Greetings once again from the open waters of Lake Superior. We began in early May, with fast ice still haunting parts of the Canadian shoreline and a blizzard, which kept us pinned to the Duluth Boat Basin.
Now, the trees are green, wildflowers are popping up, and the screens go up at night to keep out the bugs. Still, water temperatures on the Lake have only risen from about 32 degrees to 36 degrees. Not much relief for our daily dip. Watching the seasons change as we sail Lake Superior is one of my favorite past times.
As promised, here are the seven R’s that we on Sea Change believe should be at the forefront of any individual, family, school, church or workplace garbage system.
The first and most important "R": Refuse! Learn to say “no” to everything from the triple-wrapped item at the store, to the plastic straw at the restaurant, to the plastic toys handed out to kids everywhere, to the plastic plates at your church supper. Bring your own, package your own, or do without.
The second: Reduce! Buy one toy, one pencil, one pair of shorts, one razor. Buy replacement parts and avoid “deals” where you end up with more than you need.
The third: Re-use! Use that single bag you couldn’t avoid several times over. Keep a grocery bag in the glove-box so that you can re-use it next time you shop. You wouldn’t throw out a pair of pants after one use, yet your pants will disintegrate much more quickly than the plastic bag.
The fourth: Repair! We repair our Ziploc bags with masking tape patches. We repair our school folders with duct tape. And if you ask, I will share with you a great way to replace zippers. As an amateur sewer, I will testify that Mark and I both wear jackets with their second set of zippers. Zippers are often the first — and only — part of a jacket to need repair.
The fifth: Re-gift! If you really can’t use something, who can? The explosion of thrift stores is a manifestation of our thrifty impulse, combined with the fact that we have too much stuff. Clothes and shoes can make the rounds in a single family, and this can be expanded — How about notebooks, team clothing or snacks? A teacher at our last presentation gave us the packet of 20 pencils we’d used that day. He said it was for future kids to fill out quizzes. “Re-gift, right?” he said to me, with a knowing smile. It’s not hard to re-gift once you realize you can give anything away that you want. One great way to spread cloth grocery bag use is to offer them to anyone in the grocery store who takes a second look at yours.
The sixth: Repurpose! In the old days, items took on second and third lives. Clothing became quilts, rags or rugs. It was unthinkable to waste a bullet. Today, farmers can pick up old food from grocery stores for their animals. My mom’s friend has learned to sew plastic bags into sleeping mats for homeless people. Children are great at taking blocks, sticks, sponges, string and stones — and turning it into whatever they want. You do not need a tea set to have a tea party. I recall Mark making our girls trombones, laptops and radios out of cardboard.
Finally, if you absolutely must throw something out, recycle it. Acquaint yourself with local recycling policies so that you are not creating work for others. Super One recycles clear, dry plastic; a full description of their recycling services can be found behind the checkout lane.
The bottom line is that we need to rethink what we ask ourselves about the stuff we own or want. Rather than asking ourselves the questions, “Do I want it? Can I afford it?” consider these four questions instead: “Am I fine without it? Can I get it used? Can I get it with less or no packaging? Can I make it myself out of something else? Can I buy it locally?”
There are two caveats to this method: It may take longer to get your item or accomplish your purpose, and it may not be the cheapest (though often it is!). Practicing the 7 R’s therefore provides opportunities to practice patience and generosity. And the opportunities are endless. If you are satisfied with your personal choices, start working on your school, church or workplace.