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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Still thinking about the environmental and consumerism issues that go along with modern Christmas celebrations. This is leading me to think about New Year's Resolutions and how I can reduce waste all year round.

I have to admit, I am pretty good at that already. I produce only 1-2 bags of trash a week. The rest goes for recycling or re-use and the food crap of course goes for compost. These are some things I do:

  • I save electricity and propane wherever I can. E. g., turn out lights, unplug appliances, etc.
  • I use the clothes line as soon as it gets warm enough in the spring up until it gets too cold and rainy in the fall.
  • Everybody in my family has a sweater or sweatshirt to put on when they are cold.
  • We have ceiling fans instead of an air conditioner (although I do want to get a small window unit for the bedroom, just to use when we are in there.)
  • I don't buy anything disposable if I can avoid it. I use rags instead of paper towels, cloth napkins, plastic freezer containers instead of bags, and so on.
  • I donate old things to a local thrift store, instead of throwing them out. If clothes are too far gone to donate, I try to cut them up for rags.
  • I hardly ever buy anything new. I shop at thrift stores and consignment shops. I love garage sales and I especially love "junking," which really means picking up stuff at the side of the road, out of other people's trash. I get some great stuff that way.
  • I avoid using the plastic bags from stores as much as possible. I try to remember to carry in my own bags, or if I am buying just one or two small items, I refuse a bag altogether. When I do forget my bags, I opt for paper ones, which have other uses. If I do get stuck with a plastic bag, I try to find a way to re-use it.
  • Uses for paper bags and newspapers: Of course they're good for craft projects (like my holiday wrapping paper), or for putting under craft projects to protect the floor. But then what? I have found that you can put them in the garden around the plants, cover them with grass clippings or other mulch, and ta-da! no more weeds. You can also flatten out cardboard boxes and hide them with mulch. I did this to kill a creeping-Charley problem in my garden.
  • I use old plastic trays and non-recyclable carry-out containers for paint pallets.
  • The plastic boxes that tofu comes in make great organizers. They are just the right size for crayons and other small objects.
  • I save glass jars and their lids for storing dried foods from the dehydrator, teas, dry beans, and all the other stuff the mice like to eat out of my cupboards.
  • I re-use the plastic bags that bread, apples, and so on come in from the store, to keep my own bread.
  • Uses for the plastic containers that come with a pound of yogurt or cottage cheese: Start plants in them, freeze food in them (put them inside a plastic freezer bag. The bag can be re-used indefinitely.), store things in them.
  • Uses for coffee cans: Line them with the inevitable plastic bags and make a small waste-paper basket (the size to keep by your desk or bedside to catch used tissues and candy-bar wrappers), store plastic bags in them for future use, plant things in them, melt candle wax or soap in them, let small children make them into drums, punch holes in the lid of one and string a shoe lace through it to practice knot tying.
  • I have two plastic coffee cans that I use for counter-top compost buckets. I fill them as I am cooking, then run them outside to the compost pile during clean up. They wash up very nicely, too.

This actually started as a New Years resolution when my son was little. One of the naturalists who taught his nature class mentioned that she had stopped using paper towels. She had twin toddler boys at the time, and I figured if she could do it, so could I. That was 5 or 6 years ago. I haven't bought paper towels since. When I saw how much the trash was reduced by that one action, I started searching for more.

I love how a lot of the things we do ostensibly to help the environment actually save us money, too. For example, I don't spend anything on paper towels and napkins, mulch or fertilizer. I save money on my utility bills by conserving electricity and propane. And think of all the money I save by shopping used instead of new!

Next year I want to plant a big garden, so much that I can get almost all my produce out of it in season, and preserve a lot too. I saved and dried all the seeds from all my squash and pumpkins. Free squash from free seeds! Wooo-hoo!

As for a Resolution, I think I know what mine is going to be. Besides losing that last 15 pounds, I am going to start eliminating my use of Styrofoam coffee cups. I will have to invest in several more reusable " go-cups", enough so that no matter how many are floating around in my car waiting to come in, there are still clean ones to take with me. Then I will have to actually GET OUT OF MY CAR to go inside somewhere and give them the cup or fill it myself, rather than going to the drive-through. OK, that's gonna suck in the winter and n the rain. But consider that I bought 3 cups of coffee on the road yesterday. I reused one cup ( when you are a regular on the night shift at the Circle K, you get privileges like that) and saved myself a buck. But if I had my own cup, I could have saved about a buck and a half, and two disposable cups. That comes to maybe $5 and ten cups a week.

Some fancy road mugs from Starbucks would pay for themselves pretty quickly at that rate. Especially if I get them at a thrift store.


Heather said...

What you call "junking", we call "curb shopping".. and I love it too! I've never dug through trash cans or anything, but I've taken zillions of things from the curb. We have "curb days" when the garbage collection service goes around with dump trucks to pick up large items. Bikes, freezers, dressers, couches.. you name it. It's one of my favorite times of the year!

Holly said...

I was so proud of myself at the drive through Starbucks the other day; I actually remembered my own cup (and they give you a discount). So I tell them, "Don't make my drink until I get there, I have my own cup." And when I get there, I watch them pour my drink from the paper cup into my cup. WTF was the point?