Archive for February, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I have been thinking a lot about the mantra of the green revolution, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Reducing consumption of resources is crucial, because the second two steps only forestall the endgame. For example, a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic water bottle eliminates the embodied energy spent manufacturing the plastic water bottle and avoids creating a thing that although it might be reused a few times (I understand this is actually unsanitary), it is only 30% likely to be recycled in the US. Even if it is recycled, there is energy required to collect and transport said water bottle to the recycling facility and energy required to transform in into something else. No free lunch, no “get out of jail free” card with recycling.

Of course, we cannot avoid the consumption of everything, so we must try to reuse as the second step. I have been in the horns of this dilemma with things that are no longer suitable for their original purpose but can’t really be re-used unless aggressively transformed. Take my husband’s jeans. He has worn the knees out of about five pairs, and my first reaction was to try to cut them off and make jeans shorts (a/k/a “jorts”) but since we do not live in a warm climate and shorts are infrequently worn to begin with, and I am told jorts simply look wrong without a mullet hairstyle, which my husband cannot effect due to hair loss – well, jorts are out as a reuse solution. What to do?

I saw this pattern to make reusable grocery totes out of old jeans and thought, now there’s a win-win solution! So I took the five pairs of jeans and cut them into the appropriate pieces. Then I started sewing them together (using an old mechanical sewing machine, not my good Viking) and it was a lot of work. I started thinking, I haven’t even finished one bag, and this is not how I want to spend my time. So now I had piles of cut up jeans parts and not a shred of will to continue with this project. I neatly piled the project materials to the side to contemplate.

Then, I got hooked on this TV show called “Hoarders” where very troubled people (and sometimes their family members) are unable to part with stuff, much of it really trash, and live trapped amid dangerous, depressing, infested, unnecessary piles of crap. And I looked at that pile of denim scraps and thought, “This is how it starts”. My next thought was “denim is cotton – it will decompose, or compost”. Into the trash they went. I still felt guilty and unsettled about this.

Then I started reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin (on my NOOK! No paper to recycle!) and her first chapter is about how clearing clutter leads to much happiness. I decided to attack a plastic bag full of mismatched and/or holey socks that had been sitting in the closet waiting for someone, someday, to dump them out and make a decision. My husband and I got our coffee and with our pets looking on curiously, sorted the socks, gaining back over a dozen useful pairs that we probably would have purchased replacements for (Reduce! Reuse!). But, of course there were still the ‘orphans’ and the severely shredded socks that had to be disposed of. I told my husband, they are cotton, they are wool, they may have a bit of latex rubber in them, they will decompose! Out they went (in compostable paper bags).

Being green and clutter free is like dieting, just a series of moment by moment, day by day decisions, what to do and what not to do, that can sometimes be overwhelming. And sometimes it seems like the path of least resistance is, well, weak, or wrong. Not necessarily – even if we don’t get it right every time, at least if we do the right thing most of the time, that is progress.