To engage and unite Virginians to improve our natural and scenic environment.

Maybe We Have Too Much Stuff to Recycle?

If you had to leave your house in a hurry, what would you need?  We feel horrible for those in the West who were displaced by wildfires, and we’re still helping those around Virginia who had homes damaged during our storms and that crazy derecho, but if it were an emergency, what would you grab and what could be replaced?  Perhaps part of our problem when it comes to recycling and reusing things is that we just have too much darned stuff.

Think about what you see when you walk around your home.  You probably have air conditioning, a microwave, a living area, kitchen, and one or more bedrooms.  There are sofas, beds, dressers, computers, televisions, video game consoles, and more.  We are surrounded by pictures, books, trinkets, and dishwashers.  It wasn’t always that way.

It wasn’t that long ago that most of us cooked a meal with fresh ingredients on a stove, ate it together at a table, and then took turns washing dishes in a sink.  We would gather together around a radio or the family television, play some checkers, and then go to bed.  How many of you shared a room or even a bed with a sibling?  If you go back a generation or two you will meet people who grew up without a refrigerator, because as we all know, the best place to store vegetables is in the ground and the best place to store a gallon of milk is in a cow.  We lived simply and surrounded ourselves with what we needed – no more or no less.  And not much need to reuse or recycle.

A recent article in The Atlantic spoke of the impression of foreigners upon visiting America.  They were shocked at the size and variety in our grocery stores.  They were surprised at the volume of food that they received in restaurants.  Shopping was 24/7/365 and you didn’t haggle with a vendor; customs that were unusual in their home countries.  We often spent more money on things for our pets than we did for members of our family.

Even those who are considered to be in poverty are surrounded by stuff.  A study shared in CNNMoney showed that low-income families had nearly as many televisions as those considered middle-class or wealthy.  Over 60% of families earning less than $20,000 owned two to four televisions, and a third of those were LCD or fancy plasma sets.  Not exactly The Grapes of Wrath, is it?

We’re not faulting those who make these purchases.  A family who lives in poverty has as much a right to watch television as a middle-class family does to enjoy air conditioning.  One of the wonderful things about living in this age is being able to use and enjoy the comforts and technologies that are developed.  We’re fortunate to have the safety of refrigeration, and survive tropical Virginia summers through the miracle of air conditioning.  This blog is not about that.

When our parents got married, they got a set of silverware from their parents.  The silverware had been given to them by their parents, who got it from their parents.  We’ve fed our children with forks and spoons that are seven times older than they are.  Now we run to the MegaShop every time we get bored and buy some cutlery.  Not that we ever use it, as every take-out order comes with an array of plastic knives, forks, and spoons.  When Europeans first arrived on our shores, they carried with them a spoon, a bowl, and a cup.  Want another drink of grog?  Better wash your cup.  We now have overflowing drawers of flatware and have become so consumed with consuming that we’re inventing new utensils, like the chork and the half spoon.

Perhaps what drives our depletion of resources and destruction of our planet is our quest for stuff?  We live in an age of short-term, single-use products.  We’re surrounded in shrink-wrap and disposable packaging.  When our television goes on the fritz we casually head out and buy a new one.  When our technology improves we blandly ditch our current gadget for the latest must-have.  When we first began to fill our homes with radios and record players, pianos became furniture.  Where we once handed them down to our children or donated them to a needy school or church, we are now throwing them away.  It’s easier and cheaper to purchase an electronic keyboard.  Perhaps we need to pay better attention to what we buy, and aim for a quality product that would last a lifetime and be useful to another generation of users?

That would be music to our ears:  Less Stuff.