Tag Archives: trash

Don’t leave home without them

Many of us work hard to be conscientious about the environment at home. We take a lot of steps to reduce our consumption and our waste. And to recycle and reuse. But something weird happens when we leave our little biodomes. Maybe it’s because we don’t buy the supplies at the office, or take out the trash at the Starbucks. Or maybe it’s because it’s inconvenient and extra work to care enough. Or, quite simply, we forgot. I am not casting stones. I do this constantly and get really irritated with myself for not having a re-usable cup handy at coffee shops and for using disposable items at the office. This is especially frustrating to me because I really do put a lot of effort into these things at home. I mean, I hand tear the mail and cereal boxes for the composter, for Pete’s sake.

What I have realized, though, is that it is all about small transitions. My habits are much more eco-conscientious today than they were last month. And I am light years from the neanderthal I was a year ago. ( Irony Alert: Neanderthals were actually, probably pretty eco-friendly. Really, I just mean I used to buy a lot of paper plates and stuff). So every once and again I try a new eco-thing and eventually it just becomes habit.It just becomes part of your routine. But let’s not forget what happens when we leave home.

Let’s start with work. Our office spaces don’t always make it convenient to be green. Paper cups –or horror of horrors, styrofoam cups–are usually readily available. Sometimes there is no storage for our ceramic or reusable mugs. Or there is no where to wash the mug from time to time. Also, there is often just no culture for it. But it can start with you. This is when you hear some inspirational song in your head, like from Rocky.

If you are in management, think about getting a set of office mugs with your company logo. Encourage your employees to use them. One sneaky trick: take a while to stock up the paper cups to force people to use the office mugs. Or, think of creative contests where people are rewarded for using mugs. Do the same thing with re-usable plastic drinking glasses to encourage people to use those for water. Yes. Some people will complain about washing their own cups. But we are adults and can probably handle this task. Laziness is not a good excuse for all that waste and cost.

If you are a mere employee, then let the change start with you. Make it a point to bring your own cup/mug. Start a dialogue with your colleagues. No one wants to admit they don’t care about the environment. It’s like admitting that they hate puppies or that they just punched grandma. Maybe once you have converted (or shamed) some people into joining your I-guess-I-don’t-want-dolphins-to-die-and-the-world-to-go-dark-and-cold club, then you can talk to management about implementing a mug culture. You can event back it up with facts–not necessarily about dolphins dying–but about cost savings and stuff.

For example, in my small office space of 20 or so employees, let’s assume 3/4 of the people use at least one disposable cup a day, so that is 15 cups per day, multiplied by 253 ( rough, rough calculation of days in the year, minus weekends, minus holidays). That is 3795 cups per year. My office puchases these 16 oz. “foam” cups from Quill, an office supply company, that cost around $55 per 1000 (if you buy by the case). So even by the most conservative estimates, my small office is spending over $200 a year just in cups. And that’s for the cheap cups. My old office of roughly the same number of people bought those paper cups with the weird bubbly skin on the outside. The cost of providing those for an office for one year is over $400. Throw in the cost of post-it notes and legal pads, the costs of sending mail by post, and the costs of printing memos and other documents. If you are a business person, you know that these things add up. Someone who did a lot more work than I did put together this fabulous and startling article about going paperless. And, here’s another article covering things from coffee filters to water usage at the office.

The office is just one place in which we forget our good habits. Getting a latte or water when you are out and about is another. Did you know that roughly 250,000 plastic bottles are dumped every hour and that plastic bottles constitute close to 50% of recyclable waste in the dumps. Even worse,
it takes an average of 700 years to decompose in a landfill. ( Read about those and other statistics here). Now, I have gotten pretty good about brining a re-fillable water bottle with me, but I am just horrible about remembering a mug for my chais and lattes, and occasionally, my chai lattes. I make lots of excuses for myself: My husband took them all, they were all dirty, it’s not as big as a tall or grande latte so it’s not that good of a deal. These are all excuses. The truth is that I just don’t think of it. But, once again, getting into the habit can mean keeping the habit. So I just have to start. You, too! In the meantime, you can read this cool, slightly snarky article that reveals a lot about this issue. The authors are a lot cooler than I will ever be–they live in Portland, after all–but my message is the same: “‘Switching to a reusable mug carries with it the perception that it’s inconvenient only because it is different than the norm. Change is scary … But once commuter mugs become the norm … it’s no big deal. ‘I mean, sometimes you’re going to be out and not have a mug with you, … but if you have one in your car/bike/office, it becomes part of your normal routine’.”

Take Your Stuff and Shove It

This weekend I had a powerful lesson reinforced: No matter how good a deal something is, if you forget you have it or fail to use it, it’s just a waste of money.

This lesson was not relayed in a subtle manner.  Someone who shall remain nameless is contemplating moving, you see. So some of us helped her clear out the kitchen cabinets. We had to throw away a huge quantity of unopened and expired items. Don’t misunderstand, we’re not squeamish. We all seemed to agree that many items could be consumed past their expiration date. But when things expired almost a decade ago, we drew the line.

This unnamed person grew up dirt poor just after the depression. She didn’t gather and forage in the wild in order to have free fruit to add to her daily protein shakes.  She didn’t gather dandelion greens to try the trendy new superfood.  Rather, her family canned in order to have food in the winter.  I can acknowledge that the projects that I smugly post about “sewing”are style over substance. And that the latest, newest up-cycle I pretend to have invented are likely things that this person did out of necessity. If and when I ever get around to canning, it will probably be so I can try to create a gourmet fruit butter.  I get that I am not coming up with new ideas. I do things because of the luxury I have to choose to do them.  This person and her family did things because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t eat.

It is perhaps with this mentality–the one that feels compelled to gather for future stores–that would lead a person to have accumulated so much stuff, particularly food. When I joked with her that she should open up a convenience store on her block, well… it wasn’t a joke.  She had enough inventory. She had so many cans of beans and tomatoes that she could easily have made chili every day for a month without running out of either. Yet, I bet this poor soul still buys a couple cans of each when she finds them to be on sale. I mean, how else did she end up with over 50 cans of beans and tomatoes. And at least 40% of the cans had expiration dates of more than a year ago– many more than five years ago. And here it was–the height of irony and quite a bit of dismay–rather than being the frugal shopper on a fixed income that she thought she was, she was really just wasting money.

We made an interesting discovery this weekend, too.  Over the years, she kept filling up her kitchen with cabinets and refrigerators…saying she needed more storage.  It got to the point where every surface of every wall had a table, cabinet, refrigerator or shelf on it.  Her kitchen had two full sized single door refrigerators, plus the freezer in the garage.  There were two elderly people living in the house.  Two.  That’s all.  Just two.  What they had started doing when they ran out of room in the pantry and cabinets and shelves was store stuff in the fridges.  There were several boxes of pasta in the refrigerator and several boxes of Jiffy Cake mix and corn bread mix in the freezer.  I’m sure there were other things in there that should have been in the pantry, but I was a bit stunned.  Mostly by the eight packages of american cheese singles that were blocking my line of sight.  Meanwhile, dozens and dozens of cans of vegetables and chicken stock were shoved forgotten in other cabinets.  Along with jars and jars of tomatoes and venison that were canned.  She later admitted that it has been years since she has canned (yet she still held on to four different pressure canners, too!)

What this person had been doing was extreme, but it is something that so many of us are guilty of.  We buy these houses that have an extra bedroom, or a basement or an attic–or even all three– and then we proceed to get so much stuff that we fill up each space until it overflows and we create a new space until it overflows and we finally declare that we don’t have enough room.  The truth is that our houses are not too small.  They are just too full of stuff.

I’ve written about this before.   You are not a store. You should not have inventory.  Whatever your shopping obsession, the first thing you must to is just stop.  Stop buying more stuff.  See what you have and get it organized.  Many people buy double or triple an item–or if you’re the person above, nonuple the item–simply because they don’t realize they already have one, or several. The next step is to start using your stuff.  Once you use your stuff, you will be conscientious about what you have and what you need.  Then, if you realize you have no need of it anymore, sell it.  Your stuff is just money waiting to be made. Once you start to get rid of your stuff, not only will you realize how much money you wasted by buying it in the first place, but you will realize that you don’t want to keep wasting your money in that way.

I have picked on various family members–but, then again, I have the blog.  Perhaps, in way of reparation, I will admit to my guilty addiction–though I have received counseling and am in recovery.  It’s romance novels.  You know the kind, with the half-dressed lady in a gown on the front and a dark-haired stud with tanned, muscled forearms holding/capturing/abducting her (not Fabio, though, that’s, like, my mother’s romance novel).  They always have names like “Tough Rider, Tender Kisses.” Anyhow, I had hundreds of them.  I am a pretty avid reader and I read quickly, so I would simply devour these books.  I hid them all away in a cabinet and shut the door.  I wouldn’t admit to myself how many I had…or how much money I was spending on them.  Sometimes, I even bought the same book twice (even I can admit they all kinda look the same after a while). I even re-read them multiple times, but still didn’t stop buying one or two, or several, a month.

Then my husband and I agreed to purge our stuff and I made serious efforts to sell them.  Well, actually, he gave me a Nook for Christmas and strongly hinted that the books had to go.  In any case, I tried every trick in the book to make some money back on these.  For the thousands of dollars that I spent over the course of several years, I probably only made back around three hundred.  Maybe. I am, perhaps, being a little too kind to my folly. This taught me everything I talked about above. In the end,  I realized how much money I had spent in the past and I decided not to throw away that much money again.  I am now happily checking out eBooks from the library. They are free and don’t take up any space.  Plus, I don’t have to feel sheepish about reading a book with two half-naked people on the cover.