A collection of recycled bottles

Recycling a Way of Life: Modern-Day Lessons from Way Back When

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Well, it's official. California voters have approved the ban of single use carryout plastic bags. While they're receiving accolades for this forward thinking position, I have to roll my eyes just a little bit. 
 
Don't get me wrong; I share Californians' wariness about plastics. In the back of my mind I wonder what may be leaching into my food or out of my grandson's teething ring. I prefer to use glass to store leftovers, but it's hard to beat the convenience of an airtight plastic tub for organizing gluten-free flours in my pantry.
 
I get how a love/hate relationship with plastic, coupled with the fact that these bags can't be recycled, would lead to support for a ban. That's not why I'm rolling my eyes.
 
I just find it amusing that reducing waste is seen as something new.

Recycling Begins at Home

My grandmother was born in 1912. She never used a plastic bread bag only once. She'd turn them inside out, wash them, and hang them around the kitchen to dry before refilling them.
 
Her influence clearly trickled down to my mother who was born in 1940. She washed and reused red Solo cups and Chinet "disposable" china for party after party—okay, that makes her sound like she partied all the time, which wasn't the case. The disposable dining ware was actually stored in our kitchen cabinets for a long time.
 
The ban on waste in our home was highly annoying at Christmas. Each package had to be opened meticulously so as not to rip the paper that would be neatly folded and stored until next December. By the time my sister got to the toy inside a package, she didn't want it anymore.
 
I know you may be thinking I'm exaggerating something that happened once or twice. No, you skeptics. Think again!

A few years ago, I opened a Christmas gift wrapped in paper that had passed its 45th year of use. I remember when it first appeared—I was eight, and it snowed.

Old Habits Die Hard

I wasn't immune to this influence. I still make lists on the back of used envelopes just like my mother did. Now, I know that makes sense if you don't have any paper around, but we owned a print shop. We had cartons full of unopened reams of paper and notepads made from the edges of paper we didn't need for a print job. We were literally surrounded by thousands of sheets of pristine, new paper! Yet, every single list I can think of was made on a used #10 envelope.
 
We didn't discuss reducing, reusing, or recycling around the dinner table. By the time I heard those terms, I'd been wearing hand-me-downs for years. I'd eaten my grandmother's potato sandwiches made from cold, leftover slices of baked potato. I'd fed our dog scraps of food instead of store-bought dog food, and I'd slept on quilts that included material I recognized from my grandmother's Sunday dress.
 
What this meant for me was that I had what I needed; I never felt deprived. Later, I easily embraced recycling as a natural extension of my family's tradition of reducing and reusing.

Keeping the Recycling Tradition Alive

If I had exerted the same level of influence over my children as my parents did over me, perhaps conservation and sustainability would be second nature. Clearly, I haven't done as good a job molding my children.
 
My youngest son has been known to throw out pots and pans he deems too dirty to scrub, and he doesn't hesitate when throwing out a handful of diapers my grandson has outgrown. I cringe when he tells me this. I can’t help thinking I could give those to someone, use them to clean mirrors...something. They're useful!
 
These days, I'm thrilled to see an interest in tiny living, which requires an awareness of reducing. I love art that gives new life to found objects, and I appreciate what California is trying to accomplish.
 
I suppose I just wish someone would acknowledge that the philosophy of reducing waste is not new or particularly innovative. It's actually recycling a way of life that existed all those years ago in my grandmother's kitchen.

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