 2013

Green living: reduce, reuse, recycle

I grew up in Southern California. Not sure if region matters, but as a kid growing up I remember fun little recycling PSAs popping up between cartoons. The little diddy went: "Recycle, reduce, reuse! And close the loop." And the little logo was around a dinosaur named recycle Rex. So. Freaking. Cool. And so damn catchy it's still in my head twenty some years later.

So as I grew up, that is how I always see recycling. As a little PSA telling me to do my part before Ducktails.

Enter a dear dear friend who is much kinder to the earth than I. She said it reduce, reuse, recycle. Huh. Weird. She grew up here in Wisconsin. Maybe they had different little PSAs. And I dismissed it.

Well, one day we got to talking about stuff, and she said it again. Reduce, reuse, recycle. She continued on: the order is important. You do the first one first, and so on. You see, manufacturing items is a huge cost to the environment. Energy is used, meaning electricity and fossil fuels are spent; raw materials are used, meaning mined or cut down or drilled or whatever; the materials are then processed, which often takes a load of chemical reactions, so there are by products generated which are generally not Eco friendly; and there is transportation and packaging and warehousing and more transporting and and and.... So by the time it gets to you, the consumer, the worst what we do to the earth is done. Sure, tossing it in a landfill to not rot is a slap in the face, but simply recycling doesn't redeem that little yogurt cup in your hand. It's got a hell of a debt to pay off. And that doesn't even count the extra energy, chemicals, packaging, etc that t takes to turn the ten into something usable AGAIN. The recycling process is not as simple as sending all your pasta jars back to ragu to be refilled. They have to be broken down into usable components and reprocessed. And sometimes recycling has a worse chemical footprint because you have to get back to a raw material rather than starting there...

So back to the point: the order is key.

Reduce first. Consume less. But in bulk with less packaging or buy local with no packaging at all. Don't buy presliced or processed or packaged. All that handling costs the earth.

Next, reuse. Think. If you used every disposable item one time after its initial use, you would cut your consumption in half. I'll wait for that to sink in for you. 50% less across the board. Imagine what just that step would do for the earth. Makes you want to hang on to that plastic water bottle, doesn't it?

And finally, recycle. I'm not saying Dont recycle. We live in a world where packaging is almost inescapable. I can't buy underwear that isn't on 2 hangers and double plastic sealed for freshness. But before you just toss things in that green can in the garage, ask yourself if it is still useful, and rescue it if you can.

Okay, enough with the preachy and on to the practical. Here are a few RRR things I've done.

I (almost) never use plastic bags. I have a zillion little plastic containers that I use instead. And yes they require a quick rinse before reuse, but that's hardly the ecological impact of petroleum processing. I pack lunches with them, I store leftovers in the freezer, I put jewelry making supplies in them... I'm an equal opportunity container-er. And while I have my fair share of ziploc containers, do one better and save sour cream and yogurt containers to do the same thing. DISCLAIMER: not all plastics are safe for hot foods or microwave use. I transfer food when cold and reheat on a plate when using repurposed containers. This is important!!

I use old glass and plastic jars (labels removed) to store dry goods like rice, beans, lentils, quinoa, bulgur, and other weirdo foods so they stay fresh and I can have them out on my counter. I totally stole thus idea from "reuse first" girl. I love her. My kitchen has never been more organized. It's great for buying things from those big bulk hoppers at the store... Hint hint.

I also reuse baby food jars for storing my homemade baby food - I bought baby food on Craigslist just so I could have the jars... But that's a separate crazy lady story!

Buy in bulk instead of more packaged little things. I buy a vat of yogurt and put it in awesome little glass custard cups made by anchor hocking. Get stuff out if the aforementioned bulk bins instead of in jars or boxes or pouches. Buy the jug of juice and get a thermos. It's way cheaper that way, too. They charge you a convenience fee for all that marketing! I mean, packaging... Sorry bout that little slip... ;)

Use little plastic containers (and milk jugs with the top cut off) to start plants indoors, or for a kitchen herb garden. Wisconsin's growing season is like 6 days so many plants have to be started indoors and then transplanted. Poke Giles in the bottom, set them in their own lid, and voila you have a potted plant. Egg cartons work even better because you can just bury them in the soil and they break down. The downside is watering during the indoor phase gets... Tricky :)

Finally, I cloth diaper. Yeah yeah I know. I'm an incurable granola hippie type that doesn't live in the real world. Only I'm not. I am a stay at home mom and my kid doesn't have to go to day care, but more and more places are kosher with cloth. I assure you, it's MUCH cheaper than disposables and its not that hard to do. The diaper technology has come a LOOOONG way from our mother's and grandmother's diaper pin pricked, rubber pants wearing days. How about snaps, Velcro, and laminated diaper covers for starters? Okay enough soapboxing.

My point is, there are so many ways we can reuse what we have instead of consuming more. I'll admit, my post today was inspired by a book I am reading "7, an experimental mutiny against excess" by Jen Hatmaker. It's changing my life and I anticipate buying a copy for everyone I know. But today I started imaging a post-apocalyptic type world. What would I save if I knew there wasn't more just around the corner? Jars and lids and containers. Huge. Water? Not running down MY sink! Clothes? Only a few holes = stylish. The thing that got me the most revolves around my crafty nature. Would I EVER let a garment leave my hands without first stealing all the buttons? And the zippers?

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