Today’s topic is not only trash, but those Bigger Questions that open up when we become mindful of what we discard and why we do it. I decided to focus on packed lunches, a trash-generating activity that we don’t end up seeing here at home in our own trash can, but it sure accumulates at my children’s schools and, ultimately, in a landfill somewhere.
My 16-year-old always wants his lunch packed in a paper bag with everything disposable. I’d assumed it was because his backpack is always overstuffed and the brown bag (with no reusable stuff) can always fit in a tiny sliver of precious backpack space. But viva la revolucion: today I put his sandwich in a plastic reusable container and packed the lunch in a reusable lunch bag. Neither of which are stunning breakthroughs in sustainability when viewed out of context, but my break from routine was immediately questioned when I rounded the corner and handed him the red Benedictine University lunch bag. I told him to go with it at least for today and why didn’t he just put it in his locker? He managed to squeeze it into his backpack while informing me that he NEVER uses his locker. Wait…what?!?
So I got an unexpected benefit: Bigger Question #1 about my son’s daily routine, which I otherwise wouldn’t have known, and I can now follow up on it. Finding out why he (and probably many other kids) don’t use their lockers can lead to working on solutions and helping make their school day less stressful and less reliant on disposable stuff. And really, I can still pack him the brown bag and ask him to just fold it up and bring it home for reuse, since that Ben U bag really is kind of puffy.
Some other moves I made today in the quest to reduce trash:
- I re-acquainted myself with the fridge magnet from CH Recycling. Aside from doing an excellent job of holding third-grade artwork up for display, it lists all the items that the city does/does not accept for recycling, and read over the city’s recycling guidelines. I hadn’t realized that we could put paper out for curbside recycling, so in addition to our bins for plastic and metal, I’ll use some of our six thousand (or so) paper grocery bags to start collecting discarded paper every week.
I signed up for the Cleveland East group of Freecycle, and am looking around for something I can offer within the next 48 hours, which is one of their requirements for new members. A brief trip up to our attic should take care of that. Actually, from my current position at the dining room table, I’m already looking at two or three things that could go. We don’t throw away much, but we definitely keep too much that we don’t use. Here’s where Bigger Question #2 comes in: do I need to organize and store things more effectively, or do I need to get rid of stuff? I know the answer is “Both.” Ugh! An answer that requires a commitment of time and energy to sorting, deciding, and resisting the temptation to just sit in the attic (photo on left) and look at all those old photos in the boxes next to the outgrown clothing, jumbled gift bags, and long-forgotten toys.
Following up on Day 1: I went to the grocery store today and bought only milk and bread, still intent on using up our pantry items before I spend more money on food. I tend to not make lists and automatically buy pretty much the same provisions each week, then get home and realize we already had X, or I didn’t need X because we had Y, and oh well. Bigger Question #3: why am I not taking the five minutes to look around and make a list/think about the week ahead before I go grocery shopping? I have to turn “I have no time” into an unacceptable response to that question. Making time for that means making a difference in consumption, impact, and spending.