Beginning with Henry David Thoreau and the philosophy of the Transcendentalists, the Green Movement has slowly edged its way into the human psyche. While this way of living was originally believed to only appeal to hippies and other activists, it has now become commonplace. It is not unusual to see people drinking from reusable containers, carrying their groceries and lunches in reusable bags, and wearing clothing that advertises for this movement.
My mother was the person who started me off with this, when she taught me to recycle. She did this mostly because we lived out in the country and did not have a garbage service. We recycled cans, bottles and newspapers, burned what we could, and were left with one small trash bag every week (for a family of eight), which we would usually dispose of in the dumpster behind the local high school.
Upon graduation, I moved to the nearest city and took the available trash service for granted for several years. I threw out anything and everything, never giving much thought to recycling or reusing. I wish I could say that this was due to an inability to do so, but the truth is that I was lazy and unaware of the impact that my actions had on the environment.
All of this changed after I took a fascinating social philosophy class. There, we discussed at length the green movement, sustainable living, and the past, present and future impact that living wastefully and thoughtlessly has on the Earth. This class reminded me of the importance of making responsible choices throughout my day, and I made a commitment to start making changes immediately.
Some of these changes were easy to implement: I had some broken laundry baskets that I was about to get rid of; instead, I labeled them “plastic,” “glass,” “metal,” and “paper” and was able to reuse them. I bought recycled goods whenever possible (there are trash bags, paper towels, toilet paper, etc., that fall under this category). I made my own cleaning goods whenever possible, and bought environmentally-friendly products when I could. I shopped at a local grocery store that allowed and encouraged its customers to take their groceries home in the boxes that the store would otherwise throw away, and I then reused the boxes for storage, crafts, and to start fires.
After all of the obvious bases were covered, I brainstormed for other ways that I could be more environmentally conscious. I started using cloth diapers for my daughter. This may not seem like a big deal to all of you non-parents out there, but I was throwing away between four and six diapers a day, which equated to an average of 150 diapers a month. This not only helped my local landfill, but my pocketbook as well. I paid nearly $100 for twelve cloth diapers and additional inserts, and never had to buy another disposable diaper again. In fact, they were so durable that I passed them on to my sister-in-law, who made good use of them before passing them on to her sister-in-law.
I’m a homeschooler, and I discovered that many of the things I was throwing away could easily be reused for a craft project of some sort. Milk jugs can be made into bird feeders, as can empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls; paper with printing on just one side can be used for its other side; paper that has been thoroughly used can still be used in collages and the like (along with used magazines).
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises I had was when it came time to buy some patio furniture. We had a plastic set that was slowly falling to pieces, and when I looked into recycling it, I was dismayed to discover that there were no local places that would accept it for recycling. After so many months of scrupulous green living, I felt defeated when I ended up throwing our old furniture away. When I shopped for new furniture, I eventually settled on cast aluminum patio furniture, partly because of its attractiveness, but also largely because aluminum is 100% recyclable, unlike plastic.
My husband started off as a large impediment to the changes I was trying to implement. He had grown up in the city and had a “sustainable living is for hippies” mentality. I frequently had to dig his soda cans and glass bottles out of the garbage can. However, when he no longer had to pay for diapers and saw that I was making money from the aluminum cans I was recycling, he changed his mind and started helping out a little more.
Now, it is commonplace for my family to recycle and reuse whenever possible. My son has actually caught me mistakenly throwing away something that I could have recycled, and he gleefully reprimanded me for it. My daughter is still a little too young to understand about living green, but we have moved back out to the country, and it is my hope that she will grow up thinking it is normal, and that “wasteful living is for losers,” whereas sustainable living is for everyone.