30 Days Towards Sustainability

Day 6: Reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, make it over, make do, do without.

Frugality is the essence of today's tip. All of us have grandparents and great-grandparents that made it through the Great Depression, and this advice comes directly from them. Perhaps I should start by saying. . . "Your grandparents called and told me to tell you 'waste not, want not'. . ."

REDUCE: In the words of one popular sustainability campaign - Use Less Stuff! You are NOT your stuff. Your stuff is NOT you. You do NOT need an ever-increasing pile of stuff to have a nice life. Indeed, an ever-increasing pile of stuff, even if it is nice, expensive stuff, is a serious threat to the quality of your life. The purpose of life is not the accumulation of stuff. Enough stuff already! Just Use Less Stuff. Teach your kids to Just Use Less Stuff. (And teach them well.)

REUSE: Reuse the stuff you already have. Don't use it once or twice and then wrap it carefully in black plastic and throw it away to be buried in a landfill. Future archeologists already have enough stuff to sort through from this era. They do not need yours. After you eat the pickles, reuse the jar. Store seeds, macaroni, beans, peas, corn, flour in it. Drink home-brewed beer from it. Or home-brewed soda pop. Or water. Be creative and adaptable.

RECYCLE: If you just can't find another use for something in your household, RECYCLE! This can include putting appropriate stuff in the recycling containers provided by your city's solid "waste" service. But it can also include donating useful items to charities, thrift stores, or gifting them to other people. Have a garage sale! Or have a gift event (put everything out like a garage sale, only put a sign up - "FREE STUFF"). Metals can be sold at recycling centers. In most areas, you can put metals out on the curb and they will be picked up by roadside recyclers and taken to metal recycling companies.

REPAIR: These days, people often just replace something that simply needs repair. We think this is "cheaper", but that's because many costs are externalized. Some items are manufactured in a way that makes it impossible to repair them. Avoid buying such items. Find good local repair people and support them with your business.

MAKE IT OVER: Reinvent new uses for items. For example, I wanted a pot hanger for my kitchen. So I rustled around among my stuff, and found the grate of an outdoor grill and some lengths of chain. All that I had to actually buy was some u-bolts, and voila, I have a nice pot hanger in my kitchen. Pots and pans hang from S hooks that we made from coat-hangers. When we need something, often our first impulse is to rush to the store and buy it. The sustainability choice, however, is to make "buying something new" your LAST resort. First ask yourself if this is something you really need. Second, see if you have the "raw materials" to make over something. Next, see if you can find it in the "after market" (thrift stores, garage sales, flea markets, etc.) Only as a last resort should you go to the store and buy something new.

MAKE DO and DO WITHOUT: EEK! How can you say this! We are consumers! We have a duty to consume! That, of course, is the attitude that brought us to the present situation. Learning to do without, learning to make do with what we have, are important sustainability disciplines. Life has limits and boundaries, we should get used to that fact. And this isn't negative, either. Less stuff means less work. Everything takes maintenance. It has to be cleaned. It has to be stored. If you want it then you have to find it. The more stuff you have, the more time you will spend cleaning, storing, and finding. Life is short, why spend it cleaning, storing, and finding a bunch of stuff?


SUMMARY: Do not buy so much stuff, do not store so much stuff, do not live with so much stuff, do not haul around so much stuff, do not use so much stuff, and do not throw away so much stuff and bury so much stuff in the ground, where it becomes useless waste.

Bob Waldrop




These tips may be freely forwarded, credit for authorship is appreciated. They are posted online at http://www.energyconservationinfo.org/30days.htm .