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Small Cumulative Changes

January 9, 2008

I’ve had this subject in my head for a good while and have seen several posts and articles recently touching on this issue. I have had not-so-great blogging enthusiasm lately and I believe that I need to get this post out in order to get it back. I have actually been thinking about misperceptions and all the changes that each of us can make in our own lives since December. There are many reasons I have been thinking about it for so long: holiday consumerism and resulting waste, a series of conversations Lawrence had with an acquaintance, our own readjustments in our life to create a better living experience for ourselves and our fellow living beings.

Misperceptions and assumptions. This is the result of a series of conversations that Lawrence had with an acquaintance, J. J. is single with no children, travels frequently and regularly drives a good 60 miles between his two residences and fancies himself a liberal environmentalist. J. didn’t know details of our lives, just an overview. He knew that we have three children, Lawrence drives a large diesel work truck and found out in the course a conversation that Lawrence doesn’t fully believe that we are the cause of global warming. J’s assumption: our family is the type of family and we are the type of people that are contributing to global warming. What followed was condescension that neither Lawrence nor I drive a hybrid, we are selfish enough to have more than one child and assertions that even if we recycle, reuse and generate less trash than he and his fiancee, that really doesn’t have much impact on the environment. Lawrence has a way with people though. He knocked all those assumptions on their sides. J. was surprised by the revelations that we use bio diesel in our big work truck (and we have to have a large truck because you can’t really take all the necessary tools and equipment in a smaller vehicle), we really don’t drive very much outside of business requirements (certainly not a long distance between residences!), buy a good 60-70% of our food locally, cloth diaper and breastfeed our children so that we have very little trash generated compared to the average family, that even if neither of us is convinced that we are the cause of global warming, we still live as if we are, because that is part of being good stewards of our Earth, the place we all live and depend on for life. J. has ultimately been impressed with our lifestyle and has stepped back from his previous judgements and even finds it humorous that I make soap and kombucha and such. He asked Lawrence if we thought we were in the 1800’s.

It’s tiring trying to educate hypocritical “environmentalists”. I’m tired of hearing and seeing the upper middle class and wealthy “environmentalists” continue to consume and consume and feel that it can all be fixed with hybrid vehicles and carbon footprint offsets. Perhaps this is an assumption on my part, but it is my experience so far. What will be necessary is to make personal changes that require every day alterations in our lifestyle. If you want to buy a hybrid, go for it, but maybe a better option is to keep your old car, instead of requiring a new one be built, and don’t use it as often. Walk or bike more frequently, group all your errands together if you must use your vehicle. Hybrids use batteries, what happens when they have to be replaced?
I’m tired of people believing that small change isn’t good enough or if you are very involved with one thing, say local eating, that it isn’t enough because you are ignoring other efforts that are more important. Who’s to say that if you are eating locally you aren’t concerned about gas consumption on the grand scale? Who’s to say that using cloth bags isn’t going to change the world? It would certainly make a huge change in plastic consumption and waste if everybody switched to cloth.

Here are some changes that we have made in the past few years that have tremendously impacted the amount of waste, fuel and consumption that our family requires:

  • Using cloth shopping bags. A sign at Fred Meyer says that by using cloth shopping bags, the average family will save 400 plastic bags per year. Cloth bags are easy to use, hold more than plastic or paper and can be so unique and stylish.
  • Don’t bag your produce unless absolutely necessary. Why bag bananas or a head of lettuce? They aren’t going to roll around out of the bag. I only bag items if they are loose items and I am getting more than three. Two lemons? No bag necessary.
  • Recycle everything you possibly can. We stopped our trash service about two years ago. We have a local landfill that allows you to take one 32 gallon can of trash for free weekly if you have recycling with it. We started doing this and you know how often we go to the landfill? We average about five weeks between runs. One 32 gallon trash can for a family of five every five weeks is pretty impressive to me.
  • We use cloth napkins about half the time; we would use more, but I haven’t built a big enough stash.
  • We use cloth wipes instead of toilet paper. (This is the one that I’ve only told a few select people because it is so shocking to people. Come on, if you don’t have a problem with cloth diapers or cloth baby wipes, what’s the problem with cloth wipes for the whole family?? They do a much better job than paper and are more comfortable too. So now, my wackiness is out there for all to observe.)
  • I use cloth menstrual pads.
  • We buy milk straight from the farm, which comes in glass jars that are returned to the farm, so no plastic bottles are made or recycled.
  • We buy as much of our food locally as possible, reducing fuel and packaging. Here are the things we buy within a 15 mile radius of us: milk, eggs, chicken, beef, pork, lamb, a majority of our vegetables.
  • We buy bulk and store in reusable containers for most of the things that we can’t get locally-sugar, flour, spices, etc.
  • I have increased our garden and grew quite a bit last year.
  • We use few chemical body products anymore. We use soap I make for body and some hair washing, I use baking soda and vinegar for my own hair, a deodorant crystal, and Tom’s of Main toothpaste for Maddy and Lawrence, a prescription fluoride-free toothpaste for Isabel and Juliana and tooth powder for me. No hair styling products or perfumes.
  • We use very few chemical products in our home. I still use a Swiffer for mopping and chemical toilet scrubber pads, Comet and Windex, but we use a natural (Bio-Kleen) laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, and my own all purpose cleaning solution and a natural (Mrs. Meyer’s) dish washing liquid and all purpose cleaner, and vinegar and baking soda for laundry as well. A side effect that we have noticed, is that our sense of smell has become more acute with the absence of so many chemicals.
  • Make many of my own food staples, decreasing our packaging use-yogurt, kombucha, etc.

This is a pretty comprehensive list of recent changes, but I’m sure that I have forgotten things.

These are some things that we have done for a long while:

  • Cloth diapers
  • Save and reuse clothing and child hood items for the girls
  • Breastfeed and no bottles (Maddy did have bottle and pacifiers after her fourth month of life)
  • Buy good quality shoes that last a long time

There is still more that we can do. I can decrease our amount of driving further but walking to more errands, I eat less at fast food restaurants (though this is not as frequent as it used to be or even close to the average American family), we can still decrease our consumerism.

What can you do? I assure you that if you pick one thing and implement it and then another, it will be quite painless. Our quality of life has not decreased by taking these measures, in fact, it has increased. We are healthier and more content.

Whether one agrees on the cause of global warming, I think it is quite irrefutable that there are changes going on. Even if it is a cyclical change, we should care for our planet and that means being responsible with our consumption and waste. We can’t keep up the pace of consuming indefinitely. All that consumption doesn’t fill you up inside anyway. It would be a beautiful thing to see more people get back to basics and eat real food and use real things, like glass and natural fibers, instead of plastic and Styrofoam and polyester.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Angelina permalink
    January 10, 2008 5:09 am

    I love this post! Our thoughts are so in sync on this issue.

    You are always an inspiration to me about these things. I have cared about environmental issues for a long time but you are always showing me new ways to look at how I do things and how I consume things.

    Cumulative is a great word.

    I suppose it’s possible for the earth to change it’s global climate without the interference of humans (as in the ice age), but I think it’s vividly clear that humans are responsible for a whole lot of earth-trashing.

    But I actually agree with your stance that it really is immaterial whether humans caused global warming or not, the kinds of change we’re all talking about just makes good sense and being good stewards of the earth is of benefit to us all.

    Not only that- it really does feel better to live a life of less waste.

    Now I’d like to know if there’s a different source for glassed fresh milk in our county besides Kookoolan? I think they are the only ones using glass. Such a pity. But if you know of someone else, please tell me.

  2. Angelina permalink
    January 10, 2008 5:09 am

    I love this post! Our thoughts are so in sync on this issue.

    You are always an inspiration to me about these things. I have cared about environmental issues for a long time but you are always showing me new ways to look at how I do things and how I consume things.

    Cumulative is a great word.

    I suppose it’s possible for the earth to change it’s global climate without the interference of humans (as in the ice age), but I think it’s vividly clear that humans are responsible for a whole lot of earth-trashing.

    But I actually agree with your stance that it really is immaterial whether humans caused global warming or not, the kinds of change we’re all talking about just makes good sense and being good stewards of the earth is of benefit to us all.

    Not only that- it really does feel better to live a life of less waste.

    Now I’d like to know if there’s a different source for glassed fresh milk in our county besides Kookoolan? I think they are the only ones using glass. Such a pity. But if you know of someone else, please tell me.

  3. april. permalink
    January 10, 2008 7:39 am

    super great post. I can’t participate in discussions anymore with folks who want to tear certain aspects of my life apart to look for my apparent environmental heedlessness. I love that green living is becoming more mainstream, but with that brings a certain perceived status; it’s the “it” movement – necessary and good, but dripping with the ilk of one-up-manship. I love hearing people speak passionately about why they’re doing the things they do, in hopes that others might follow suit. I do not like hearing other people make assumptions about me and my choices and my contributions to the world.

    I’m so intrigued by your recycling/trash set-up. I should look into that. we recycle TONS and have to augment regular recycling pick-up with drop-offs at the center, but just have the smallest trash can. sounds like it might be cheaper and more convenient (no more forgetting to pull it out to the curb, etc.) to scrap it all together.

    it does feel better to live without all the extra crap. it’s a slower lifestyle, though. and i think a lot of people are looking for quick fixes, magic buttons. if only we all drove a toyota prius, our problems would be solved! but it’s all the little things. for the earth, for ourselves. you articulated that well. (and i’ve written my longest comment ever. i guess that’s what happens when the rest of the family’s asleep and i’d rather not go wash dishes, ha!)

  4. april. permalink
    January 10, 2008 7:39 am

    super great post. I can’t participate in discussions anymore with folks who want to tear certain aspects of my life apart to look for my apparent environmental heedlessness. I love that green living is becoming more mainstream, but with that brings a certain perceived status; it’s the “it” movement – necessary and good, but dripping with the ilk of one-up-manship. I love hearing people speak passionately about why they’re doing the things they do, in hopes that others might follow suit. I do not like hearing other people make assumptions about me and my choices and my contributions to the world.

    I’m so intrigued by your recycling/trash set-up. I should look into that. we recycle TONS and have to augment regular recycling pick-up with drop-offs at the center, but just have the smallest trash can. sounds like it might be cheaper and more convenient (no more forgetting to pull it out to the curb, etc.) to scrap it all together.

    it does feel better to live without all the extra crap. it’s a slower lifestyle, though. and i think a lot of people are looking for quick fixes, magic buttons. if only we all drove a toyota prius, our problems would be solved! but it’s all the little things. for the earth, for ourselves. you articulated that well. (and i’ve written my longest comment ever. i guess that’s what happens when the rest of the family’s asleep and i’d rather not go wash dishes, ha!)

  5. Yolanda permalink
    January 11, 2008 12:03 am

    Lisa,
    Where do you get your milk and meats?

  6. Yolanda permalink
    January 11, 2008 12:03 am

    Lisa,
    Where do you get your milk and meats?

  7. cheeseslave permalink
    January 11, 2008 5:21 pm

    GREAT post!!!!! I am changing a lot of things too. You start with the things you can change — things that are easy. Like cloth bags. Then you keep making more and more changes and soon you are doing lots of things right.

    Eating the WAP way sure does help you move in this direction since you don’t buy all that processed/packaged stuff anymore.

    I just have one question – how do you do the cloth toilet paper? Just curious…

  8. Lisa permalink
    January 11, 2008 8:00 pm

    Angelina-I don’t disagree that we are responsible for a lot of Earth trashing, a lot. I don’t necessarily disagree that we are at least partially responsible for global warming, I’m just not convinced it is all our fault either. Though there is a majority in the scientific community who believe global warming is caused by humans, there isn’t complete agreement. We are trashing our environment, though, no doubt about that.

    As far as milk in glass containers, Noris Dairy used to sell milk in glass bottles at Roth’s and Harvest Fresh, but they don’t anymore. They do delivery, however; their website is http://www.norisdairy.com and there’s lots of info on there.

    April-The landfill is just a few miles outside of McMinnville and it has worked great for us. If you have to cart your trash yourself, it really does make you become more reflective of what you are throwing out!

    Yolanda-I get my milk and meats from different sources.

    Raw milk, chicken and pork: Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill. They have a very long waiting list for milk, their chickens are usually readily available and they are free-range chickens, their pork is preorder before it is butchered.

    Beef-Cherryhill Ranch in Sheridan. We preorder a side of beef each March for pickup in June.

    Lamb-Growing Wild Farm between Amity and McMinnville, they don’t have any more lamb right now, I believe, but will be raising some new animals soon.

    Cheeseslave-I do it very similar to cloth diapers. I have a dry pail system. In each bathroom I have a trash can (with a swinging lid so that you don’t have to grab it to open it, but it’s also not open and visible) to put soiled wipes in. I have a wicker basket of clean wipes in each bathroom. The wipes are just old t-shirts that I collected from around the house and cut into squares, they are from 5-8″ square. I wash the wipes each week like this: throw them all in the washer with 1/2 c. of baking soda, run a cold wash, then run a hot wash with a small scoop of detergent and 1/2 c. of vinegar in the rinse compartment. Dry in the dryer and throw back into the wicker baskets, no folding necessary. I keep a roll of toilet paper for guest use and if we run out of wipes, which doesn’t happen frequently and also for my hubby because if he is in the bathroom, he refuses to blow his nose on the wipes!

    WAP definitely decreases packaging!

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