If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either. Joseph Wood Krutch

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

If you wander around long enough you can usually find a garbage can, probably one that is stuffed and overflowing, emblazoned with the slogan "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle". I think this slogan was developed in the 70"s and actually meant something back then. Now it is just a conscience buster. It is OK to load up the can as long as you read the slogan and promise next time to try and reuse something. But I really got to thinking about this slogan again. This really is the order we should think about things in.

Reduce--This is probably my biggest goal. I have cut back considerably but recently signed up for the Yahoo Group Riot for Austerity, 90% Emissions Reduction Project and apparently have a long way to go. I'm not sure what they propose is readily possible for a city or burb dweller. This group has the simple goal to reduce what we use by 90%. Here are the austere goals they have in mind to save the planet followed by my own comments.

  • 50 gallons per PERSON, per YEAR
It is my goal to "Divorce my Car" and move closer to where I shop. work etc. but right now that is an impossibility. When I am finally able to accomplish this, I will have met this goal. At least directly. Must not forget that every single thing we buy leaves a fuel footprint as well. We often think this stuff grows like mushrooms in the stores. No...it is trucked in.


  • 1,100 kWh per HOUSEHOLD, per YEAR
To be honest this one is a little difficult to figure out for the average Joe like me. I need to get out my bill and see what I am using now. Living in an apartment I also don't think they would take kindly to me punching a chimney through the wall and putting a wood stove in the corner. So...this may be unrealistic at the time. At least in the winter. However, we have stopped turning the heat on at every slight chill in the air and wear sweatshirts a lot more. We also have a good supply of blankets in the living area and use them quite often. Nothing like cozying up under the blankets too for a little book reading before bed. There are also other ways to stay warm but this is a family blog.

Heating and cooking energy:

  • If your home uses propane or natural gas, 100 therms per HOUSEHOLD, per YEAR
  • If your home uses heating oil, 75 gallons per HOUSEHOLD, per YEAR.
  • If your home uses locally and sustainably harvested wood: Unlimited
  • If your home uses unsustainably harvested wood, 5 cords per HOUSEHOLD, per YEAR
Everything in my home is electric. Everything! Hey, it's the Northwest and we are proud of those fish kills we have labeled hydroelectric dams. Except all that power runs off to California now to run the AC instead of sticking closer to home. Which brings me to a good point. Why would anyone need AC here in the Northwest. We see what, two 100 degree days per year. Give me a break. Even if my apartment had it I wouldn't turn it on. But yet I see AC compressors all over the place. And AC uses a lot of energy. On the really hot days why not just turn on the fans and pretend it is a vacation in the desert for a couple of days. How did we all become such wimps?


  • 0.45 pounds of garbage per PERSON, per DAY
Wow, I guess I will have to weigh my garbage now. We take about one bag a week to the dumpster and so I think we might be getting close to this one but I really have no idea. I buy all I can in bulk and we eat strictly plant-based so most of the stuff leaving in the trash can is biodegradable anyhow. I realize that is not necessarily good for the landfill and am looking for a place to take it for composting. I have no real backyard that is mine for a bin and my wife hates worms so an inside worm bin is currently out of the question. Rumor has it that the county is going to start a composting drop and when they do I will be first in line. We create a lot of compost and I really hate to see it go to waste. If we can find a place with a backyard then I will start a composting bin. Hopefully that will be soon.

I should mention that it is only because landfills are essentially buried and sealed off from the air that biodegradable waste is an issue. It is my understanding this actually converts the decay into a greenhouse gas. and if the dumps were open air then the stuff would just rot on its own and not be an issue. However the volume of garbage we piggish Americans produce every day is more than can be left in the open. We actually truck and barge the stuff around looking for a place to put it. Read "Garbage Land." It is a real eye opener.


  • 10 gallons per PERSON, per DAY
I guess I will have to stop showering and flushing the toilet. How do I meet this rule in an apartment? I don't think it is possible. They suggest buckets of sawdust instead of using the toilet but what do I do with it then? Throw it out the back door? This is an impossible goal for an apartment dweller I think.

Consumer goods:

  • $1,000 worth per HOUSEHOLD, per YEAR.
  • Used goods count only ten percent of their purchase price (so you could buy $10,000 of used stuff).
  • Used goods that were donated to Goodwill or the church rummage sale, etc, can be bought in unlimited amounts (since might otherwise just end up in landfill).
OK, this is one that I may be able to manage easily since I am basically broke anyway. And I actually do love shopping at Goodwill type places. There are some real treasures to be had if you look. We live in a disposable nation and it is amazing what people give and throw away. I recently discovered that if you need furniture just wander around the dumpster areas of apartment complexes. People throw perfectly good stuff away every day when they move. Actually, I worked in an apartment complex years ago and some people would leave out the front door and never look back. Leaving behind literally everything. Clothes, furniture, shoes, refrigerators full of food. Amazing.


  • No less than 70% of food purchases should be organic and be grown within 100 miles.
  • No more than 25% of food purchases should be bulk, dry goods (flour, pasta, etc) from more than 100 miles away.
  • No more than 5% of food purchases should be wet goods (meat, fruit, shampoo) from more than 100 miles away.
This is a goal we are moving toward. We buy about 95% organic now and are working on the "local" part. One of our goals this year is to buy as much as possible at the farmers market. That should solve the "within 100 miles" conundrum, at least in the growing season. When shopping at the grocery store I try to buy as much as possible from Washington and Oregon growers but winter usually gets a little lean in the local department. I am much more conscious of the ramifications of buying lettuce from Mexico now. That is a lot of fuel spent for my salad. Certainly we can grow enough lettuce locally to sustain us. Once I move I will start a garden and produce as much of what we eat as possible. I think we meet the 25% and 5% goal mentioned already.

Mind you now, we all must meet these goals, every single person on the planet, to stop our self-destruction. I assure you most in developed nations are not that motivated. I do fear though that nature is much stronger than any of us, and always seeks a balance to force sustainability. We have mickey moused around with nature so much, eventually it is going to strike back. And then, we will have no choice but to make these changes. Forget the Alamo. we should all remember the dust bowl of Oklahoma and the potato famine of Ireland instead.

Reuse-This is a difficult one. Most of the crap we have now is not made to be fixed. For example, I have a small appliances I use daily to grind flax etc. The only parts that are sturdy are the contact parts. The rest is cheap plastic and over time that plastic is cracking, simply from age and vibration. When it finally cracks all the way the motor will be out of line with the shaft and that will cause it to wear out. Can I fix it? Well, if there were a place to buy parts I guess I could. But, there is no place to buy parts. When I was a kid there were small appliance repair shops, but not anymore. Now we just throw it away and buy another cheap one. Even the computer that sits on my desk that I use for writing this blog is mostly disposable. Hard drive crashed? Buy another one. CD not working, buy another one. No one fixes these things and then puts them back in. You just pop down to CompUSA and buy it again. Convenient, yes but right? Not really.

Recycle-Ah, I love this one. I have become really good at recycling. I have stuff stacked all over which I run to the recycling places on a regular basis. Most of my garbage gets recycled. Any batteries I use get recycled. Anything I can recycle gets recycled. I have become very aware.

This fall I am planning on completing the Master Recycler" program. Why? Because this is the jumping off place into awareness. If you can make people aware of complete recycling you can get them thinking about reducing and reusing too. I'm not talking about the yellow curbside box recycling. That in some ways is a cop out. I mean thinking about everything that can be recycled. Batteries, compost, clothing, old electronics, etc. Things that are not necessarily picked up at the curb but can still be recycled with just a little effort. If you can keep it out of the landfill, then do! It is much easier than one thinks. It just takes a little practice and it becomes second nature. So much so that when my wife and I attended a Sustainability Fair and were handed a sample in a plastic bottle we could not bring ourselves to throw it away in the trash. And guess what? The Sustainability Fair had no recycle bins. We both found that very weird.

Well, I have really rambled on this time. Check out the 90% project. I'm not sure it is attainable for everyone living in the middle of the burbs but it has some worthwhile goals to strive for. The link is over there to your right.

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