"Mom Was Right…"

This whole environmental footprint thing has me spinning like a guy with one carbon foot nailed to the floor.  Whatever it is I’m doing these days, I’m wondering how it’s affecting the environment, or couldn’t this be re-cycled?  But what makes the bigger impact? Throwing it away, or all the gas, diesel, and other fuel needed to transport it, crush it, bundle it, send it to the plant that actually does the recycling where it is washed, pressed, formed and shipped out, yet again using diesel, gas, etc, to a fabrication facility, and on and on. It could drive you to drink, hopefully in a Hybrid…

Recently, I got to spinning again, when I discovered my surround sound amplifier had been damaged in the move from California (Master Packer fail…). I got on Craig’s list to look for a replacement, as a new system is just not in the financial cards right now.  And I wanted to avoid getting involved in the “throw-away technology” thing.  I am already guilty of putting a half dozen or so VCR’s into landfills, and why?  Because they needed to be cleaned; and it cost more to take it to someone to clean it than it did to just buy a new one that was actually way better than the one I had.  It’s the same deal with my surround system.  With Things Being The Way They Are In The World These Days,  I can now buy an entire new system with better speakers, sub woofer AND a new DVD player for less than what it costs to buy just a comparable replacement for my amplifier. But what happens to the speakers and amp and DVD player I have now?

Luckily for me, I found an almost identical amp on Craig’s List for a mere $50, contacted the seller and the meet was set up.  The only rub is that even though he’s on the “local” version of Craig’s List here in Atlanta, he’s not here in Atlanta.  He’s way-the-hell-and-gone up in Buford, which is almost an hour from my house.  So, my quandary is this:  does it make a bigger carbon footprint to drive a two hour round trip to pick this thing up than it would were my current system to end up in a landfill.

Same thing with my cellphone. You might have read my earlier post about the near-tragic death of my phone, and the lengths I went to saving it. Since then it has, for the most part, worked fine. But the battery is wearing out and won’t hold a charge for more than a few hours anymore, so I went to a local Big Box to see if I could get a new one. Battery, not phone. The helpful clerk told me they don’t carry them, but “How about an upgrade?” No, I just want the battery; there is no sound reason to commit my phone to a landfill if all it takes is a battery to give it five more years of productivity, as long as I don’t drop it in the crapper again. It seems like a no-brainer though, to a lot of folks, to dump the “dinosaur” for a shiny new version, when you can get a brand new phone for the same or less than it would cost to keep the old one. Manufactured Demand is strong Ju-Ju.

I think my Mom had it right all those years ago.  Mom was the original recycler.  I’m betting your mom was too, but I can almost guarantee she was not on a par with mine.  Every doorknob in the house was thick with rubber bands salvaged from the daily newspaper, so many that when you finally got around to using one of them, it just snapped because it was so dried out from being there for so long.  My mom saved every eensey teensey scrap of foil, wrapping paper, string, wire, and twist ties from loaves of bread, along with the plastic bread wrappers themselves. We didn’t have a dog back then, so we couldn’t make use of those old bread bags when we took a walk. They piled up in kitchen drawers and cabinets to overflowing.  There were no blue recycling bins to put out at the curb back then; Mom just used the stuff herself.  She wrapped our sandwiches for school lunches in the bread wrappers and put leftovers in them. I even remember her reading an article in a magazine, probably Good Housekeeping (which was “all Martha” before Martha was even a twinkle in her Daddy’s eye) or Redbook, or maybe even the Reader’s Digest, about how to make an area rug out of woven plastic bread wrappers.  That rug graced our kitchen floor, right in front of the stove, for years after.  Now that, my friends, is the true spirit of recycling:  just use the shit you have, and don’t buy any more. But my Mom’s almost compulsive need to save stuff like that didn’t come from any desire to keep crap out of a land-fill or protect the environment. Oh, hell no; we had a 50-gallon oil drum in the backyard that we burned the garbage in every day. Her’s was the Mid-Western, Grew-Up-During-The-Depression-Dirt-Poor mentality. She saved all that crap so she wouldn’t have to buy it again.

We here in America are reeling from the One-Two Punch of being a throwaway society coupled with rampant Consumerism.  Instead of fixing or re-using the stuff we have, we throw it away and buy a new one.  It’s been going on for a couple of generations now, starting with the introduction of “Instant This” and “Disposable That”, and the who-gives-a-shit-just-throw-it-out-the-window mentality of the 60’s, that most of us grew up with.  Those habits and attitudes formed in our youth were die-hard.  Whether we think we’ve changed or not, the average American still throws enough packaging into the trash to fill Lake Tahoe.  And the Consumerist Industrial Complex that produces all the stuff we buy has bought in, big time.   Fast foods, packaged foods, bottled water, you name it.  Things that, as little as 30 years ago, we used to make, or cook, or fix for ourselves are now “buy it, use it, and throw it away”.

We justify it by saying we just don’t have the time in our busy lives to make it or fix it ourselves; and rationalize the guilt away with the almost-fantasy that it will be “recycled”.  Well, those of you drinking that sparkling pure bottle of water from Whole Foods, should take a look at this:

I think we all could do with being a little bit more like Clint Eastwood’s crotchety old man in “Grand Torino”. No, not all the racist junk spewing from his mouth; but his deeply implanted philosophy of fixing stuff and maintaining stuff, so you don’t have to buy more stuff.

I think Mom was right all those years ago. I still think of her, especially on Christmas Morning when we’re knee-deep in wrapping paper and ribbon. She’d be going through and neatly folding the paper that’s not too torn, saving the ribbons, or stuffing those bread wrappers into a drawer. “I might be able to use that again some day…” Turns out Mom was right. Who knew?


4 Responses to "Mom Was Right…"

  1. PHDT says:

    While it might be better for the environment to recycle goods and at the same time make us feel better this consumer cycle is on the rampage in the new industrializing nations of India and China. Combined these nations have populations that equal six times the US alone. 25K new autos each and every day are put on the roads in China. A new coal burning electricity plant is put online each week in same country. Together these nations equal 2 billion new consumers and all are buying the same throw away goods we do. This total does not include the many other newly industrializing nations of the Pacific, Central and South America and Asians nations. As an advanced industrialized nation the US has the luxury to reflect on our destructive ways, but truly unless the corporations do something differently, enabling us to not use and throw so much away the cycle in place will keep us from recycling. it’s the same with oil consumption. Just try to not use oil in your daily life. You can’t. The consumption of petroleum is imbedded in our society. Think of a large ship at sea headed towards an iceberg. how much time does it take the ship to change course after first seeing the danger ahead? As a society we saw the dangers ahead of our consumerist culture back in the early fifties and did nothing about it. Now the sky is falling. Have a good day.

  2. Guy says:

    Great video.
    I don’t recall as much disposable stuff in the 60s as I did in the 90s and first part of the 00s, Things like swifters, lunchables, plastic soft drink or water bottles, baby wipes, and plastic grocery bags would have seemed terribly wasteful then. I think the “just throw it away” is mostly a part of the kids who grew up on Reaganomics. It’s a whole mind-set.

  3. Jason says:

    Just did it at a catering job tonight…and I hate it. We have these “single use” votive candles we bring, light, blow out and throw away. A box of four dozen cost us something like $12 dollars (we bill the client something like $30 for them, of course)…we can’t pay someone to clean the wax out of reusable votive cups for that price…I understand the economics of it, but it sure does feel wrong everytime I do it.

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