Mom Didn't Need A Designated Day To Think About Saving The Earth
When I was a child I never counted trash cans. The neighbors, however, did.
''How do you manage to have so little garbage?'' my mother was asked more than once.
''We eat our garbage,'' she would reply wryly.
Today environmentalists call my mother's 1960s tactics recycling. She called it common sense. Nothing was wasted in her home
She cooked fresh foods, so she didn't need most of the packaging paper and paperboard that make up 41 percent of most households' trash. The vegetables in her soups were not dehydrated or stored in cans. Full meals were not frozen inside cardboard and plastic containers that weighed as much as the edible contents. The cardboard my mother accumulated was smashed by an efficient, low-energy compactor — her foot. It was separated from wet, metal and plastic wastes by hand.
Much of her household trash was reused. My children's favorite toys at her house were two Quaker Oats boxes she made into drums. The strings attached to the drums came from packages she received. If the paper that made up Mom's accumulation of junk mail was blank on one side, she used it as drawing paper or cut it into scrap paper for memos and lists.
My mother laughed at advertisements for 17 plastic storage units priced under $20. Her glass and plastic containers came free from supermarket purchases such as peanut butter and deli salads. The amount of metal in her trash was also below average because she washed and reused aluminum foil and pie plates.
The bond of those who conserve and reuse runs deep. My mother and her closest friend once discovered, over coffee, that the two of them shared the same dark secret. Though I wouldn't recommend this energy-saving strategy, neither of these two women turned on cellar lights before going downstairs. Instead, they counted steps.
My mother didn't profess to be saving the planet for 40 years — just her space, her money and her self-respect. More than economic or ecological edicts, she follows a basic ethic: You don't need what you can't have; you don't waste what you may need.
Environmentalists continue to ponder ways to bury, burn, recycle and decrease garbage. If only my mother's neighbors followed her simple measures of careful consumption, creative reuse and economy, the trash collection on her street could easily have been cut in half. That would have meant 4,000 fewer garbage cans of waste sent to the local landfill a year — through the efforts of just 40 families. Think of what would happen if we all followed her example today.