My husband and I were dining at an all you could eat Seafood Buffet in Reno, California. This was the most delicious fresh, snow crab we had eaten in years. We aggressively cracked the crab and ate every delicious morsel of this outstanding crustacean. I wasn’t always successful and became quite entertainingly frustrated – just couldn’t get the crab quick enough. A waitress took pity on me and gave me a different set of “crab crackers” to speed up the process. My husband’s shirt was saturated with hot butter and peppered with crab shards. Bits and pieces of crab were scattered on our booth and the floor beneath us. As we brushed off our dinner from our clothing, the sweet smell of butter and crab remained with us. We gave that particular waitress a special tip. She earned it.
“This isn’t the depression. Stop worrying about getting every little piece. Just grab another” my husband stated with a full mouth of crab.
Have you ever noticed the difference between people who are born to working class, or adults who were born to parents who survived the Great Depression, or people who immigrated to the US?
I was raised in a home where food did not go to waste. My parents were raised during the depression. Their parents grew up in Europe and immigrated to the United States. They were all involved in WWI, WWII, Vietnam and the Korean Wars, in one way or another. Two of my grandparents had 10 brothers and sisters. No food ever went to waste in those households. Nothing went to waste in their households.
We, as Americans, have a history of recycling going back to the 1700s. The colonists collected rags to make paper money. In WWI, people ate “meatless and wheat less” before the words, vegan and gluten free, became the trend it is today. Unfortunately, by the the 1920s, recycling was considered low class. ( Star Tribune. Star Tribune.com has an interesting timeline.)
As a result, we learned to conserve before recycling became the “thing” to do to protect the environment. It was part of their survival and became part of our every day life. We bought fresh milk and bread daily or just enough food to eat so nothing would go bad. This was a waste of money we did not have. We also ate all the food on our plates because we always thought of the hungry children in Africa who didn’t have any food. By the way no one in my family is overweight.
We had cloth napkins and table clothes; some of which still survive today. I remember seeing balls of rubber bands and string in my grandparents’ drawer. They threw nothing away.
When we received gifts, we carefully removed the wrapping paper, peeled off the tape, smoothed the wrinkles, and folded the paper. We reused to wrap another gift in the future or to make collages.
Ah, my favorite memory was Christmas cards. We would receive dozens of Christmas cards each year. Now I get ten, maybe. We would read the poetry and then string the cards up around the entrance to our living room. When the season was over, we would save and cut the cards up and make as collages or make new cards.
When Reynolds foil was introduced into our household, it was used more than once. I think silver foil came first and then the plastic containers. Recall the one word Mr. McGuire told Benjamin to think of in “The Graduate” in 1967 — “Plastics”. We wrapped the item up in foil or covered a glass bowl of food and placed it in the frig. We cleaned and folded the foil and used it for another time.
Simple things, like we turned off the water when we brushed our teeth. We had been through several droughts and water was and is precious. It was also expensive. In a family of six with one bathroom, we learned to take showers quickly and efficiently. There was always a line to get in. We were conserving although we didn’t know it.
Grandma used tea bags more than once as I do now. I noticed my Japanese daughter in law doing the same.
We didn’t have lunch bags, we had lunch boxes. Sadly, I have seen some of them for sale in antique shops.
We didn’t have a clothes dryer – we hung our clothes up. This was a challenge during the east coast winter months. It is the also the one habit I do not follow.
We also lived in a suburban area close to all transportation, delis and grocery stores. We had one car and my father took it to work. My mother did not drive, she didn’t have to. I did not get my license until I was 20 and moved away. Imagine, we walked everywhere. The gas we saved; the cars we saved; the money we saved by not going to the gym.
Most of these habits I followed until I became a working, single mother with two boys. The hectic and complex life led to paper napkins, lunch bags, fast dinners, two bathrooms. Living in California suburbia, each one of us had a car. Who had time for tea? We did the best we could under the circumstances. Our mantra when cleaning up after dinner was “We recycle”.
Life has changed and money is short, we are returning to the basics. Our recycling is at least three times larger than our garbage. While our garbage is picked up, we drive to the recycling center to drop off. Since we are living in a California rural area with little or no public transportation, we drive everywhere. So we make weekly runs to do errands, recycling, buy groceries and then enjoy a nice lunch together.
This all makes a difference, you make a difference.
How long does it take things to break down when sent to the landfill?
Aluminum – 500 years
Glass – 1 million years.
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
FUN FACTS ABOUT RECYCLING
1. In a lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times his or her adult weight in garbage. This means that each adult will leave a legacy of 90,000 lbs. of trash for his or her children.
2. Each of us generates on an average 4.4 pounds of waste per day per person.
3. Enough energy is saved by recycling one aluminum can to run a TV set for three hours or to light one 100 watt bulb for 20 hours.
4. Americans throw away enough aluminum every three months to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet.
5. Annually, enough energy is saved by recycling steel to supply Los Angeles with electricity for almost 10 years.
6. You can make 20 cans out of recycled material with the same amount of energy it takes to make one new one.
7. Five recycled plastic bottles make enough fiberfill to stuff a ski jacket.
8. Incinerating 10,000 tons of waste creates 1 job, land filling the same amount creates 6 jobs, recycling the same 10,000 tons creates 36 jobs.
9. Every Sunday, the US wastes nearly 90% of the recyclable newspapers. This wastes about 500,000 trees.
10. American’s throw away enough office and writing paper annually to build a wall 12 feet high stretching from Los Angeles to New York City.
11. If all the glass bottles and jars collected through recycling in the U.S. in 94 were laid end to end, they’d reach the moon and half way back to earth.
12. Recycled steel cans are used to make new steel products including cars, bridges, lawnmowers, stoves, and construction materials.
13. Every time a ton of steel is recycled, 2500 pounds of iron ore, 1000 pounds of coal and 40 pounds of limestone are preserved.
14. We throw away enough iron and steel to continuously supply all the nation’s automakers.
15. Recycling steel and tin cans saves 74% of the energy used to produce them from raw materials.
16. Americans use 100 million tin and steel cans every day. Every minute of the day, more than 9,000 tin cans are recovered from the trash with magnets.
17. The average American throws out about 61 pounds of tin cans every month.
18. Glass containers recycled in 94 would fill 103,333 tractor trailers. Bumper to bumper, they’d stretch from Dallas to Los Angeles.
19. Each year Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups.
20. Even 500 years from now, the foam coffee cup you used this morning will be sitting in a landfill.
21. It takes 2 plastic soft drink bottles to make enough polyester fiber to make a baseball cap.