When I heard the topic of this month’s Green Mom’s Carnival was “Conserving Resources,” I was stumped. I mean, I write about the topic every single time I post, right? Using less plastic = conserving resources. Plastic comes from oil. Use less plastic and conserve oil. Almost every consumer product these days comes packaged in plastic. Buying fewer products in plastic packing = buying fewer products in general = conserving resources. All of our electronic devices are made from plastic. Avoiding plastic means buying fewer technological toys = conserving materials and energy, right? What new thing can I say on the topic?
All this conservation should make a difference in my wallet. So how did I find myself at the ATM last week unable to withdraw cash because my checking account was empty? “Wait!” I thought. “I don’t buy things! There must be some mistake!”
Worried that someone had hacked into my account and stolen my money, I hurried home and jumped online to check. What I found was that I was the hacker. I was the one squandering my own resources. And for what?
While I don’t buy a lot of consumer goods, I do spend a lot on food. Here are some of the wasteful habits I’ve been thoughtlessly engaged in. Changes in these areas will help conserve the planet’s resources as well as my checking account:
1) Buying produce and letting it go bad. Oh, this happens all the time when I forget to eat during the day, come home starving, and have no energy to prepare something healthy. Instead, I cut myself some plastic-free bread and load it up with plastic-free cheese, my version of convenience food, and the produce ends up in the compost bin.
I’ve always justified this habit by rationalizing that the food is returning back to the earth, in the form of compost. But that’s as wrong-headed as believing that recycling is the answer to over-packaging. It took energy and water to grow and bring that food to market. And it cost money to buy. Letting it go to waste is not only wrong-headed, it’s completely antithetical to my supposed ideal of caring for all the materials that pass through our lives.
Resolution: Waste less food.
2) Overconsuming coffee and sweet treats. As you know, I bring my reusable travel mug and glass straw with me everywhere I go to avoid the waste from paper cups, lids, and straws. I bring reusable cloth napkins and bamboo cutlery. I’m prepared to do without disposable dishes and utensils. But what about the food and beverages themselves? Coffee and chocolate and sugar, unless they are organic and Fair Trade, take a huge toll on the planet. And even if they are produced in as eco-friendly a manner as possible, they certainly don’t grow in Oakland, CA. How much energy does it take to transport all these exotic luxuries that we have come to take for granted? And how much money would I save if I didn’t need to have them every day?
Resolution: Treat non-local foods (coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, etc.) like the luxuries they are. Eat less of them.
3) Eating in restaurants. Eating in restaurants isn’t necessarily bad for the planet and doesn’t have to leave a vacuum in our wallets if we do it wisely. Sticking to local businesses that serve fresh, local foods on durable dishware (rather take out) could be good for our health and the environment. And since restaurants buy their ingredients in bulk, they certainly generate less packaging waste per diner than is consumed by individuals each buying smaller sizes of the same foods.
But most restaurants in America serve portions that are too big for our actual needs. And most of them add way more fat, salt, and sugar than we would probably add to our foods at home. Is eating more calories than we need any different from letting food go to waste? My bathroom scale and mirror are telling me that I’m carrying this excess waste around my waist. And other body parts. And my bank account is not happy for the excess spending either.
Resolution: Choose only restaurants that serve local, fresh foods and order small portions or carry home leftovers (in my stainless steel container.)
4) Drinking alcohol. Oh, here it comes. Confession time again. Many of you have heard this one before. Alcohol helps to quell the fear of unpunctuated silence, the endless possibilities of what could be if I sat with my feelings instead of trying to push them aside. Wine especially is so damned tasty and enjoyable and helps me forget what a loser I am. I think it’s probably true that anyone who puts themselves out on a limb to be different in this society probably deals with self-doubt and insecurity. And many of us have our crutches that we use to get through. Alcohol is a bad one.
I’ve gone through successful periods of banning alcohol from my home and only indulging moderately during social occasions outside of my home. Wine is not an inherently bad thing for me. But like coffee and chocolate and all those other pleasures, it should be enjoyed in moderation and respected for the special treat that it is. Wine, like anything else, requires materials and energy to produce and ship, and of course packaging! Glass bottles, cork stoppers, tin foils. Even though I am careful to buy bottles that don’t contain plastic corks or plastic foils, wine still contains the most packaging of anything I still consume. Cutting down (again) will be good for the planet, my wallet, and my own personal sanity.
Resolution: No more alcohol in the house.
The main reason for the drain on my bank account was not overspending for food. It was actually loss of pay during the extra days I spent in Hawaii taking care of my family. But I’m sure that if I live more frugally and treat food like the precious resource it is, I’ll have more of a cushion for any emergencies that might arise. And isn’t that what all the Peak Oil bloggers are trying to get us to do in the first place?