Environmental Guilt = A Cluttered House - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

Environmental Guilt = A Cluttered House


When I was still teaching high school English, one of my kids came in one day drinking some apple juice from a reusable water bottle emblazoned with the school's mascot. I was horrified to see the kid throw the entire container (including a good 6 ounces of juice) into the trash can. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me he didn't want any more of the juice.

Then I pointed out to him that the water bottle wasn't made to be disposable. I believe what followed was something of a lecture about the importance of taking care of both our things and our planet.

The kid was unimpressed.

Guess who fished the water bottle out of the trash can?

And, guess who still has it cluttering up one of her kitchen cabinets?

Therein lies one of the problems with being frugal, environmentally minded, and disorganized. I hate the thought of perfectly useful things ending up in a landfill. But just because something is useful does not mean that I personally can put it to good use.

This problem was somewhat less acute in Columbus, where the FreeCycle community was enormous and diverse. (I once actually found a taker for nearly 100 empty CD jewel cases. He needed them for computer discs and would otherwise have had to buy them. I no longered stored my CDs in their cases. It was a match made in heaven.)

But living in a small town means that I have fewer outlets for my useful yet cluttery items. In the past couple of years, in the hopes of actually having a clean house sometime in my lifetime, I've found myself throwing out items. (Part of this had to do with reading this Cracked article which led me to this article on the fact that our landfill problem is much less dire than we might have thought. Boy did that alleviate some guilt).

I still have issues sending some items into the great landfill abyss, however.  In particular, I never know what to do with used shoes. No one wants the running shoes I took on my 500 mile challenge of 2012, but I can't bring myself to throw them out. So they sit uselessly in my closet, having fulfilled their function and waiting patiently for the next run that will never come. I feel guilty seeing them in my closet and I feel guilty thinking about throwing them out.

There really ought to be some clear instructions for those such as myself as to the most responsible way of disposing of such items. If I could just know that it makes the most sense to trash the shoes, that would be that. But instead, I flounder in indecision, and I have a collection of dead running shoes cluttering up my closet. (Seriously, I think there are three former pairs currently in residence.)

(Of course, I did just spend 30 minutes writing this hand-wringing post when I could probably have Googled some answers about shoe disposal methods, but we're ignoring that for the moment.)

Does anyone else get overwhelmed by the thought of trashing usable items? Or am I the only neurotic who took An Inconvenient Truth a mite too seriously?



bobi said:

Nike recycles shoes. Just drop off at their stores. Check their website for exact locations.

February 6, 2013 8:03 PM

haverwench said:

First of all, it's important to remember that the main problem with throwing stuff away is not the landfill space you're taking up--it's the water, energy and other natural resources that will go into the replacement you buy. (This, by the way, is the main point that John Tierney conveniently overlooks in the article you linked to, "Recycling is Garbage." He spends the whole article attacking a straw man, the issue of landfill space, and almost entirely ignores the question of resource and energy use, which is the main point of recycling. Not to mention that he argues that recycling is bad for the economy because it requires too many workers. Wait, so creating jobs is a BAD thing?)

Ahem. As I was saying, if the object cluttering your cupboards is one that you don't intend to replace anyway (like the water bottle), then throwing it in the trash is not such a big deal. In fact, landfills actually offer some benefits to the environment: because they aren't suitable for development, they tend to remain green space, providing much-needed habitat for wildlife. (I blogged about this in back in December: ecofrugality.blogspot.com/.../when-is-waste-not-waste.html.)

So, okay, no problem throwing out the items that are no use to you or to anyone else. But what if it could be useful to someone else, just not to you? Then the question is how to get it into the hands of that theoretical person who can use it. Freecycle is obviously one way, but that apparently isn't working so well for you these days. But you can also donate items to thrift shops or sell them at yard sales. If you don't have enough stuff for a yard sale, see if you can pool your resources with a neighbor, or better yet, the whole block. The bigger the sale, the more traffic it attracts.

Finally, if you can't find any takers, but you know the item still has useful parts, there's always recycling, like the Nike program that Bobi mentioned (nikereuseashoe.com). For more info about what can be recycled and how, see www.realsimple.com/.../print-index.html. (Unfortunately, there's nothing there to help you with your reusable water bottle.)

February 7, 2013 9:47 AM

frugal_fun said:

Just. Throw. Them. Away.

Yes, drop them off at Nike if you remember and if you're not going to make a special trip.

I used to feel bad, too. Waste not, want not. (I still do, sometimes.)

On the other hand, as FlyLady rightly points out, your home is not a landfill. You have the right to a nice space. If the shoes are worn out, then the shoes are worn out. That's why we have all these complex disposal systems.

Haverwench - You're right that the long article did ignore energy inputs. The shorter article did not. Permanent stuff usually requires more resources to produce, maintain and then throw away. That said, I generally agree you and with your premise. Throwing away worn out stuff, okay - throwing out stuff because you're bored, not so much.

Also, from the mouth of babes category: We use both cloth and disposable diapers on my youngest daughter. My eldest daughter, who does not like cloth, asked why we used them. I told to her to save money/resources. She immediately pointed out much water we use to wash them and how much money it costs. Touche, my 10 year old baby.

February 7, 2013 2:51 PM

haverwench said:

Sounds like a teachable moment. Ask her to crunch the numbers (price of diapers + trash disposal costs vs. cost of diapers + water + detergent + electricity) and figure out which costs more over the course of, say, 2 years that a baby spends in diapers. If nothing else, it will show how math actually is useful in the real world and not just something teachers do to torture kids.

February 7, 2013 3:42 PM

frugal_fun said:

That's the heck of the thing -- my kid is right on her math because of how we acquire disposables and where we live.

Water is billed on a progressive scale in my city. There's a minimum floor, but each cubic foot we use is increasingly more expensive.  So assuming that the diapers are an "add on"  to the water bill, I might easily be looking at $10-$20 extra in the water bill.  We can't line dry them either (they turn crinkly), so we're looking at $8-$15 in extra electricity between the washers (high efficiency/meant for off the grid)/dryer/and water heat.  A cloth has to be changed more often - double the rate of disposables. And there's the obvious high initial cost.

On the flip side, our trash disposal cost is fixed. As long as it fits in the bin, there's no extra per month. We have to pay for trash because the city provides it. So adding diaper disposal is zero. We buy our disposable diapers at Costco during big runs. A box will last a month.  So there's no extra gas above what we're doing, it's a high quality disposable, and as a private label at Costco, I know I'm only paying a small percentage in margin. It shows in the price of the box at about $35.

In other words, assuming I'm ultimate disciplined Mom and use only cloth, (ha, ha), I'd be saving a whopping $10 a month. It would literally take a year of "perfect" use to pay back even an initial investment into cloth. (Thank goodness cloth diapers have other uses.) When we lived in the country and water was free and disposal was not a forced or fixed cost, the margin between the two was much wider.

I think the environmental impact is a toss up, too. The water has to be purified once it's waste water, I did manage to consume a fair amount of power in washing them and cloth diapers come from far away places, too.

So yeah, from the mouth of babes...

PS - I have tried diaper free too, to side step the whole debate and save some real moola. It turns out I wasn't quite disciplined enough for that either. :)

February 7, 2013 7:53 PM

Live Like a Mensch said:

Tiny home interior photo courtesy of Tammy Several years ago, I remember watching one of those ubiquitous

March 29, 2013 4:09 PM

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