A Return to Waste Not, Want Not | Seventh Generation
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A Return to Waste Not, Want Not

Author: BethArky

Tough economic times teach us the value of doing more with less. It's a message that nicely dovetails with what we need to do to save the planet, even if people don't realize that yet.

As one analyst recently told The New York Times, "People are squeezing the last bit out of the shampoo. [They're] doing their best to conserve -- we're seeing it again and again and again."

The Times' piece goes on to find that people are holding onto their cars and electronic gadgets longer (iPad purchases notwithstanding); buying in bulk; mending, selling, and swapping clothes; and discovering that refurbished products work just fine.

But the Times mostly misses a big piece of the puzzle -- the deep green undertones that are also fueling this trend. Along with Americans' concerns about their economic security now and in the years ahead, there are encouraging signs of shifting values -- shiny new things soon lose their luster -- and the growing awareness that all this insatiable consumption is depleting and destroying our planet. More are understanding that our already huge carbon footprint only gets bigger with each purchase.

I've written several times now about how my mom told my brothers and me to "save the paper!" when we were just about to rip open gifts; wash and reuse tin foil; and stand the shampoo bottle upside down and then, just to be sure, add water and shake to get the last drop. She, in turn, passed on Old Country lessons such as my grandfather's tip that clothes can be worn more than once before washing. "After all," he asked, "how dirty can they be?"

Speaking as someone who lost a full-time job four years ago, real economic recovery can't happen soon enough. But I also hope people retain the value of conserving for conservation's sake.

How do you get "the last drop"? And do you think this societal shift will endure, or will Americans go back to their "I want it" ways if their bank accounts -- and confidence -- start growing again?

Beth Arky, a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, drains the last bit of lotion but draws the line at darning socks.

photo: liz west


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bloominwild89 picture
I identify with this because it is how I have always lived. Not at first because I wanted to be green. I grew up using the most out of everything and to the very last drop because I had to. It necessary when you are poor. I think growing up like this made me more open to wanting to live in a kinder way. An empty shampoo bottle doesn't look like trash to me, it looks like potential. In fact when I go to a friend's house and see empty bottles in the trash they look like they shouldn't be there. Aside from bras and underwear my clothes all come from Goodwill. I have some of the cutest clothes too and I even got my cute swimming suit from there. Love, Sarah
Julie Jean picture
Julie Jean
Kudos! We are so lucky to know how to live this way. I actually make a living off teaching others this. Live simple and consume wiser.
MotherLodeBeth picture
Agree 100% with Anngrace 'Frugality may seem like a "dirty" word to some, but that has been a lifestyle for some of us'. Yes I admit I get miffed reading about all these newbies who act as if THEY have discovered something new, when thousands of people have been living frugal, waste not want not, use it up, wear it out, find a need or do without, lifestyle for DECADES. Often being mocked, made fun of, looked down on, because we cook all our meals at home, compost, line dry clothes, live in small abodes, drive little, walk/bike more, and basically live like our parents and grandparents did during WW2 and decades earlier. Then the economy takes a nose dive and people jump on the frugal green (common sense) bandwagon and act as if they know everything, while shoving their walk the talk elders to the sidelines. Personally I am getting more than mad at this attitude!!
Sarahmuffin84 picture
I grew up with a self-employed father and a frugal housewife mother, so things in our house were the utmost of frugality. We grew a huge garden every year, ate homecooked food almost all the time, canned and froze food, bought almost all our clothes at thrift stores, recycled, and reused. We lived with my grandmother for a while, and having grown up during the depression she was a very thrifty person...everything got reused! My sister and I used to make fun of my mother for washing ziploc bags and foil, but now that I am married and running my own household, I realize how important these steps can be (I have since apologized to my mother!). My husband and I recycle, are switching to natural products as we use up our conventional ones, and are trying to grow a garden on a shaded city lot. My view is that even the smallest step puts you closer to sustainability than you were before, so keep on walking!
Anngrace picture
Frugality may seem like a "dirty" word to some, but that has been a lifestyle for some of us. Saving clean pieces of paper for notes, washing zip loc bags to reuse them, buying good quality items at resale shops and yard sales, taking care of the clothing we have such as mending and spot removal rather than buying new all the time. We have purchased good, low-mileage cars for years rather than new. We are not deprived; the money we save we can use to take a trip and eat out occasionally, or buy a new appliance when new is required. We only use credit cards for convenience, but not to buy things we cannot afford to pay off every month. This gives financial peace of mind.