Getting Less Trashy

by Cindy Phillips updated Tue, Sep 20, 2011 10:01 AM

I am very familiar with the sound of a dumpster being emptied. At our business in Vermont, the living quarters are directly above the dumpster pad. Where I stay in South Carolina, it is also in very close proximity to one of the neighborhood dumpsters. I know that whirring sound of the garbage truck engine. The beeping it emits as it backs into place. The grinding as it lifts the dumpster to be emptied. And the loud, hollow bang that occurs when the empty dumpster hits the ground.

Each time I take the trash to the dumpster, I am amazed at how quickly it accumulated. How does that bag get full in just a day or two? When did we become so trashy?

I spent a good deal of time at my grandparent’s apartment when I was young. I distinctly remember there was one trash can that sat in the kitchen. It was just a small pail, and my grandmother would line it with a brown paper bag that came from the grocery store. When the bag was half full, she would take it from the pail and gently roll the top down to close it. It then was carried downstairs to a single metal garbage can. The trash man came twice a week, and that metal trash can was never filled to capacity. My grandmother’s house was never without visitors, especially at meal times. So how did the garbage not accumulate like it does today?

Much of our trash comes from food packaging. A plastic milk jug, frozen food boxes and a giant Styrofoam to-go box can fill a pail in a matter of minutes. Add some junk mail and a few diapers from my grandson, and I am ready to haul it to the dumpster. So where was that stuff years ago?

There were no plastic milk jugs. The milk man delivered fresh milk in a glass bottle to a milk box outside the front door. He also delivered eggs in a cardboard box. The only trash that came from the milk jug was a small cardboard disk that sealed the top. When the bottle was empty, my mom washed and rinsed it and it went back into the milk box. The milkman picked it up, brought it back to the dairy where it was sterilized and refilled. Hmm, what a concept. The empty egg crate went to school with me to be used by my teacher to hold small items, like the colored stars she would put on my tests and homework.

Disposable diapers were non-existent. Babies wore cloth diapers that were washed, hung on the line to dry and covered with a pair of rubber pants. There were no baby wipes either. We used a wash cloth for cleanup, or better yet, baby just got put into the bathtub or sink. Baby bottles were also glass and reusable. Moms were proficient in the art of sterilizing them on the stove. Baby food came in glass jars that when empty, found their way to dad’s workshop to be filled with an assortment of screws, nails, nuts and bolts. The taller jars were used for soaking paint brushes in turpentine.

Most of the items on my grandmother’s grocery list came from the butcher and the deli. Fresh meats were wrapped in butcher paper – no Styrofoam trays wrapped in clear plastic. When she removed the meat from the butcher paper, she rinsed it in the sink, let it dry and then spread it on the dining room table with a few crayons. It was now drawing paper for me and my budding artist cousins.

I have no recollection of Kleenex or dinner napkins at grandma’s house. We were handed a handkerchief if we sneezed and a community kitchen towel sat on the dining room table for wiping our mouths. There were also no paper towels. We were handed sponges and dish rags for cleaning up spills. Most house cleaning was also done with a rag – usually pieces of old sheets, pillow cases and towels that were torn into usable sizes.

The push today is on going green, yet we seem to only make the commitment when it is convenient. We are a throw-away society filling landfills to capacity. As Boomers, we witnessed the metamorphosis. We are a part of the problem, but can we become a part of the solution? Can we become less trashy? We’ll see. This year everyone on my Christmas list is getting handkerchiefs.

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