Dirt Therapy: Help for the Throwaway Society

Dirt Therapy is a regular column in the Capistrano Dispatch written by GNTG founder, Marianne Taylor

My parents grew up during the depression era of the 1930s-40s. Like many of our parents from that generation, they had very little in the way of money, food and clothing. Large families like my parents’ lived in small, cramped housing, sharing hand-me-down clothes and slept four to a bed. They lived simply—there wasn’t a choice. Everything was used; nothing was wasted. Food waste was unheard of, if not a family crime! Leftover chicken and vegetables were turned into soup stock. Ripened fruit was converted into jams, and morsels of meat scraps fed the cat or dog. Referred to as “The Greatest Generation,” they used sparingly and saved for tomorrow. They didn’t grow up in a time with mass product consumption, food waste and plastic disposal as we have today. They were the true conservationists and environmentalists of yesteryear without even knowing it.

As I observe my own behavior in my household—product consumption, refrigerator food waste and plastic disposal—I’m beginning to cringe with the waste trail I’m generating in the trash and recycle bins. We live in a time of convenience, where often I opt for quick and easy solutions without thinking of the larger impact I have on the earth’s loss of resources. The amount of food waste produced globally each year is more than enough to feed the nearly one billion hungry people in the world.

How do we change our throwaway, convenience-driven society to think more like “The Greatest Generation,” living off less, consuming less and wasting less?

Last week, Pope Francis questioned the same societal and environmental problems our throwaway culture has created and propagated. Pope Francis called for action in a papal letter addressing environmental problems and climate change, stating “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” He pointed not only to problems associated with trash, but also with air and water pollution. He identified “throwaway culture” as a major source of these problems:

“These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture, which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.”

Environmentalists and United Nations leaders around the world are praising the Pope’s strong message.

“We share Pope Francis’ view that our response to environmental degradation and climate change cannot only be defined by science, technology or economics, but is also a moral imperative,” United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a prepared statement.

“Humanity’s environmental stewardship of the planet must recognize the interests of both current and future generations.”

The bottom line? “Waste not, want not,” as my mother would say.

We need to take lessons from past generations and do much more in our efforts to reduce our footprint in our own households.

Here are 10 tips for a greener wallet and world:

1. Shop smart by planning meals and using a shopping list to avoid impulse buying. 2. Bring your own grocery bags to the store; don’t use the plastic or paper bags. 3. Purchase produce in natural form, not bags or plastic boxes. 4. When eating out, share a meal and save. Most restaurants serve huge portions, adding to waste and our waistlines. 5. Freeze overripe fruit for a frozen smoothie or make jam. 6. Utilize leftovers—tonight’s roasted chicken can be tomorrow’s chicken salad. 7. Grow a garden from vegetable and fruit scraps from the kitchen. 8. Creating a compost or worm bin is an easy way to create natural fertilizer from food scraps. 9. Save money by not overbuying food that gets thrown away. 10. Donate extra cans in your pantry to local food banks.

By incorporating these simple actions as consumers, we can dramatically cut our food waste and throwaway habits while helping our planet. For more tips on making changes to your consumer habits, check out www.thinkeatsave.org.