Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The War on Waste

How much thought do you put into your garbage can? If you're anything like I was, that process consisted of "Throw stuff away. Take it out when it smells. Repeat." But sometime over the last year or so, I started to think more specifically about not only what I throw away, but how I throw it away and why I'm tossing it out in the first place:
  • Every time I purchase a food that I don’t make or grow myself, there is a package to throw away. A wrapper to discard.
  • When I buy shoes, they come in a box, wrapped in paper, stuffed with more paper and little plastic odor-absorbing balls that say Do Not Eat.
  • When buying furniture or kitchen utensils or toilet paper or underwear it all comes covered in plastic or bubble wrap or cardboard or zip-ties or tape.
  • When giving and receiving gifts we cover the package in more packaging, smother it with bows and ribbons and tags, or shove it into a bag drowning in tissue paper or foil.

And then there is the waste generated by the production of these items: the pulps, the plastics, the metals, the chemicals, the remnants, the by-products, the rejects. Since we don’t directly see this waste, we often push thoughts of it from our minds because to even begin to try to deal with it seems overwhelming.
Maybe it’s not my calling to put an end to all of the unnecessary waste generated by such a consumer-centric society, but I can easily do my part by consciously limiting my contribution to it. This was my life even before the Spending Fast:
  • I have a garden where I grow a small amount of my own produce. I grow herbs and spices in my windowsill.
  • I bring my own grocery sacks and produce bags to the store to save on plastic use. This was hard to remember to do at first but now it's second nature to me. Initially I bought these mesh produce bags for $5, and now I think about all the flimsy plastic bags I'm not wasting.
  • I do not buy processed foods like chips and cookies and frozen pizzas and instant dinners and individually wrapped snacks; instead, I make them myself... and they taste a lot better homemade. Ever made your own potato chips? You can do it in the microwave. Careful, they're addictive!
  • I recycle and sort my waste accordingly. This was a requirement when I moved to a certain part of the city, and plagued me at first. Now I separate glass/plastic and cardboard/paper without even thinking about it.
  • I do not buy magazines or subscribe to catalogs. I read any articles that interest me on the Internet for from the public library. Aren't magazines just 60% advertisements anyway?
  • I don’t purchase products that have gobs of ridiculous packaging. This plague seems to be especially prevalent in childrens’ toys, which is why I don’t buy toys for my nephew. For Christmas I gave him some old toys in great shape that once belonged to me. My old Whoopie Cushion was his favorite gift out of the dozens he received from the family, and it cost me nothing.
  • I make holiday gifts for my friends and family: dinner, cookies, treats, cookbooks, paintings, etc. I wrap them in gift bags I’ve received from others.
  • I have switched to buying mostly digital music and books (though I do have a record collection).
  • I do not buy bottled water. Ever. It is one of the biggest waste producers out there, both environmentally and monetarily. I use a water filter at home and have a portable bottle I refill when on the go.
  • I cook virtually all of my own meals. If I do eat at a restaurant, I patronize local establishments instead of chain restaurants or fast food drive-thrus.
  • I make my own stock from food scraps and chicken bones, then freeze the stock to use for later in soup or risotto. It sounds like a lot of work, but it's as easy as throwing everything in a big pot, filling it with water, simmering it for a while, and straining out the flavorful liquid. It squeezes every last nutrient and ounce of flavor out of the food I buy.
  • I don’t keep things that I don’t really use. It’s just something to lie around taking up space, something I have to clean, something I have to fix if it breaks, something I have to throw away when I’m sick of it. Instead, I give it to someone I know who would enjoy it or I donate it. My attic space is virtually empty.
Could I do more? Of course. I plan to. It takes time to re-train the mind to not want or need to buy things. It took me several years just to get to this point. I still struggle with wanting to buy new clothes and belts and concert tickets and massages and lipstick and vacations. This Spending Fast is hopefully going to help me conquer some of that. This is personally a very significant journey for me.
I also feel I am in the minority when it comes to the simplicity of consciousness of being. It’s difficult to do because it’s essentially counterculture. We are made to feel that we need to give gifts, that we need to buy things for other people and ourselves. Purchasing such items just creates a demand to manufacture more of those products, thereby generating even more waste. And when you have too much junk, you have to waste your time sorting through it, cleaning it, fixing it, figuring out what the hell to do with that basketball lamp that seemed like a good idea at the time.
(Seriously, why do you own this?)
I don’t know about you, but some of the best gifts I’ve ever received were not things, but experiences. This is why I like to travel; I'm gaining so much more for my dollar by encountering new cultures and lifestyles than I am buying souvenirs and trinkets. I find value in the way I spend my time and not my money. Am I a bad friend if I play a board game with her on her birthday instead of buying her scented lotion? Which one would she appreciate more? Will she think I'm a cheap-ass friend? Something tells me she has enough scented lotion anyway.

How about you? Do you take product waste into consideration when you buy? What are some of your favorite purchases? Were they items or experiences? Why do they have such value to you?
Still to come: why do we buy stuff, really?

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more, Kelsi. I'm glad you wrote this! Of course we can all do more, but you're doing a great job of minimizing your waste. You gave me some good ideas. Also use tupperware instead of plastic baggies (but I bet you already do that, ha!) Thrift stores are a biggie... Let's make a pact to NOT buy any new clothes for one whole year! After that it's easy ! (I've done it) I'm glad I know this about you, Miss Kelsi. You're a smart lady. Peace :)
    -Beth Lanis