Friday, June 4, 2010

When the imperfect is the best friend of the not too bad

This weird thing happened a couple of months ago, after about half a year of consistently actually remembering to bring grocery bags to the store with me when I went shopping. I went out to the stash in the garage where we kept the paper grocery bags to bring one in for our household recyling...only to realize they were just gone. No more. The endless stash disappeared. Then the following week my husband did the grocery shopping...and magically, the stash was replenished. Because he never remembers to bring bags. I remind; he forgets.

Just yesterday, my son came home and announced that for Field Day at school, each child (grr) needed to bring a sack lunch, no lunchboxes or reusables desired. Which annoyed me, and placed me in a quandary--I don't have paper or plastic lunch bags around. What kind of "sack" am I supposed to use? Then I remembered that time a month or so ago when I caved and bought that ammoniaburger, when they gave me the stupid wrapped burger in a much bigger stupid paper bag, which I remember thinking was just plain stupid. I folded up the bag Just In Case I ever needed it for something…so this morning, my kid went to school with a re-used fast food bag for a lunch sack. And a sandwich, instead of in a Wrap-N-Mat, in a plain old foldover sandwich bag of the same kind we use to pick up dog poo. (I didn’t frame it that way for my son.)

That’s when it sort of hit me—as partially-green as my life is becoming, I depend really heavily on a combination of a) the stuff leftover from before I started greening our lives (like that big plastic bin downstairs that’s full of disposable plates, cups, and flatware) and b) the fruits of my wagon-fall-offs (the lunch bag). If I didn’t break down at least every so often and buy the ridiculous glass jars of applesauce, I wouldn’t have anything to put the homemade stuff in. (I mean, is it really better in these cases to go out and buy new jars to put the applesauce in? The jars might be better and nicer, and maybe last longer, but I get a lot of mileage out of those re-used jars.) (Okay, the good Ball canning jars are what you need for canning…but when I’m making a quart of the stuff that will be eaten in a week, who cares, right?) Same deal for my various herbal concoctions—I need jars whose lids don’t smell like pasta sauce, and applesauce jars fit the bill nicely. If we didn’t order Chinese takeout once every couple of months, I wouldn’t have that awesome stack of lidded plastic storage containers to put leftovers in, and in which my husband and I take our lunches to work. Ditto buying pre-made yogurt in those perfectly sized universally fitted quart containers with lids—I store everything in that stuff, including homemade yogurt when I do make it. And while I give my husband a hard time every winter when he buys bottles of “glogg” wine (it’s very yummy, but I can make better), I simultaneously am going, “yay! A couple more bottles for the homemade liqueurs!”

Yeah, I know. I could store in leftovers in glass. (Plastic and BPA and chemical leaching. I know. Baby steps. At least I never heat food in them any more.) I could store the recycling in something reusable. I could flout the regulations and send my kid with a lunchbox anyway. And I did use “real” plates and flatware for my daughter’s birthday party, and washed and saved the plastic “disposable” cups we used for their juice, so that disposable picnicware bin will probably last us until 2048 or so at this rate. And at some point I realized if I brought any more applesauce jars home I’d have to start recycling them anyway, because I don’t have any more room to store the damn things. I have shelves and shelves full of empty jars, which doesn’t seem like a really good use of space, you know? (Come fall, I’ll make more. Then it’ll be shelves and shelves of actual applesauce. And pasta sauce. In new jars I’ll have to buy for canning, I guess…)

Part of me wants to feel guilty about this…but it doesn’t want to badly enough that I actually do feel guilty.
(Partially because guilt is a really unproductive emotion, IMO.) It’s one of those areas where I am comfortable cutting myself slack. And I know that I have to be careful about not sliding into a deliberate dependence on that kind of stuff, like buying something I know I don’t need in a form I really don’t need it in, just because I know that some form of it will make another not-really-necessary ease kick in down the line somewhere. But let’s face it—fighting the consumerist-garbage-producing mindset is really really an uphill trek; doesn’t it make sense, whenever possible, to let the bumps in the road and places we trip work for us instead of against?

Or am I just rationalizing here?

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

--Jenn the Greenishmom


Nana Sadie said...

I so relate to this post. You see, in another lifetime, I was a Tupperware representative (back in the 1980s). Every once in awhile, I look at those stainless lunch buckets and bamboo utensils and think "I need them!" - fortunately, before I click "buy now" I realize that I will die and leave a large assortment of Tupperware containers for sandwiches, salads, and dressing that I use for lunchbox fare. I might as well continue to use what I have and not put them in the landfill.
You're aware of what you're doing - that's so important! Think of everyone who ISN'T doing what you're doing!!!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

This reminds me of Rebecca's post about running out of ziploc bags - someone commented that she doesn't need to worry about it because somehow plastic bags always find their way into your home. Isn't that so true? Despite our best intentions, some things just sneak in, and I totally agree with you that it's better to then find a good use for them rather than buying something new to fill a need.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

I confess I'm still a ziploc junkie. I rationalize by saying it's the way I manage to do so much freezing of stuff, and I re-use the ziplocs until they are absolutely useless any more. We go through them very slowly now, at least, but it's still a step I'm not yet prepared to take...

But yeah, they do tend to find their way in. And when they do...I put 'em to work. :-)

daharja said...

Augh! Tupperware!

It wasn't so long ago I realised a fair amount of the Tupperware I owned had BPA, and I didn't want it in my home!!!!

So I sold it second hand. It's gone.

Well, the dangerous stuff anyway. The not-so-dangerous stuff is still lurking in my cupboards, and I'm gradulally replacing it with glass jars that have rubber seals, and selling the Tupperware.

I know that sounds nasty - passing it on to some unsuspecting person. But I just can't afford to bin it. It cost too much. And I contacted Tupperware, and they say there's nothing wrong with their products and won't refund me the cost.

So it gets sold.

I just wish I'd been clued on to start with.

We still get the odd plastic bag (does that mean I go to Plastic Hell?) when my husband forgets, or I don't have enough bags with me, but I'm getting better.

I figure one day I'll be perfect and sustainable. In the meanwhile, I'm still working towards that day.

plasticBlows said...

i had the SAME thoughts today. SAME. i was thinking about all the stuff in my house..donate? keep staring at unused stuff? recycle it? cty now recycle plastics 1-7! i was also thinking about a friend who was allowing her kids to jump on her couch and it didnt matter...but i came up with an unobvious answer (other than them falling) that the couch will be worn down faster and it will go to a landfill sooner? my newest couch has a mattress fold out bed..i want it to last and last. if you let your kids beat on everything, for the sake of allowing them to be kids..they will break everything..just like we have broken our oceans and rivers with plastic. my past and present are plastics..hope my future isnt.

Maria said...

It's Reduce + Reuse + Recycle.
It's already produced - and it's convenient for what I need (a safe and lightweight way to transport food) - so I feel that multiple reuses cancels out the fact that it was bad in the first place. Then I recycle it.
Eg. Those great little applesauce cups. Applesauce is a lunch staple in my house. I'm getting sugar free organic in fabulous little cups that are...
REUSED almost every night for dinner to hold more applesauce (from big jar) or veggies that otherwise slide all over the place (eg. corn, olives, peas). I also reuse them in lunches to hold a perfect portion of chex mix or Pirate's Booty and then cover them with that expensive plastic wrap that is sticky (takes me almost a year to use a whole roll).
They work for playtime, too:
holding water for painting, holding bubble goo so you spill/waste less, holding beads, bathtub play, etc.
As they near the end of their lives (about 6 mo in my house) they're great for holding grease and then tossing - or just recycling.
My supply waxes and wanes. I use them so much, and the girls steal them for sorting their doo-dads that I feel that they're getting used far longer than their original intent.
It's like living another 50 years past your open heart surgery - bonus time!!!


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