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Shopping Carts Lined Up

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