Real food, real gardening, real housekeeping. We’ve broadly defined “real” here as make it yourself, grow it yourself, source it yourself, do it yourself, but the whole concept is a minefield of an issue for people trying to step lightly on the earth.
Some of us live in suburban or rural areas, where one cannot easily reduce automobile use, or a city like Chicago which inexplicably doesn’t have city-wide recycling. There are options that are not open to us. I used to haul my recycling to a nearby suburb, but now they make you show a resident’s ID. My alderman suggested I take it myself 30 miles south to the city recycling facility. I asked him if I could deduct my time and mileage cost from my taxes, since I would not be receiving this service, which other city residents get. Some entrepreneur set up recycling bins in a nearby parking lot, but it’s always full to overflowing.
A lot of what we do vis a vis “green” living in America is based on perverse incentives. We make it easier to use gas through small cars, ethanol additives, and subsidized roads and pipelines, but insist that so-called public transportation like Amtrak and municipal buses show a profit. Which just encourages us to drive. We provide recycling and “post consumer” packaging, encouraging us to throw things away. We worship green space, discouraging the economies inherent in density.
I want to stop bringing stuff into my house. I want to live lightly on the earth as much as I can. So what can I do in the face of societal barriers to responsible sustainability?
Don’t take another single bag from a store
I mean it. Not a single one. Carry small bags in your purse and large bags in your trunk. Bring them with you into stores. ALL stores, not just the grocery store. You don’t need the plastic Macy’s bag any more than you need the plastic Safeway bag. Did you leave the bags in the car? Go back for them. Get to the check out without them? Wheel the unpacked groceries to the lot and pack them yourself. Better yet, encourage your city council to pass deposit laws–stores need to be charging for bags, or cities need to be taxing the stores for giving them away. Bags aren’t free. That cost is just being passed to taxpayers who pay for trash hauling and landfill.
Carry a hot cup AND a cold cup
I have yet to encounter a restaurant or even hot dog stand that won’t use the cup that I bring. If I don’t have the cup with me, I don’t get the drink.
Don’t buy it if you don’t need it
I counted and realized I have seven different types of personal cleaning products in my shower. My husband has four. You only need three– soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and I’m on the fence about shampoo and toothpaste. Look around you. What are you duplicating? What items have only one use?
Don’t buy it if it’s in plastic packaging
This one is hard. Really really hard. Everything is in plastic. When you start to try doing this, it gets kind of horrifying. I’ve started looking for products that are in boxes instead of plastic bags (like laundry detergent), or from shops that allow me to bring my own reusable containers (harder). I have started buying soap and bar shampoo from artisan makers; my supplier wraps it in simple brown paper lunch bags. No more plastic bottles into the waste stream.
This will cost you. You can still get irons and radios and tvs and shoes and watches fixed. The problem is, these items are so cheap and available, that it can literally be a quarter the price to buy it new than it is to fix. If you really can’t get it fixed, find a repair shop that will take your broken item and drop it off. Don’t throw it away. Everyone in Chicago now knows to leave broken electronics and appliances on top of the trash dumpster, because scavenging businesses will pick them up and fix them.
In other words, lather and rinse. But don’t repeat.
What are you doing to really reduce your impact?