I was raised by a mother who took the idea of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ to heart, long before it became a slogan of the green movement. Her recycling involved not only schlepping cans and bottles to the new recycling center but saving egg cartons, shoe boxes, the cardboard from paper towel rolls, and the like to donate to local preschools for art projects. Because she didn’t want anything that could be reused, or refashioned into a new use, to go to waste she amassed large collections of materials of all sorts – those waiting for a trip to the recycling center- newspaper, glass bottles, cans, the few plastic containers that were accepted back then; and those waiting for rebirth – old fabric and hand-me-down clothing that could be made into a quilt, plastic cottage cheese containers that were our ‘Tupperware,’ and old envelopes, the back of which could be used for grocery lists, all of which sat in boxes and paper sacks in the corner of the kitchen. In addition, coupons, wine bottle corks, string, twisty ties, old keys and paperclips piled up in the junk drawer, and leftover food scraps went into an old plastic gallon ice cream container that sat in the corner of the sink. Yes, she didn’t just recycle, she composted for use in the garden.
My childhood made me aware that we need to treat both the earth and fellow creatures (people included) with care. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I ended up going into the environmental field. Being ‘green’ is important to me and I’ve tried to inculcate the same feeling in my children. While we’ve never been extreme about it, we’ve been conscientious about recycling and have tried to make environmentally conscious decisions.
But I have to tell you– it’s hard to be green and homeless or alternatively housed. Now, our homeless friends who live by the celery field do recycle cans – they need the change it provides and can collect garbage bags full and stash them next to their tent – but for the most part if you are living in a tent or sleeping in a car or even living in a travel trailer, it’s not easy to be green. The RV Park doesn’t have any recycling bins or pick up – just two large trash dumpsters which quickly fill up. So any recycling we do, we do on our own. Our trailer is very small and we have limited storage space so right now the bathtub is the recycling repository. It’s also the dirty clothes repository, and the full trash bags repository. With five people we pretty much fill up the tub daily! (Thankfully the park has showers otherwise we’d be out of luck). Yes, we could buy 3 or 4 trash cans and keep them outside for our recycling but the park has fairly strict rules about the appearance of the outside area. We’ve been asked to clean up more than once and that’s just due to the table where the kids play with Legos and Hot Wheels, and skates and scooters scattered about. We also store our shoes and my eBay items in large plastic tubs beneath the trailer. And if we collected recycling there’s the sorting – no more co-mingled curbside recycling – and bagging, stuffing everything into our car which also already serves as extra storage, and driving to the recycling center which naturally has odd and not terribly convenient hours.
I’m sorry to admit that I’m not as strict as I used to be about recycling and I feel a twinge of guilt every time I toss out a plastic bottle or tin can (we don’t drink soda so we don’t have the more lucrative aluminum cans of which to dispose) or use a paper plate instead of plastic. Yes, we use a mix of paper and re-useable place settings. We have limited room to store and wash dishes and pots and such and hot water uses propane. Like my mom I used to abhor waste and think of uses for nearly everything that’s left over. However our storage unit is full to overflowing with things we can’t part with or think we can use some day, and the local preschools seem to prefer to buy art supplies rather than accept my cardboard rolls and wine corks. So I combat the guilt with the knowledge that at least we inhabit a much smaller footprint on the earth these days- using considerably less electricity, water, and gas- and consuming far, far fewer consumer goods. On the whole I suspect our new lifestyle is greener – now if I could just convince the park to add a recycling dumpster!