The Cost of Litter

I’ve written before about my mom’s habit of picking up trash and how it has rubbed off on me. I’m not as agro as she is (yet?), but I try to do my part. I find it’s especially hard to ignore garbage when it’s in the street or on the sidewalk in front of my house or when I’m out somewhere in nature surrounded by beauty and wildlife. I feel compelled to pick up trash in nature. I can’t stand it marring the scenery or the thought of it ending up in an animal’s stomach.

This weekend, the fam and I took a hike to St. Mary’s Glacier outside of Idaho Springs. It was so picturesque, but I ran into a stray piece of garbage here and there (mostly wrappers from “convenient” individually-wrapped foods), which I pocketed and threw into the trash when we returned to the parking lot.

It’s hard to ignore garbage when the view looks like this:

Or this:

Or this:

And especially when I look at these two and then see a piece of trash. It’s really hard to look the other way.

Over at One Million Acts of Green, one of the Acts (under Everyday Habits) is Pick Up Garbage. The carbon dioxide reduction of this particular Act is low, but it’s important for many other reasons.

The Cost of Litter

Garbage littering our neighborhoods, waterways, nature areas and more:

  • Creates an eyesore.
  • Creates potential environmental damage.
  • It can be a health hazard to humans and animals.
  • It’s killing marine life.
  • It’s killing animals in the wild and even in a zoo.
  • And it’s costly to humans in the dollars and cents sense of the word too.
  • In the United States, state governments spends millions of dollars (yes, millions) each year picking up garbage.
  • They also drive millions of miles each year to collect that trash. Think of all of the gas that is used to fuel their trucks!

If we all did our part and picked up after ourselves and others — including our DOGS — (and for the love of God, try to stay away from those “convenient” individually-wrapped foods in the first place) we could make a big impact.

If you complete the Pick Up Garbage Act, you’ll be well on your way to completing 3 Acts of Green which will earn you an entry into the 3 to Green Contest where one very lucky winner will receive a $5,000 spending spree at BuyGreen.com. To enter for your chance to win, just register and complete three acts of green! It’s that easy! And for every additional three acts of green you register, you’ll earn another entry. Not only will you get a chance to win some cool green stuff, you will be doing your part to clean up the Earth. Our children and our children’s children will thank you for it someday.

As we were on our hike, I paused by the lake to gaze out at the water where I saw ripples — first tiny, then bigger, and bigger, and bigger — which made me think of the ripple effect.

Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. — Scott Adams

Let’s start our own little ripples and see how big they become. :)

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation.

Where do your kids’ toys go to die? Children, consumerism, toys and trash

A few weeks ago I overheard a woman say (online) that she cleaned her basement and subsequently “threw out 10 bags of broken, crap toys!” The comments that followed applauded her efforts. I’m not sure if they were happy that she cleaned the basement or that she discarded numerous toys, but I couldn’t help but feel saddened that so many “broken, crap toys” were on their way to the landfill.

I can’t say I’ve never thrown out a broken toy myself, but generally speaking I try to make an effort to acquire toys that are the antithesis of “crap” and, thus will stand the test of time and, once they’ve lived out their time with us, can be given away to someone else (or saved for my kid’s kids…someday). Of course some less than stellar toys inevitably make their way into our house, but 10 bags of junked toys seems like a lot to me.

It had me wondering, is this scenario the norm or the exception? What do you think?

According to Earth911, “Recent studies show nearly every household purchases at least one toy a year (often more), and toy sales in the U.S. in 2007 totaled to $20.5 billion.” How many of those toys make their way into the landfills?

I have to admit that I feel guilty every time I throw a broken anything into the trash. I know that throwing something away doesn’t really make it go away. There is no “away.” It just means that it’s going to sit in a landfill or in an ocean somewhere for years and years and years. That bothers me, which is why I try to avoid it. (If you haven’t yet watch The Story of Stuff, I highly recommend it.) This is also why this weekend I was trying to Freecycle a bunch of stuff that we’re no longer using.

I wrote a bit about my process for getting rid of stuff in the post “Decluttering your house, the green way.”

Even if I know the garbage can is my last option for stuff, I still feel bad about throwing it out. I hate to think about it ending up in a landfill and staying there forever, but then I also have to be realistic and not completely beat myself up over it. It’s a good reminder to make wise choices when buying things and think:

* Do I really need this?
* Is it good enough quality that it will last for years or will it break after a year and have to be replaced?
* Should I save my money for a little while longer and buy a better quality item that will last me longer?
* What will I do with it when I no longer need it (or when it breaks)?

Of course this is a bit harder when you have kids (and toys) and it’s not always practical to go through this list every time you buy something, but it’s a good practice to get into and will help to avoid unnecessary purchases in the future. It can also help you avoid buying cheap, plastic toys that might as well go directly from the assembly line to the landfill for as long as they are usable. But don’t get me started about those. ;oP

Good toys vs. Junk toys

Jennifer Lance wrote Green Family Values: No More Junk Toys! and offers some tips on how to tell a good toy from a junk toy:

How can you tell a junk toy from a good toy? Field naturalist Alicia Daniel offers the following list of questions to ask when selecting toys:

  1. Will this toy eventually turn into dirt-i.e., could I compost it? Stones, snowmen, driftwood, and daisies-they will be gone, and we will be gone, and life goes on.
  2. Do I know who made this toy? This question leads us to search for the hidden folk artist in each of us.
  3. Is this toy beautiful? Have human hands bestowed an awkward grace, a uniqueness lacking in toys cranked out effortlessly by machine?
  4. Will this toy capture a child’s imagination?

So what do you do with the old toys?

Earth911 has some tips for recycling toys including:

  • passing them on to other family members
  • donating them
  • repairing broken toys
  • or selling them.

They also list the benefits of recycling toys.

Think before you buy

I think the best advice though is to think before you buy. I know not every single toy purchase can be a thoughtful/practical one, but if you can change that so the percentage of thoughtful purchases is increased by 25%, 50%, 75% or more, think of how much crap that will keep out of the landfills. Also, you might want to consider the carbon footprint and the safety of the toy. How far did it have to travel to get to your toy store? If you live in the United States, could you buy an American-made alternative instead? There have been a lot of recalls of toys in the past several years. When you buy well-made, quality toys, you reduce the risk of a recall.

Children and consumerism

Mrs. Green from My Zero Waste in her post A Plastic Frisbee for the Landfill wrote:

I have to say, this is something that concerns me about 21st century life – the massive volume of ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ toys that our children are growing up with. They last a few days at best and then become ‘rubbish’. Our children are bought up to look for the next fix and move on to the next thing, like good little consumers. I wonder how we can ever solve the landfill issue until we pull back from so much mindless consumerism. We try and stay away from it as much as we can, but we can’t live in a vacuum or turn our child into the village freak.

I agree. I don’t want my children to be turned into mindless consumers, which is why I support the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, but I also realize they cannot live in a vacuum and I don’t want them to be ostracized by their peers.

So, what’s the solution?

Think before you buy, have a plan in mind for what to do with a toy when your child is done with it, and remember: everything in moderation.

One of my favorite Native American proverbs is, “We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.” Yes, a cheap plastic toy might make your child happy for a few minutes or weeks, but how happy will it make them in 20 years when their generation is responsible for cleaning up the mess that resulted from all of those cheap plastic toys?

Related links:
Second Chance Toys: Rescuing and Recycling Plastic Toys for Needy Children
Tips for Choosing Eco-friendly Toys
Simple toys are better for children
Toys from Trash

Don’t miss a single Crunchy Domestic Goddess post, subscribe to my blog.

Decluttering your house, the green way

I’ve been on a spring cleaning kick around here lately and it’s a good thing since my house is sorely in need of it. Not only will decluttering hopefully help my mood (who can stay positive looking at clutter day in and day out?), but getting rid of our superfluous stuff will be helpful when it comes time to pack it all up one day (I hope in a year or two) and move to another house.

When ridding my home of stuff we no longer want or use, I try to be as green and eco-friendly as possible. How do I do it?

  • Listing my items on Freecycle is often my first choice because it can be the fastest way to move stuff out and get it into the hands of someone else who can use it. The only rule to listing on Freecycle is that you have to give the item(s) away for free. Personally, I love it.
  • If I have a more expensive item that I don’t want to give away for free, I turn to Craigslist – it’s like a huge classified system where you can list items free of charge. As opposed to something like Ebay, Craigslist is organized by city so there’s a good chance you can find someone in your area that can come get it directly from you and pay you cash, and you avoid having to spend money on shipping and making a trip to the Post Office.
  • Our curbside recycling bin is also my best friend when cleaning house. If something isn’t accepted in the curbside bin, sometimes it can go to the local recycling center which is just a few miles away. Check with your local recycling center for more information on recycling in your area.
  • If it isn’t wanted on Freecycle, can’t be sold or can’t be recycled, and provided it’s something others can use, then it usually goes into a donation pile to be given to a local charity.
  • If all of these fail, then as a last resort it goes into the trash. I try to use the garbage can as sparingly as possible, but even I must admit that sometimes the trash is the only place for it.

Even if I know the garbage can is my last option for stuff, I still feel bad about throwing it out. I hate to think about it ending up in a landfill and staying there forever, but then I also have to be realistic and not completely beat myself up over it. It’s a good reminder to make wise choices when buying things and think:

  • Do I really need this?
  • Is it good enough quality that it will last for years or will it break after a year and have to be replaced?
  • Should I save my money for a little while longer and buy a better quality item that will last me longer?
  • What will I do with it when I no longer need it (or when it breaks)?

Of course this is a bit harder when you have kids (and toys) and it’s not always practical to go through this list every time you buy something, but it’s a good practice to get into and will help to avoid unnecessary purchases in the future. It can also help you avoid buying cheap, plastic toys that might as well go directly from the assembly line to the landfill for as long as they are usable. But don’t get me started about those. ;oP

As for my decluttering today, I cleaned out and reorganized the pantry/laundry room. I should’ve taken before and after pictures, if not to post on my blog, then for my own satisfaction. ;) I still have a bit more work to do in there and Jody is going to put up another shelf, but already it feels so. much. better.

I also worked a bit in my kitchen today to clear off one of my countertops. My countertops end up being a breeding ground for kid artwork and my/Jody’s paperwork. Does this happen to anyone else?? I’m trying to get a system in place so that we can avoid future paper explosions on the counter, but some more reorganizing and implementing a filing system (as well as having a desk to use) is definitely in order first. Anyone have a cute rolltop desk they want to sell me or give me? C’mon, Freecycle, baby. ;)