A Practical Environmentalist

“What are you doing?” I asked my daughter. After living with me for 13 years you’d think that she would automatically toss her aluminum soda can into the recycle bin. No, it was airborne and headed into the trash when the flash of sunlight on metal caught my eye.

Rolling her eyes she fished the can out and put it in the right place.

The Right Place. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about how much has changed – not just technology or building developments, but mindsets.   As I child I would not have thought about where I threw any can. As a child there were no soda cans, just bottles. Even then my parents did not purchase sodas for their kids, we drank water, milk or kool-aid. Hawaiian Punch was a treat served only on holidays.

In my parent’s youth everything was used, re-used and then torn apart and used some other way before it was ever thrown away. That was before advancements in technology turned us into a “throw away” society. Plastic was one of the biggest culprits. Suddenly you could make anything so cheaply that you didn’t have to bother to clean it up and use it again – just throw it away! Who cares – it’s only worth about a nickel and what’s a nickel?

About twenty years ago now it suddenly dawned on people here in the good ol’ USA that just maybe all that waste was bad for us. By us I mean not just the country as a whole but for towns and communities that don’t have any place to bury their trash, some places have to pay to have their garbage shipped to other places with smaller populations and more land.

Of course, at the same time we discovered that splitting the atom may have created huge new energy resources, but the process creates more garbage of a kind that can make people sick. Then there are the fools who want to live in the southwestern desert, but believe in their souls that they have the right to use as much water as they want so they can have a lush green yard.

Technology has spoiled us on a number of levels. You go to a grocery store these days and you can get any kind of fruit or vegetable at any time of year. You want fresh tomatoes in January, corn on the cob in April, young tender zucchini anytime…why not? So what if it takes a jumbo jet out of Hawaii plus a huge tractor trailer driving 1,072 miles to bring you fresh pineapple in Amarillo – it’s only a couple bucks at the store. Of course from picking to purchase it costs the world 9504 gallons of Jet fuel, and at least 180 gallons of diesel. That’s a lot of stinky stuff to dump into the air.

Like a lot of people I have absorbed all the statistics and come to the realization that we as individuals really do need to change how we approach everything from what food gathering options we have to how we dispose of waste. What bugs me is that the minute you mention that you save aluminum cans or recycle computer paper people automatically equate you with the wild eyed frenetic extremists who sit in trees and scream obscenities at passing loggers.

Applause to the radicals who bring attention to a problem – it is not how I prefer to live. They may draw attention to a situation, but it is the average citizen living in a community who will slowly and steadily change it. People need to look around and see what they personally can do in daily life to make a difference.

I am an inhabitant of the high desert regions. My home has just under an acre inside a small town. The community is large enough to have choices of waste disposal companies and I prefer to use one that recycles. Even so, before I throw something away I consider whether or not it can be used in some other fashion. I do eat out on occasion and I use the containers they provide for other things. Did you know that the small containers Kentucky Fried Chicken use for single servings of cole slaw make great butter dishes?

In my handbag you can usually find a small plastic food storage box-the kind you can re-use. If I know the restaurant’s leftover containers are Styrofoam, I pull my box out and use it instead. The water in my community is tasty. I run it through a filter and drink it rather than buying a lot of plastic water bottles. That does not mean I shun any use of the plastic ones, there are times when that is preferable to other options.

My husband and I prefer to buy locally, but if price differences are dramatically different we don’t have any prejudices about bopping over to Wal-Mart. My own organic garden and the local Farmer’s Market provide most of my vegetables, and I like to can and dehydrate my produce. The garden is on a drip system and I employ heavy mulching, so my water usage is much smaller than my neighbor with the lawn.

The most amazingly short sighted waste is in the area of clothing. People keep closets full of things they don’t wear, or if they’ve worn it once or torn it slightly they may throw it away! If something is torn, I pull out needle and thread and stitch it up – then wear it again! Twice a year I take inventory of what I have. If I haven’t worn it because I got too fat or don’t like it anymore I give it to charity. You can get some really great clothes at thrift stores – from those people who wore it once.

I own a total of six pairs of boots/shoes. Sass shoes has a very practical black leather shoe I can wear all day long in the office and be comfortable. They are expensive, but great. Once a year I buy a new pair. The old pair becomes my gardening shoes. The others are a seldom used pair of brown loafers, a pair of black pumps going on 9 years old, a set of tennis shoes, and some winter boots. There is a pair of cowboy boots somewhere in the back of the closet that I haven’t seen since 2003.

Creating a healthier environment starts in the mind. Look around and see what you can do in your own home to make a difference. Start small, but do it repeatedly until it becomes a habit.

Years later my daughter and I were at a friend’s house when her boyfriend chucked an aluminum can into the trash. We both flinched.

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