Keeping Columbia Green on Earth Day :: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

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earth day

As a parent, you hope to leave the planet a little better off for your children, or at the very least, no worse, right? We could talk about all the trendy buzzwords — carbon footprints, climate change, global energy crises — the list only grows longer each year. I’ll be honest with you, though: This busy mama doesn’t have time for that. What I do have time for, is taking it back to basics. To the things I was taught, and I’m sure you were too, back in school days at this time of year. The Three R’s. Not Reading, (w)Riting, and (a)Rithmetic, but Reuse, Reduce, and Recycle.

These concepts are burned in our brain, but often we forget, in our mad dash to do ALL THE THINGS, that it’s not that hard to incorporate them into our lives, and it’s getting easier to do them here in the Midlands.

earth day RRR

Reuse

Look around your home. How many things are you throwing away that there are re-usable alternatives for?

Paper plates

Switch to “real” plates. You know you are washing dishes anyway. Or take baby steps and only do paper plates once or twice a week.

Paper towels

Switch to dishcloths. They are just as effective and have a long life span. Or try “un”Paper towels.

Feminine products

Try a menstrual cup, like the Diva (available locally at Whole Foods and EarthFare) or Lunette — they are as easy as using a tampon, you change them less often, and they last for years. There is also the grown-up version of cloth diapers, often called “mama cloth” — you can make your own, or there are some available at retailers like Luna Pads — I’ve seen these at EarthFare and Whole Foods.

Toilet paper

I admit, this isn’t something I’d tackle, but a surprising number of households embrace “family cloth” — basically, washcloths for your bum. Here’s how one family got started with this eco-friendly habit.

Baby clothes and gear

Okay, so you probably don’t throw these away, but you can still embrace the “reuse” concept by buying second-hand. There is literally nothing your baby needs brand-new, except perhaps disposable diapers. The Midlands is covered in thrift and consignment shops. National chain Once Upon a Child has two locations, Harbison and the Northeast, and there are plenty of locally-based shops as well. Or check out seasonal consignment sales, such as Tot Trade.

Disposable diapers

My last cloth baby, cloth diapered from birth to age two
My last cloth baby, cloth diapered from birth to age two

Try cloth diapers — they are so much easier than the pins, folded cloth, and plastic pants our mothers and grandmothers used, and infinitely cuter than any disposable option available. There are truly options for every interest level and budget. And honestly, the laundry is not that bad. I used cloth diapers on my three children for 5 years, with much of that time having two in diapers at once. It added at most 3 extra loads of laundry a week, which for a family of five is just a drop in the bucket. (Don’t just take my word for it; my fellow contributor Natasha wrote about why her family loves cloth, too!)

Reduce

Every family I know complains they have too much stuff. Too many toys, overflowing laundry and closets (caused by an overwhelming number of clothes for each member of the family), too many dishes to wash … it is just altogether Too. Much. Stuff.  What can you do about it?

Toys

This is hard because I know we want to give our kids all the things they want. We want to make sure they are challenged, entertained, and occupied. No one wants bored kids! But that doesn’t mean you have to buy out Toys R Us.

toys
Your child may have an army of toys, but you only need a platoon.

In our family, we rarely buy our kids toys outside of birthday and Christmas, and even then we limit it — because it’s that overwhelming, and we don’t have space or money to be that indulgent. They play with what they have, and they spend endless hours playing with things that aren’t necessarily toys, like stacking cups. A random leftover shelf becomes a slide, a bridge, a gate to a fort; an empty Rubbermaid tub is used as a boat … watching their creativity blossom is fascinating.

Even if you, as parents, don’t buy toys, the well-meaning people in your family unknowingly contribute to the clutter. Grandparents love to spoil the grandbabies. Your kids probably get a wealth of toys at birthday parties, and you may have that one family member that insists on passing all her children’s toys down to you (which is great! goes back to reuse, right? except when the toys are utter crap … ) What can you do about that? On your birthday party invites, mention that this is a no-gift party. I’ve asked guests to bring a side dish to share instead. Other families ask that instead of presents, guests pay for participating children at a location. Another option is to do a book exchange.

At Christmas, we limit gifts to three per child. Other families follow a similar rule “something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.” There are myriad options to reduce the toy clutter in your house. These are only a few.

Clothes

Go through each person in your house’s wardrobe and figure out exactly how many items are necessary — a week’s worth, maybe two, of clothes (depending on how often you do laundry) is likely all you really need as far as variety. You can try this 33 item challenge to get started. It’s eye-opening and will save you money and closet space.

Dishes

Some families, in order to save space and reduce the amount of dishwashing, only have one set of cutlery per person — one spoon, one knife, one fork. I haven’t tried it yet, but seeing as how overflowing my silverware drawer is, I should probably start.

Recycle

recycling
Recycling is as easy as putting the bin by the curb.

Recycling is something we all should be doing — many offices, parks, and even retail stores have recycling containers available. If you have trash pick up in Lexington or Richland County, they will also pick up your recyclables. You don’t even have to sort them. Many private trash services offer recycling as well. And recycling is more than just newspapers — both counties can take items such as scrap metal, household hazardous waste, and used motor oil for responsible, safe disposal.

In addition to curbside pickup, Lexington County has 11 recycling centers and a landfill where you can drop off everything from aluminum cans to wood waste. Chances are the county will take things you didn’t even know you could recycle. And while you’re at the Edmund Landfill dropping off an old mattress or refrigerator, pick up some mulch for spring planting — yep, you can recycle trees, too.

Richland County has 14 sites that accept various materials; check the list here to find the site nearest you and what it accepts. Or if you’re preparing recyclables for curbside pickup, follow this easy-to-read list of what and how to recycle.

No matter where you are in the Midlands, there is probably a drop-off point near you — you just probably never noticed them. I know that near my home in Lexington, there are two in easy driving distance that I pass at least once a week.

We may only celebrate Earth Day once a year, but it serves as a reminder that there are things we can do every day to make this planet a more sustainable place for ourselves and for our children in years come.

Do you have a favorite “green” tip? Share yours in the comments.

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Katrina is a mom of three great kids and has been married to her first love for nearly 10 years. She’s grateful to have a job that allows her the flexibility to both work from home some days and in the office others. On the surface, Katrina is pretty crunchy – she loves breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, natural birth, and homeschooling — but still loves her stroller, having her kids in their own beds at some point, her epidural was fantastic, and she’ll be sending the kids through public school. Most of all she loves the fact that we have all these choices, which makes life interesting! One of her favorite experiences was moving to Japan in 2002 to live as an adult dependent with their USMC family. It was an amazing experience, and if it weren’t for that, she probably wouldn’t ever have met my husband.

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