Monday, March 17, 2014

I think we may have missed the point.

Those of us who are a little older {ahem} will remember the days before recycling, the glory days of use-it-and-toss-it. Those were also the days of gas-guzzling vehicles the size of the Battlestar Galactica, days when our parents sneered at basket-weaving tree-huggers.

It was the 1990s before the environmental movement really gained momentum and the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" tagline caught on.

So here we are a quarter of a century later. We now have curbside recycling in our community. And what they don't pick up at the curb, you can bring in to a nearby store (plastic bags at the grocery store) for recycling.

About 10 years ago, there was a major kerfuffle here in Ottawa when we learned that all the plastic bags and take-out containers that had been accepted as recyclable waste were, in fact, not recyclable. They were being shipped to Asia, at considerable expense. Citizens seemed to think it was their right to have their consumer wastes recycled. It irked me that people didn't realize that they should be reducing their reliance on this non-recyclable packaging.

We seem to have missed a point: recycling was only one part - and the last part - of the environmental message. I think the first R, Reduce, was actually the more important one. Here are a few things that we do in our house to reduce our reliance on packaging.

The bok choy is in one of our reusable produce bags. The other produce (except the lettuce) came home in a mesh bag.
I have an ample supply of reusable mesh bags that I keep in the trunk of my car along with big, collapsible black boxy bags. (Bins? Boxes? What are these?)

I also use a bag that I keep rolled up in my purse.

Stylish and handy

I didn't realize how effective this was until we ran out of dog-poop bags a couple of weeks ago.

(By the way, I remember a histrionic article making the rounds a few years ago that catastrophized the potential for reusable bags to - gasp! - have bacteria. I do wash my mesh bags periodically and wipe down the bins less frequently. But all of our food gets washed before it is eaten or cooked, so I'm not sure what the drama was about.)

A Facebook friend recently shared this picture, which is actually what triggered this post.

One of the commenters wrote: "Why are people throwing away Hummers?"
Is it true? I have no idea. But it does seem like an easy place to reduce or reuse. (Apparently the Keurig "pods" are reusable.) In our case, we use single-cup coffee presses.

It is a few extra steps (boil water, measure out the coffee, rinse out the container afterwards), but it makes hot, great-tasting coffee in small quantities. (We have two so we can brew two cups at a time.)

Since we also love popcorn, we have a popcorn popper (or, at least, Emily does) and buy our popcorn in bulk.

It happens to be a Hello Kitty popcorn popper.
It gets used one or two times per week, so it earns its keep. I feel better about the one plastic bag than I do about those microwaveable popcorn packets.

One of the other ways we reduce our consumption of disposable items is by using cloth place mats and napkins.

There is a glass protector under the place mats and above the tablecloth.
We have been using these for at least six years, and they are still going strong. I wash them about once every week or two.

I do not want to suggest that if you aren't doing these things you are a bad person. You aren't; I like you very much. I use disposable paper napkins when we have parties in the summer and have occasionally bought a bottle of water while out shopping -- I'm no saint. I also don't want to suggest that we've got it all nailed down, when it comes to the three Rs. This, for example, is what I find in the kids' trash basket.

No judgment on the Fuzzy Peach rings, please. They aren't mine, but I would totally have asked for one.
Almost everything in there is recyclable. Sigh.

And, while I am clearly turning crunchy, we still have a ways to go when it comes to things like buying local, in-season produce. (Among other things.)

What I do want you to take away is that every little effort helps. Do what you can. Be aware of the waste you are producing. Don't use plastic or paper needlessly just because it can be recycled.


  1. There is no curbside recycling here though in Dnipropetrovs'k there are places by the apartments for empty plastic bottles, usually overflowing. I suspect the trash at the dumps get well picked over for anything that can be recycled someplace. We have one to two bags of trash per week, depending on company and cleaning. Our neighbours, on a MUCH smaller budget have half a bag. They do not buy as much packaged stuff and have chickens to feed vegetable scraps to.

    1. We had "do it yourself" recycling for the five years we lived in Colorado. I certainly missed the curbside service.


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