Friday, February 1, 2013

Paper or Plastic?

Hello. Welcome to Smiths/Maceys/KMart/FreshMarket/Harmons/Wegmans/Reams/AnyOtherStoreYouCanThinkOf...

I've been thinking a lot lately about that little phrase that I was taught during the third grade: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. 

It was a phrase that teachers drilled into my head along with that other one (Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation). But, unlike the water cycle phrase, the three R's never really felt informative. It was just another phrase to memorize for a quiz. While it may have had pictures they probably looked something like this (if you can count this as a picture): 

I've remembered it very plainly ever since the third grade (which says a lot since I don't remember most things I learned in college), but as a kid in elementary school I never learned what this actually meant. Nobody ever taught me (until I moved to college and had a roommate who did annoying things like unplug the toaster all the time) how to reduce, reuse, or recycle. 

At the grocery stores, people go and fill up shopping carts full of packaged goods. They take those packages to the check-out where someone used to ask if you wanted paper or plastic (It's been a long time since I've had anyone ask that). They fill thin plastic bags with your already packaged products and send you on your way home where you take everything out of the bags and (if you're like my grandma) you stuff the empty sacks into an old pair of pants that have the bottoms sewn shut. 

Those plastic bags stay stuffed in those pants that seem to be able to contain an unlimited supply of crumpled plastic bags.  

I could go on and on about how we, as Americans, contribute to pollution, overflow the landfills, and waste far more than is necessary. But, you already know all that. What we need now are ideas on how we, and individuals, can change all that. 

Here are 7 things that Jo and I do: 

1. Take a reusable bag(s) to the grocery store (this way I'm not using the plastic bags AND I get extra rewards points at Smiths which reduces my fuel costs). 

2. Recycle the things that are recyclable: metal cans (usually from beans or tomatoes), paper (all that junk mail that I can't stop from coming into my mailbox, old grocery lists, etc), plastic (sometimes I eat some yogurt that comes in a plastic container), cardboard (I like to eat pizza once in a while--what can I say?), glass (from the occasional wine/beer bottle, or, more likely, a salad dressing bottle). We have to save up the glass and take it to Salt Lake whenever we go there for something to put it in the glass recycle thing by the Shopko on 13th south...but, it's worth it, because then I'm not throwing that into a landfill).

3. Eco-Friendly Light Bulbs: This is probably the simplest thing we can do to cut down on the amount of electricity we use. Jo bought a pack of Conserv Energy lightbulbs that replace the kind that normally use 100W and instead use only 23W while still illuminating out apartment with 1600 lumens (i'm not sure how others compare in terms of lumens, but these bulbs are a lot better!). 

4. Unplug the Toaster: When I was in college my roommate unplugged the toaster ALL THE TIME. It drove me crazy right up until about the time she moved out and new roommates moved in. Then I was the evil toaster unplugger. But, unplugging little things is simple. If you leave things plugged in then it will continue to use electricity. When you're not using things like your toaster or cell phone charger or crock pot or blender or coffee maker--un-plug it. It'll save you that much more energy (and maybe a bit of money, too!)

5. Take Public Transportation when possible: I don't really do this much anymore (mostly because I stay home at the moment), but I had a UTA pass for several months and I rode the Frontrunner and the bus to work and back everyday. It was nice because I didn't have to drive all that way in the snow, and I could read during my commute (or take a nap) rather than have to keep focused on the drive. 

6. Walk/Bike to places: This seems really hard for me in the winter for a couple reasons. 1. the inversion is so bad in the winter I do NOT want to breathe the air outside (which is ironic if I drive because then I'm just polluting even more. ugh.) 2. It is COLD. Not only is it cold, there is so much snow on the ground this winter that the plows can't keep it off the road and none of the sidewalks are clear). BUT, I still try to walk when I can. The coffee shop I like to write at is only a couple blocks away so I try to walk when I go there. The carwash place is only about a block away and I like to get quarters there--so I walk to get quarters when I need to do laundry (this is a slight exaggeration...mostly because Jo does the laundry and gets the quarters a lot more often than I do...Thanks Jo!). Sometimes it's the little things that add up. 
Wouldn't it be cool if we saw more of these?

7. Buy in "bulk": I put quotes around "bulk" because we don't really buy super large quantities of things, but grocery stores (at least the Smiths near us) have sections of "bulk food" in bins where you can scoop out a few cups of dry beans, granola, nuts, flour, wheat, flax seed, noodles, dates, and on and on. Of course plastic bags are available for putting these products into, but we take our own bags, scoop our stuff into them, take the bags home and dump our beans and flax seeds into glass jars. Oh yeah, and they even have spices that you can get the same way. Jo has an awesome spice rack of glass spice jars with the spice written on the tops and we get new spices from the "bulk" section and re-fill the jars as needed. 

The thing I don't understand at all is how much we package everything here. For example I went to Subway the other day with Jo. We ordered our sandwiches together. They wrapped each of them individually in their sandwich paper stuff and put them each in plastic sacks. That was two plastic bags wasted (which we returned to the counter in case they want to use them again). But it's just an example of how we over package everything. Crackers come in a bag inside of a box, which we wind up putting inside another bag to take home. It's time to cut down on the packaging--it's so unnecessary and we wind up wasting our resources in the process. 

Now here are 3 things I wish we did: 

1. Grow our own garden: This would be awesome! We could grow our own organic food (more to come on this) and reduce pollution in a number of ways. Do you know where your food comes from? Or how many miles it was shipped in a semi truck pumping out pollution and eating up gallons of fuel along the way? We could cut down on the amounts of pollution generated by the trucks that ship the food, the refrigeration at the store to keep the food "fresh" and by our own driving to and from the store.  I wish we had the means right now to be self-sufficient in that way. 

2. Use Solar Power: I don't know enough about this, but one day I want to have a house (a small one) with solar panels. I want to have a car run off of solar energy. It's ridiculous that we've got the technology to use solar energy and we're still tearing up the earth, digging for coal and oil and putting so much pollution into the air. We have CLEAN energy options! Solar power is something I'm definitely willing to invest in. 

3. Take my own tupperware for left-over dinner: I know this sounds crazy, but I just thought of it. How much plastic and styrofoam is generated by restaurants for take out or left-overs? I might have to become the purse-carrying type so I can take my own little re-usable tupperware to restaurants on those special occasions. Can you imagine the look on your server's face if you pulled out one of those when they ask if you want to take home the rest of the food on your plate? It would be awesome! I'll let you know when I try it. 

There are so many other things we can do to take better care of our mother earth. What do you do? What do you wish you did and what is holding you back? Share this post if you think it was helpful--the best way to change the world is through writing. 

Write on! 


  1. I love this post. And I think there should be another 'R' added to the cycle. REFUSE! That needs to be the first step. If we refuse to use plastic bags and bring our own reusable ones; if we refuse to buy items that have been prepackaged; if we refuse to add to pollution by walking or using public transit, we are already reducing the amount of waste we put out. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle should come only after we Refuse as much as possible. And the great thing about using products that haven't been packaged and processed is that you are generally saving yourself money AND treating your body better. It's a win, win situation!

    Thanks for this. And thank you for being so awesome.

    1. Refuse is a great idea. I love it. Thanks!

  2. Hahahaha, Tif. Evil toaster unpluggers unite! I love this post too. Great thoughts, Buddy. I love your idea of taking your own tupperware to restaurants! It makes so much sense and I already use my tupperware for everything, so why not? Although my family has also started this funny habit of collecting the plastic containers from certain restaurants, especially Olive Garden, so we could probably just bring those with us too when we're eating there! You and Jo are awesome for caring about the earth and then taking care of it! :-)

  3. Oh, and Jo, I love your point about "Refuse" being one of the R's! I think it's also true for those who cut way back on meat for environmental reasons: they're saying no. And when it comes to the R's, there are so many really that I've come across: "rethink," "recreate," "respect," and probably (this one just occurred to me) "recommit." Really, though, this post is great. :-)