Good Choices to Help Preserve Nature
Does having more stuff make us really happier?
Everything we buy has embedded energy costs that result in greenhouse gas emissions, from the extraction of raw materials to production, packaging and transportation. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, stuff bought by the typical household contributes over a quarter of the CO2 emissions from that household. That’s about 5 tons every year, equivalent to the CO2 uptake from 200 trees. And while backhoes, factories, power plants, and trucks might be humming to keep us supplied with lots of stuff, the question remains as to whether or not we need all this new stuff, and if we are truly happier or just feel overwhelmed by all that clutter.
While we recommend in general that you buy just what you need, we’d like to offer guidance on how to save energy and money by choosing to reduce and reuse common items in your household. While recycling is a good action and necessary sometimes, it’s better to reduce and reuse items since it takes more energy to recycle. However, recycling is still preferable to discarding. Benefits of reducing and reusing include cost savings to you, a less cluttered life and greater peace of mind as well as more undisturbed natural resources, less energy consumed and air pollution produced to haul waste, smaller garbage dumps, and lower carbon emissions for the Earth that your children and future generations will inherit.
Here are some easy, quick ideas of things to do. You may already do some or all of these. If so, Bravo! You may have others, and we’d appreciate it if you post suggestions.
- Bring reusable bags with you to the grocery or any store. Hand-carry things to your car without taking a bag if you can.
- Pack lunches in reusable boxes or bags.
- Avoid individual-sized products, such as small bags of chips.
- Buy veggies that are loose, rather than wrapped in plastic.
- Use an electric razor instead of buying a disposable one or replacement blades.
- Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins (use paper napkins made of recycled paper such as Marcal Small Steps when you need to)
- Use washcloths instead of paper towels (use “select-a-size” paper towels when you need to).
- Buy big packs of toilet paper made with recycled paper and no chlorine bleach such as Trader Joe’s.
- Buy powdered Gatorade mix and mix it up in a reusable bottle instead of buying liquid Gatorade. Or drink water (not in plastic bottles, of course)!
- Buy cold brew iced tea bags and make a pitcher of tea for the week in 10 minutes.
- Make your own seltzer drinks with a Soda Stream machine, your own water, and a slice of lemon!
- Look for things you need in second-hand stores or online stores like e-bay or Craig’s list.
- Share tools and equipment with neighbors – Pittsfield Athenaeum has a tool library!
The cost savings from many of the suggestions is minimal, though items numbered 12 and 13 could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Since a quarter of one’s carbon footprint may come from “stuff you buy,” reducing consumption of goods and reusing used goods can have a sizable impact, both for the energy consumed and slowing the waste stream. And it is as much about the mind-set: think not of oneself as a consumer of things, but a thoughtful citizen who uses just what they need.
Q: Why isn’t recycling enough? A: There’s a reason why recycling is the third word in the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” It takes energy and resources to recycle things. So, although some waste doesn’t end up in a landfill, it’s better if those items aren’t discarded at all, either because they can be used for another purpose, reused for the same purpose, or that you didn’t need to purchase them in the first place! That cuts down the waste of natural resources and energy far more than recycling does.
Q: Where should I start? A: Reflect on the main sources of waste in your home, and consider ways to reduce that waste. Also, consider the things you normally recycle to see if there is way to reuse these items. Don’t try to fix everything at once or completely eliminate waste, but take a first step and then another. And whenever you think, “I need this,” take a moment to consider whether you already have something that could work.
Q: Is it expensive to reduce and reuse? A: Not at all! In fact you’re likely to save money as you won’t need to buy new things as often or replace things as often. For example, if you buy reusable containers for snacks you’ll make up the cost of disposable baggies quickly.
Q: How can I convince my family to make the switch with me? A: You can try just making one change at a time. Once everyone gets used to it, you can introduce the next change. Another way is to make it a game and see who can reduce the most and save the most money or challenge your whole family to a goal like making one less bag of trash per week. Let your family know that reducing and reusing is trendy. Older or vintage items have a charm and uniqueness that you won’t get in something new.
Q: Why should I change my normal routine if I’m perfectly happy? A: There is real satisfaction that comes from knowing that you are cutting back on waste and making life more sustainable for everyone, including your friends and family, and the creatures who live on the planet with us. It can be fun to see how much waste you can reduce and where you can tweak your routine.
• Buy used furniture and household goods at Upstairs basement in Lee or Goodwill
• Buy gently used clothing and consign the clothes you no longer use
• Have shoes and other leather goods repaired at the cobbler
• Buy reusable cloth sandwich bags, shampoo bars and recycled and recyclable toothbrushes
• Buy reusable bottles and thermoses
• Search the many antique stores for cloth napkins and other great finds
• Staples sells computer paper with recycled content, battery rechargers, and Soda Stream machines
• Cold Brew ice tea bags are sold at Stop & Shop