Monday, March 19, 2007

King of Reusing (Soon to be Known as a Tree-Hugging John Henry)

(Note: Title best when sung to the tune of Better Than Ezra's "King of New Orleans.")

You've heard the environmental mantra, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." It's easy to skip the first two and go straight to the last one. After all, they're almost in decreasing order of difficulty -- while reducing and reusing ask you to change your behavior, recycling merely involves adding a little effort to the end of your existing habits.

That's not to say recycling isn't important -- it is. But by reducing and reusing, there's no end product whatsoever -- you eliminate even the need to recycle. No materials used to create new product, no big, gas-guzzling trucks needed to haul the recycling away.

A couple of weeks ago I was helping a friend move when she ran out of boxes. Most of the big stuff was already in the truck and there were plenty of people to help with the little stuff, so I offered to make a box run. She gave me $20 and told me to go to The Container Store in Clarendon to buy some boxes.

I was almost offended. Buy boxes? Are they that valuable and rare of a commodity?

A flashback may help explain. Growing up, my dad worked in a printing shop. Before any move, he'd spend weeks assiduously bringing empty paper boxes home, a couple at a time since he took the T home. In the Grant household, boxes flowed like hot and cold running water.

So when she told me to buy boxes, I knew exactly where to go -- the liquor store. Sure, I may have needed to restock my liquor cabinet, but I also knew they'd be happy to get rid of some of their old boxes. An easy chance to reuse.

I take the same approach with grocery store bags. I get paper bags, which get a first reuse as a fort for my cat. They get a second reuse as container for my recycling, which I have to walk over to the local Arlington County recycling center since my apartment complex, Ballston Park, offers bare minimum recycling facilities. Then they get recycled at the facility.

Of course, I could eliminate the need for the paper bags altogether by bumping up my degree of difficulty from reusing to reducing with a reusable grocery bag. I've now acquired a reusable grocery bag and am keeping it in the same cabinet where I keep my coupons, and I'm hoping to get in the habit soon.

Although considering I already walk to the grocery store to buy mostly organic products, if I add a reusable grocery bag, my bleeding heart may explode like I was a tree-hugging John Henry.
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