Thinking Like Grandma

It has to be the mother of all earth-friendly mantras. The idea of leaving less trash behind you on the earth, and using fewer resources, distilled down into three words. Reduce, reuse, recycle.  It seems like we’ve seen it printed on the backs of natural products and the front of waste receptacles for years. But do we ever think about what it would look like in our daily lives?

I, for one, used to think only of the last word, recycle. Growing up in CA, recycling meant getting money back for aluminum cans. As an adult, the local residential recycling program raised my awareness that glass and plastic should also be recycled. Oh, and paper and cardboard too. My family is now using the third size/type of curbside recycling container supplied to us by our waste management company in the last 8 years (I hope they recycle the other plastic ones!), and it’s certainly the largest, coming in one third larger than our garbage can. But I’m actually proud to say that we don’t even fill it half full each week (same as with the garbage can). And I’ll tell you why.

I’m proud we don’t fill the whole bin because we are doing more of those two first words in the 3Rs: Reduce and Reuse. Recycling is only the last ditch effort to not let something go into a landfill. Before you relinquish it, think of all the ways you might use it. You might call this thinking like Grandma.

I have one great-grandmother who immigrated as a mail order bride from Switzerland (she and Grandpa had known each other as children) just before the Great Depression. My grandfather, her son, told me he didn’t think she noticed the depression much since poverty had always been her way of life. When I knew her, she was elderly, but still cultivated every square inch of their city lot for fruit, veggies, poultry, or flowers, and hung out each load of laundry, including carefully rinsed paper towels. Her clothes were patched, and repatched; clean of course. I’m sure she boiled into soup every bone that came across her table (see Bone Broth). Her back porch was filled with glass and plastic jars and newspapers which she kept for reuse in food storage, gardening, and then would give her overflow of newspapers to the church for fundraiser recycling. She did not see these “reuses” as a sign of poverty, rather as a sign of the great wealth (no hunger) which she and grandpa had been blessed with through their hard work in this land of opportunity.

Of course, my other great-grandmothers and grandmothers all lived during the Great Depression, and I can think of ways in which they all were, and those living still are, frugal in their daily habits, including reusing and recycling. Necessity made them reduce, and reusing and recycling were the natural results.

As my family has had reduced income in the past year, reducing has become a necessity. It’s exciting to think of all the ways we’ll  be making better habits, just like my grandmothers. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • We purchase milk and eggs directly from the farms; the egg cartons we return to the farmer, and the glass milk jar is in continuous-loop reuse.
  • I don’t plan to rinse out my paper towels for line drying, but have switched over to cloth rags for most cleaning jobs. They’ll be hung to dry as soon as we can get the lines installed (and the weather accommodates).
  • I have switched to cloth diapers; they also will get line drying soon. However, when traveling I do use paper diapers. I just keep positive by rejoicing about all the waste I’m avoiding during the majority of the time! Even if you aren’t ready to take the plunge into cloth diapers, I highly recommend cloth wipes for use with your baby (see my post on Cloth Wipes for Diapering). Traditional disposable wipes are often laced with dangerous chemicals; going to cloth means you get to choose what cleanser is being wiped onto your baby’s bottom each day.
  • We buy most of our children’s clothing, and some of mine, at resale shops; and I enjoy resaling our cast-offs for credit.
  • I made a patchwork quilt out of a number of old plaid shirts of my husband’s. It turned out so cute that I gave it as a baby gift, and have cut out another from the rest of those shirts to make one for my baby boy. You would be amazed at how much fabric is in a man’s shirt.
  • I’ve been reading about using newspaper for starting a garden bed by covering the sod, then piling it with compost. What a great way to reduce (the need for weed cloth), and reuse (the newspaper). Since there seem to be moisture concerns with weedcloth (and it’s expensive), this seems like a win-win idea for the perimeter beds I’m planning in our yard.
  • We compost all our veggie scraps, non-meat/dairy table scraps, and egg shells. Better dirt, less garbage.
  • I collect all the glass jars which come into our home filled with jam, salsa, marinara sauce, etc. I reuse these when storing smaller amounts of pantry items bought in bulk (beans, popcorn . . . looks so pleasant on the shelves, too!) or leftovers. Glass jars can also be used for culturing dairy or storing frozen liquids, or in the garage for holding nails and screws. My collection of glass jars is beginning to overwhelm my kitchen, so this month I’m going to sort them, and store some in the garage until the summer when I can make lanterns from them to hold tea lights around our back patio.
  • A habit which I need to build is taking my reusable bags into the market weekly. My excuse for forgetting (three children in tow) should be my reason for remembering: start this as a habit in their lives. Nonetheless, when a plastic shopping bag does come home, it gets a second life as a bathroom garbage can liner before ending in the landfill.
  • Making most of our food from scratch, mainly from bulk ingredients or fresh produce, is probably the greatest means of our garbage reduction. Besides having a much greater amount of packaging, and being more costly at the checkout, prepared foods are a drain on your health.
  • Still need the convenience of prepared food? Prepare it ahead yourself: double the recipe size which you normally prepare, and freeze the excess for an easy reheated meal. For salad, wash and chop your salad ingredients when you get home from the market. Keep the oversized salad in the refrigerator all week long, quickly pulling out what you need for a meal, and adding the toppings which you desire on that day (tomatoes should be reserved for cutting until use; they make the salad soggy, and turn mealy in the fridge).
  • I recently created a place under my kitchen sink for recycles (finally!). Read about it in my post called Creating a Recycle Center.

Leave a comment with creative ways you are reducing, reusing, and recycling!

2 thoughts on “Thinking Like Grandma

  1. I do some of these things already but I found other suggestions extremely helpful. Re: diapers – an added benefit to using cloth nappies is that potty training will come sooner and take less time because children don’t like sitting in wet diapers; they don’t feel uncomfortable in disposables so they wear them for longer and it costs you more.

    I enjoy your blog.

  2. Great work, Bronwyn! I scored a boxful of glass peanut butter jars at a yard sale 2 years ago for free. My favorite, one that I use for my traveling water jug, has “strawberry 1984” written on the jar lid.

    When my children were babies, I never thought a thing about the inconveniene of traveling with them in cloth diapers. (and yes…there were disposable ones available. I still remember, with a small amount of disgust, watching my sister in law pitch one out the car window into the woods on our way back from a camping trip!)
    Anyway, we always carried empty bread wrappers in our diaper bag with a wet washcloth in it “just in case” a poopie diaper occured. Two or three layers of folded tissue paper worked fine as diaper liner. The only bad thing about carrying a wet diaper home in the diaper bag was if Mother forgot to empty the bag and discovered the diaper a day or two later.

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