Re-Use: A Not So Original Idea That Bears Repeating

Had one of those epiphany moments earlier today while driving from Chick-fil-A to my grandparents-in-love’s house.  You know the sort, a magical proposition hits the mind and you know it would help change things for the better if only you could ensure its widespread and instantaneous implementation.

This idea of mine certainly can’t be original, in fact I know it draws on inspiration of the homemakers of the past going back hundreds of years.  I just think it’s about time that we use the resources of today to accomplish our green goals for tomorrow.

Have you ever noticed how much trash you have to sort when you dispose of your cereals, pastas, rice, cookies, crackers, et cetera?  Your contents are gone, you pull out and toss the opaque white plastic bag inside, then you attempt to fold and flatten the cardboard container which sometimes has those handy clear plastic portion for see-through capability but you wonder if that’s recyclable or not.  Or you may not deal with this dissection process at all and just toss the doggone thing entirely–which if you do, I cannot judge you as I’ve been guilty of doing that at times even though I kick myself for not being “greener”.

Now, if you’ve inducted yourself into a potentially smug society like the Whole Food cult following, then perhaps you’ve just taken matters into your own hands and have glass or ceramic containers at home that you fill with your bagged bulk items from their candy store-like aisle for dry, nonperishable goods.  However, I think I can speak on behalf of many busy parents that we simply cannot carve out that time and care to do that meticulously although we may fantasize about that for our retirement years (that is IF we can ever retire).

My idea is to help encourage companies like Post, Kellogg’s and other staple name brands as well as store brands like Kroger’s, Safeway, Publix, etc to find innovative ways to package their dry products so that they can not only attest to being more green-friendly but save in packaging costs as well.

I propose that reusable containers are sold by the company that are sturdy and reliable in terms of airtight quality that consumers can utilize to house their staple items.  The containers can vary in material, re-used material is best, but anything like glass, plastic, stainless steel can do the job.  As an incentive to buy these one-time purchases, a company can offer a discount for those customers who have accumulated a certain amount of proof of purchase labels from the goods–this reinforces the fact that the consumer will buy this good repeatedly and therefore benefits by buying this reusable container.

Of course, lots of advertising would come out of a product transition like this, but it would again be beneficial for the company advocating this move and make the consumer feel better by simply buying  into it and therefore contributing to helping the environment.

The reusable containers of course could bear the name of the company as well as the specific product.  Next step is for the company is to then overhaul the majority of its packaging for these mainstay products.  Either they could go the route of the Whole Foods wave of offering goods through big containers that the purchaser then takes out themselves by the pound or they could just reinvent the wheel a little by putting their products in mundane packaging.  The purpose of the new packaging is not to be attractive, rather it must safely contain the product for the consumer to empty at home in their reusable container and then dispose of in their recycles bin.  Packaging can range from biodegradable substances such as paper or plastics that can be recycled.

What about the ingredient and nutrition labels you ask?  Well, if you purchase the reusable product container from that company, it will have that on the back automatically.  However, as they are required by law to provide it to the consumer each time they purchase the good I believe there are a couple of solutions to this.  There is the soy-based ink that can be used on a paper packaging, the labels can be provided separately in a dispenser on the supermarket shelf that the product is housed on or as every other company seems to be advocating the information on the nutrition label could be available on the internet or in a phone app (thank you Apple iPhone revolution).

Again, I certainly don’t claim intellectual property rights on this idea, I simply have thought about it over the past few years as I’ve noticed just how much we waste and that there really is another way.  Additionally, I concede that the convenience packaging can’t be entirely eradicated as there’s reason we have “convenience stores” especially for the traveler.  Yet I know that this is a plausible scenario that actually can benefit both profit-seeking company and conscientious consumer while helping de-clutter our Earth of our needless trash.

As for history, it really does hold some nuggets of wisdom that we should note.  Although pestilence and disease was much more rampant, our ancestors did buy their goods in bulk as well and often used reusable containers that weren’t glamorous.

I’m slightly discouraged by how small I feel as a stay-at-home at times, but I think that by sharing this with you and even trying a small letter-writing campaign, maybe someone will notice and help make a change that will cause a chain-reaction for the better in this small subject area of nonperishable, dry goods we all love and use.

RVSB

Can We Afford to Be “Granola”? (Part 2)

In Part One of my essay series “Can We Afford to Be ‘Granola’?, I touched upon the environment and how most of the public can pitch in with helping preserve our resources by each doing our part with trash reduction and combating litter in public places like our shorelines.

I’ve thought about it over the past few days and have decided that our food choices and clothing options should be covered in Part Two.

We Are What We Eat

In the past decade there has been a clear divide forming between two main types of grocery consumers in our nation.  Those who must have mostly organic/locally produced products and those who cannot buy (literally) into this greener/sustainable streak and continue to purchase what they need at the lowest possible price regardless of content.

I’m one of the fence-sitters.  I really do want to have the pesticide-free produce.  I’d rather consume and give my family non-GMO wheat and soy products.  I like my cows to eat free-range and vegetarian instead of ground-up chick (as in baby chickens) meal and cloistered in smelly, stuffy conditions.  I do admit to buying “happy cow” milk like Horizon or Stonyfield Farm.

But practically speaking, it is very expensive to do this effectively-at least for my family’s checking account.  So how can we approach this problem with a compromise solution?

I do believe it is possible in most places to acquaint ourselves with what is locally available in our immediate geographical area.  For instance, I live in South Florida where I can actually pay less for much of my produce needs if I avoid going to the supermarket chain and instead visit the local produce stand off the side of the road or the green markets in local towns on the weekends. (check out www.localharvest.org)

For those of us unfamiliar, there are still programs like cheese (for Wisconsin residents example is: www.burnettdairy.com) and meat/poultry co-ops available whereby for a certain price you are able to receive a variety of products contingent on what’s seasonal.

Simple changes like using organic canned tomato sauce as a base for your pasta recipes instead of buying spaghetti sauce can be affordable and delicious.  It is also cheaper at times to purchase frozen veggies/fruits and still enjoy the flavors as they are frozen at their peak.

As for wheat and soy products, I have found it to be more cost-effective to eat less of those products overall so that we can afford to purchase the non-GMO types that I prefer to feed my son and husband.  That may be too far for you and of course that’s alright, these are the executive decisions we all must make for ourselves and our families based on what we believe is the best course of action.

Clothing Clutter

I don’t know if there’s ever been a poll or survey taken, but I’m curious to know how our wardrobes rank in our pack-rat tendencies in America.

After living a semi-gypsy life this past year, I’m still astounded by the amount of clothing that I possess.  I have tried to donate items and afterwards I spot something on sale or some item I must have and purchase more-ending up with the same amount.  So you can imagine my downright disillusionment when I noticed clothing that was ‘organic’ or made from ‘sustainable’ sources like bamboo.

Honestly, I haven’t delved enough into the area of textiles and how our clothing is made specifically.  Although I do sigh each time I notice that my clothing is made in China–I keep imagining sweatshops even though I don’t know how bad those places really are.

Funny enough, “granola” people seem to have this stereotypical image that they always dress in neutral colors like oatmeal, brown, beige and grays.  But if there is a true granola way of dressing, what would it be?

My theory is still in drafting mode as I am struggling to reduce my amount of clothing, but I will share it with you:  First step is what I’ve been saying, take a survey of your wardrobe and note what you haven’t worn in at least 6 months-one year’s time.  Those items should be the first you pull out for possible donation/Ebay/yard sale.  However, you may have an emotional attachment to some; write that down and read it back to yourself and ponder whether you’re truly that attached (if you are, no shame, I still own the dress my husband met me in 13 years ago!).

Next, evaluate your turnover status with your clothes on a daily basis.  In other words, do you wear an outfit just once and then throw it in the hamper even if there are no stains/noxious smells?  Consider wearing some clothing more than once if possible and professional.  I found in the past that the dryer and the iron did wonders for my suits and other items that I wore often.  Of course, this course of action excludes certain items like socks and intimates (although it has been recently surveyed that many women wear their bras more often than they should between washings-eek!)

Applying even just these two main actions-reducing wardrobe and laundry loads-can dramatically help cut down on the energy spent on cleaning and cost of clothing overall.  Once again, this would truly make a “green footprint’ if everyone participated in such an overhaul in clothing habits.  This of all my “granola” pointers has to be the most difficult for us. In the latter part of the 20th century and now early 21st century, we have no idea what it’s like for us to  have-to make our own clothing-we can buy it so cheaply at Walmart or even a garage sale.

By delving into areas like our physical environment, our grocery consumption and our clothing I have come to the yeoman’s conclusion that we all can afford to be “granola”–except that the cost is still pretty steep for us as it takes discipline and personal accountability.  These traits are tough to be consistent with when we are battered with our never-ending responsibilities and unforeseen stresses.

Perhaps if you’ve taken the extra few minutes to read this you’ll think about what you can do and apply it slowly to your daily habits until it takes root like a seed that’s sprouted slowly and thoroughly in the soil after constant care.

RVSB

Can We Afford to Be “Granola”? (Part 1)

What is Granola?

I believe it was about 5 years ago when one of my friends mentioned the state of being a “granola mom” when recalling her birthing experiences with her two children.  At the time I thought it was a pretty corny way of describing being “earthy”, “natural” and the tendency to lean toward products labeled “organic”.

As usual, in life we sometimes end up swallowing our own sarcasm as we walk right into the realm of possibilities we earlier thought ourselves immune.  I currently refer to myself as a “granola mom” but with a stipulation that I aim for the 80/20 rule (80% of the time I try to do the best for my family in terms of food and home purchases–that’s not to say I actually make that goal consistently).

In recent years as “living green” and propaganda films like former Vice-President Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” have become common jargon and an underlying mantra for Americans and other citizens of planet Earth.  Yet, I have noted flaws in the system of environmentally friendly living that set up many folks for failure when they try do better for themselves and their families.

THE ENVIRONMENT

Let’s begin with one of the most ominous terms; the connotation is so heavy and complicated when we dwell on the word: environment.

As compelling as “The Inconvenient Truth” may have been to some of us and other programs by local groups or cable networks like Discovery and History Channel, these messages have rarely been able to mobilize the majority of those who view them.  My guess is that although books and media presentations can espouse protecting the environment, saving the environment and such as strong messages, they lack the simple instructions that the everyday person truly needs.  How can I, a mother, a father, a single person help to save the environment?  Forget owning a Toyota Prius, it has to be more involved than just one major purchase.

Here’s one idea, how about our personal waste habits?  I’m not just talking about having your multicolored recycling bins–although that is a start for many who still just throw everything into the same trash bag at home.  Picture this if you can’t get motivated:  take a shovel and dig a hole in your backyard (if you have one, if not, imagine a large open trash bin outside your door).  After digging the hole, proceed to dump your daily trash into that hole and watch it pile up over the course of the week.  In addition to the stench and attraction of bugs, et cetera, you may be getting the idea of how this will go without actually doing it.

That’s what we are all doing every week: we are dumping all of our trash into a big pile in our soil, the soil that feeds us, feeds all the animals around us, some of which we eat, some of which fertilize the other living things called plants that you eat if you are a vegetarian or a vegan.

So my offering is that perhaps all of us (including my flawed self) should actually do something we have sincere control over.  Let’s minimize our trash.  It costs us next to nothing to do so.  It just means we have to be more (gasp!) accountable to ourselves and make the extra effort.  Maybe we buy less products that aren’t already packaged in recyclable materials.  For those more ambitious, you can email or send snail mail to those companies who don’t use recycled or recyclable packaging.  Get your children involved in how they discard trash, they are much more adaptable than us rigid adults–perhaps they could show us the better example!

Another simple instruction that I can envision most people being capable of evolving as a part of their daily habits is directed to those who live near bodies of water used for recreation: beaches, rivers, streams, springs, ponds, lakes and the like.

I love taking my son T.A. to the beach, I’ve always been drawn to the intersection of land and water life crashing into each other on the shores.  As I’ve grown older I’ve become highly sensitive to the amount of trash found on the sand at public and private beaches: even the millionaire Palm Beach island is not immune to this tainted condition.

After several years of personal “tsk-tsking” and so-called goals to attend the next annual beach cleaning event (which I NEVER get around to), I finally found initiative after my son tangled himself in beach trash as an infant last year.  I grabbed one of my plastic grocery bags usually reserved for the surprise #2 item diaper and used it as both a glove and trash receptacle to pick up the trash around us.  A sense of peace descended on me as the sand finally was free of trash around and the bag was chock full of discards.

As I left the beach that fateful day, I looked back as we walked up the stairs to the street level and saw that a young woman was seating herself where we had been and was sitting in what seemed to be the start of a yoga meditation.  My heart warmed that we had helped someone else enjoy the beach for their personal purposes without the stress of enduring unnecessary trash.

Ever since I always pick up trash with my son during our beach visits, I know it may not make a huge difference in the big scheme of things.  However, imagine the possibilities if everyone who stepped foot onto a beach around the world either picked up trash or avoided littering?  The sad reality is that even my beloved Greece’s postcard-worthy beaches are becoming shore landfills with sometimes up to an inch thick of junk on the rocky and sandy shores.

Again, it doesn’t take throwing hundreds and thousands of dollars into drives to clean the beaches and advertising beach cleanup days that even the independently wealthy scarcely attend.  It simply takes you and I not allowing ourselves to trash or to ignore the trash by our water hole of choice.

To be continued…in Can We Afford to Be “Granola”? (Part 2)

Wyoming Life

"God bless it and keep it wild"