Is the Recession Making Your Life More Eco-friendly?

| 3/27/2009 3:43:35 PM

Tags: waste, recession, economy, landfills, question to readers,

With media outlets from the New York Times to individual blog "reporters" typing at their kitchen tables covering the recession — with news, conjecture and as many opinions as there are people — one facet of all this doom and gloom that isn't getting much attention is the impact of the recession on our collective environmental footprint, especially all that consumer-culture waste we seem so eager to flog ourselves over.

The Washington Post reported that landfills around the country are noticing significant decreases in the amount of trash they're receiving, and it's logical to conclude that if a newfound frugality means less shopping, that also means less waste for the trash pile. Think about it: fewer purchases means less packaging (cardboard, plastic, packing peanuts, Styrofoam, etc.), and not just when you're talking about a new flat-screen t.v. Cooking at home often translates into more fresh produce and fewer frozen dinner purchases. And since we're all buying fewer new things, it seems we're more inclined to repair what we have or purchase or trade used items. All of these decisions result in less trash. Not to mention that a lower demand for goods can  — and does, as we've been seeing a lot lately — lead to factory closings. The obvious, serious, bad news there is that hardworking men and women are losing their jobs and their ability to support themselves and their families, at least temporarily. On the other side, one less factory running means one less factory sending contaminants into the air and/or water. Looking around, it seems that one silver lining to the current state of economic affairs might just be less environmental damage from our particular species.

What do you think? Have you noticed less waste and trash in your life because of the recession? Do you think that we might hold on to the better lessons from this experience as we move forward, ultimately, to more prosperous times? 

4/14/2009 4:10:03 PM

Makes complete sense to me. We all seem to grasp what it means to be eco friendly...but no necessarily how our own economics affect the ecology. We all need to know that every cent we spend affects the ecology in many ways. Thanks for helping to spread the eco-eco news!

4/10/2009 9:56:02 AM

I see plenty of changes. When gas went up, my husband stopped making fun of my desire to carpool into town with him once a week. Now that nobody has job security and we've got almost seven months' salary squirreled away, he's stopped making fun of me for cutting corners to satisfy my need to save. Stopped griping about taking his lunch three days a week instead of eating out all the time. He's stopped making fun of my garden, my clothesline, and my desire to do whatever work we can on rickety upholstered barn we live in myself. He dug a hole for a permanent clothesline post-- now my clothesline is not hung from an O-ring in the side of the house. Since I got him to read a bunch of the articles the power company has sent around about how much cap-and-trade is going to cost us, he's gone from just saying we can't, to helping me research how to properly insulate this damn shanty. He hasn't started splitting wood yet, but he did go buy a maul and a wedge and he even watched the kids while I went out and cut up little stuff with the bowsaw. Once he even asked me to show him how to build a fire in the stove-- quite a change from sitting on the couch ignoring the baby while I do the work. I imagine a lot of people are doing the same. Is it enough??? Nowhere near. Eco-nazi logic isn't necessary to see that-- just a look at history with a lens made of anything other than the laziness and greed that's become the fabric of our culture. It's heartening to see people thinking about the stuff they use, but I don't think it will last. As soon as they can, they'll revert to the same old ways of doing things, for thesame reasons that those ways caugth on in the first place-- they are convenient, easy, and immediately gratifying. Things like cap-and-trade are certainly highly corruptible and exploitable. I expect that they will be corrupted and exploited, and nothing else will change. I can see one-- and o

somethingisrooten indenmark
4/7/2009 3:43:25 AM

If there is less bear poo in the forest may we conclude that there were fewer hunters consumed? If we build more churches in a community and more crime happens does church cause crime? Does consuming an increased amount of ice cream cause drowning? Lets use proper reasoning here! Bears may be burying their poo. The more churches found in a community the larger the population and therefore more crime. The more ice cream consumed the hotter it is and the more people swim and consequently drown. “The Washington Post reported that landfills around the country are noticing significant decreases in the amount of trash they're receiving…. newfound frugality means less shopping, that also means less waste for the trash pile. ” There is no direct correlation here people! Second point we’re quoting the “Washington post”? Why not quote the “inquirer” after all, both do REAL credible reporting… I’m sure this passed the polit bureau in the Washington post but obviously no one thought to run this by a thinker…you know some one with a brain who uses it on a regular basis…. And here’s to hoping this post does not get erased…ALL HAIL TO OUR SAVIOR OBAMA ! Now I feel dirty…..I’m going to take a bath…

4/5/2009 8:33:04 PM

I've read Mother for years and raised chickens, heated with wood, recycled and even had a "zero can rating" for garbage pickup in the city limits of Seattle. Eventually we moved to eastern, WA and now own 70 acres of woodland with gravity flow spring water, a creek and still heat with wood. The recession has only reinforced what I always knew. But I've also learned enough to recognize that our government and the rest of the world has discovered that "Green" is Power. Many who were once hippy wannabees have become the eco-nazis of today. Rather than actually stopping pollution, they would rather allow it to continue and collect an extra fee from the polluters. That won't make things better.

pat miketinac
4/3/2009 10:25:39 PM

I think most people will go back to their old ways as soon as they can afford to. In my area in FL they are already buying bigger cars again now that gas is cheaper. The same thing happened after the Arab oil embargo in the '70's. I study economics articles from many countries as a hobby. I think this depression will last for years because government spending levels are not sustainable without impoverishing many people. World currencies are being destroyed to feed government and their friends. The root cause is the privately owned Federal Reserve. See and for more info.

becky matheny
4/2/2009 12:14:19 PM

I now realize how fortunate I was to have been raised by parents who taught me to make as much as possible from the land. We had numerous large gardens, preserved our own food, raised our own chickens, bought beef for the deep freeze (and canned beef and pork, too) from folks we knew, kept bees, sewed many of our own clothes, heated with wood, and daddy built our house himself, personally, from recycled materials. It will suprise none of you readers that they subscribed to Mother Eearth News (and still have those old issues). Growing up living this way often made us children feel very odd and different. Lots of folks who'd never met us, labelled my family "hippies", which could not have been farther from the truth -- they are personally religiously conservative persons who truly understand the word "CONSERVE-ative" (but not so much so as to dress differently or to ride in a buggy, so they didn't fit that label, either). My mother's own parents were slightly ashamed that all they work they'd done to help "bring her up in the world" had resulted in her returning to "the farm" -- at the same time, they appreciated the fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, and always said they knew where they'd come to stay during a crisis. These days, I have chickens, use wood heat, pick and preserve the various wild fruits on our farm property, etc., however, the garden will be more important than ever this year. I am lucky that I live in a farming-oriented region, and have several local high-quality choices of where to buy beef for my deep freeze. At our local grocery store recently, I've seen significant price increases in certain real basics -- vegetables, bread and milk among them. I take it as an omen that two friends of mine, sophisticates generally not very "earthy" in nature, are planning gardens of their own this year -- and one of them is being pretty creative, living in a townh

4/2/2009 11:45:21 AM

I think it is great for any one who is doing their part to help lessen our impact on mother earth. The current recession has not impacted our way of life at all. We have always lived on a farm, raised chickens, cattle, and had always had a large garden and I have always milked a cow. I have always shopped at a thrift store, or at yard sales. I have always baked and rarely do we eat out. I only make one major trip to town, and my closet town is over an hour away. When we go to town we get supplies not only for the household but also for the farm. We also have to get drinking water. Luckily for now, I don't have to pay for my drinking water. If we need to purchase any 'extra' things like a new vacuum, we wait until things are on sale. Over the years I have done everything that you all had mentioned in your comments. The only sad thing with this, is the majority of the population whether it be here in Canada or in the United States, is in the cities. Until people in the cities and the policy makers 'get it' we who live on the land and make our living on the land are banging our heads against a brick wall. I think it is great that there are great thinkers in the world. And that are people who are trying to 'invent' are fuel efficient vehicle. But these same pople have to keep in mind that the hydrgen cell car will not work in the northern climate. And I am not referring to the northern climate of the United States. I live in northern Alberta. Not even close to Edmonton. I live another six hours north of there. This past winter we got down to -40 degrees celcius, and I sure that is the same in Fahrenheit. How would that technology work here? I realise this has nothing to do really with the above question in the article. But I guess I just wanted some one to here from a gal who is doing her best to pass on valuable lessons to her children. And some major major changes have to start with our city cousins regardless what side of the bor

barbara gillihan
4/1/2009 2:52:30 PM

Theta17 - you are doing exactly as I wish I had done about 30 years ago. Back then we were a minority and there wasn't an easy way to be in touch with like-minded people. I envy your youth and applaud your life style. Your generation will shape the future and I am sad to say that we have left you quite a mess. Keep up the good work, everyone! You're headed in the right direction. You are stewards of the Earth. Think on to the 7th generation.

3/31/2009 10:47:12 PM

I also have always gardened but this year, because of water shortages in the central valley in California, the farmers are not getting any water. Therefore, I cannot see watering my LAWN when masses of farmworkers are out of jobs and farmland sits fallow. This will trickle down to the consumer and then people may get a clue. I am in the process of converting my front lawn to raised beds with vegies, herbs, flowers mixed. Plan on putting in 2 wattles and elevating up 2 tiers, planting lettuces and other herbs/plants/flowers, etc. I would love to have a couple of chickens but that would never fly. I have encountered complete opposition from my neighbors about this project. I am going to have to erect a fence around the front yard to hide my garden! So, to all you MOTHER EARTH readers out there, keep up the good work. So glad there are other green peeps out there, wished you lived on my street. :)Carey in Fresno

mike in boise
3/31/2009 3:12:03 PM

we have a .18 ac lot here in the city of boise. we are organic gardening on it we also raise chickens. code in city limits is 2 per person per household. we are trying to be as self sufficient as possible. we recycle things that people would not think of. pallets for firewood and building materials. 55 gal drums for heating water for the hot house. also going to set up one for rain runoff. any building materials we can get from homesites. only bad thing is you will get to be on a first name basis with the code enforcement dept. we have build garden walkways with recycled bricks compost piles with old cinder blocks.....anyway we are trying to make this little .18 ac in the city as self sufficient as possible. it can be done and if everyone would bless their neighbors with the leftover fruit and vegetables it will create a tighter community bond and neighborhood

3/31/2009 11:46:44 AM

I love everyone's stories. My husband and I are both in our early 40's. My husband works while I stay home with our 18 mo. old son. We live on less than 30k a year. Our house is almost paid off because we pay extra on the mortgage. We don't have credit card debt and our cars are paid for. We cook just about everything from scratch. We buy all of our pork and beef once a year from a local farmer and it's healthier, more humane and cheaper that way. We also buy seasonal produce and eggs from local farmers and also grow a vegetable garden in the summer. I use cloth diapers exclusively and love it. I am also still breastfeeding our son and his health, weight and growth are perfect; he rarely gets sick. No ear troubles or allergies. I splurge on Burts Bees baby lotions and soap for him. We are talking of raising chickens this year. Saving money has become more fun than spending it; living more simply has made our family more close and stronger. Living this way means being more conscious and less selfish.

3/31/2009 9:11:26 AM

Due to the loss of my well-paying job, I am living on 1/3 of what I used to. I have always gardened, but this year it is serious business. I am making my own bread. I made some cloth bags for groceries. I drive a lot less. I am sewing my own clothes. I am planning to try some chickens for meat and for eggs. I am re-furbishing an old shed for that purpose. I will be using old materials from around the place for that. I paid off all my credit cards long ago. I never use credit except for my mortgage. I only owe about half what it is worth even in this downturn.I save for what I want. I notice that there is a lot less traffic on the roads. Others are staying home, too. I am spending more time on my book - New City. Suddenly, a far-out idea where a group of people buy up the abandonded homes that resulted from an economic melt-down in a neighboring village and build a self-sustaining city is no longer science fiction. I like having more time to do research.

andrew mooers
3/31/2009 8:38:47 AM

In Maine, and growing up on a farm, we were taught to respect resources, make slower cost councious purchases and how to do it yourself or barter for services with your neighbor down the road. We did not have money to waste and it was precious, saved, preparing for that rainy day or the year when you are lucky to just break even. That is reality, gratitude to have the things you need, food-shelter-family farm. Survival intincts sharper on the family farm to stay on that farm and being prepared for disaster around any corner.

3/31/2009 8:19:15 AM

You would think that people would get smarter with all the information available about conservation and thrift but NO! At least not here in Middletown, NJ. I see people driving huge Hummers without the least bit concern about the amount of gas they are wasting going to the mall or the pollution they are causing. I still see wrappers from McDonalds and Burger King just tossed out the window like my yard is their garbage pail. It infuriates me because I keep a very neat yard/garden and then my dog runs out and wolfs those wrappers down. I try to get out before he does so he doesn't choke. But I have noticed the number of people using cloth bags at the grocery store increasing. I see them smiling at me (in sympathy?) because I have a cloth bag too. I use a travel mug to get my daily fix of coffee instead of yucko styrofoam cups. I recycle everything I can and I see many more folks at the recycle center in town. Yes, I think some people are catching on. The Earth is not a bottomless resource to be used up and trashed on. But too many dirty, self-centered people think dumping out their ashtrays in the middle of the road is acceptable. Good thing I don't own a gun!

3/31/2009 6:36:55 AM

I have been recycling for years and have always shopped at thrift stores. The last time I paid full price (two years ago) for anything was for my wedding dress and I paid less than $100 for it. I lost my job a couple of years ago and I made some life changes by not going back to a career and have instead found ways to make ends meet in an attempt to get back to a simple lifestyle. We have started an organic backyard farm and am now eating salads I pick myself. I always ate radishes out of the grocery store bag and now I just go out and pick them from the dirt. I never tasted anything so good. Since I have had the lettuce and radishes in my garden I have saved so much. I pick what I need and it doesn't sit in the fridge and go to waste as it did when I bought it from the store. It is a simple thing, but sometimes it's the little things that add up.

roopali _1
3/30/2009 11:57:10 PM

Conservation was always a way life in India. For thousands of years we incorporated the "worship" of nature into our daily life. Once upon a time our rivers were holy, our mountains residences of Gods, our trees blessed, and our birds and animals companions of our gods. They stil are.But only in idols and icons. We now throw plastic packets and industrial effulents into the river. Today we have allowed it to deteriorate into a mere ritual and we pollute our rivers, cut our trees and defile the earth we believed is "Dharti Mata" meaning Mother Earth. Unless people feel the direct benefit of conservation coming to them the selfish nature of human beings will continue to destroy unthinkinly what God /nature has gifted us with.There are communities who live close to the forests---BISHNOI's are among them who fiercely protect all forms of flora and fauna. Women in India understand conservation--both poor and rich. Because we deal with the givens of life. We are real stewards. Most men are prone to wastage and generating loss of precious water and earth. The Recession hasn't hit us here and we are still throwing plastic bags from expensive stores in malls. Any talk /effort at composting is seen as as some form of neurosis. Switching off extra lights as causing depression through darkness. The conservationist wife and daughter and the non conversationist husband and son are constantly at logger heads(My HOME!!!). Separating garbage is considered a waste of time, growing a fabulous lawn is the order of the day. Trees have to be cut because an extra room/classroom has to be built ,weddings must be all lit up, advertisements must beam lights all over the cities and every room must have an air-conditioner!!!Computers must ofcourse be on all day.

b knight
3/30/2009 8:33:09 PM

To get back to the question that was asked, NO I don't believe that people, "in general" have changed their habits in a permanent way. As soon as times get better and people on the whole, have more money, the landfills will overflow even more. Yes, a recession does reduce GHG and landfill use, and gives us a slight breather in our fight to reduce the carbon footprint of every citizen in the 'developed' world. But we are not winning this fight to reduce over consumption, and the burning of fossil fuels. How do we get the message across? At least the polictical leaders appear to be coming on board. If we must spend money to pull through these times, then focus on sustainable development projects - electric cars, solar, wind and biomass electrical production...

3/30/2009 5:22:53 PM

Sure, I believe that living simply, within our means, providing as much for ourselves as possible, are all honorable activities. I believe buying local goods, and from small-owner businesses are also beneficial to the local community. Less waste, plastic, additives, chemicals in our water etc are purely healthier for everyone. HOWEVER, forced income redistribution labeled as "hope and change" which takes away our freedoms as individuals for the "security" or "safety" of the planet (which does not need our protection) is not ever to be considered favorable for our nation. This political plan is sending our economy for a dive the likes of which we may never recover ("we" being honest Americans who uphold the Constitution and all the values that are nation was founded upon). I value for the insight into self-sufficiency and practices that have, for the most part, been long-forgotten by most of society. However, I do not appreciate the tone and message seemingly being expressed by readers that our degrading government is actually being a BENEFIT to society.

3/30/2009 4:10:52 PM

I’ve learned a lot living on social security. I heat with wood now and have a few chickens plus I’ve just finished building an animal shed to house a few pigs. In tearing down the old one, dilapidated, I saved and reused all the lumber I could. Even old nails… if they were bent, I straightened them. I only needed to buy 3 sheets of particle board. Total cost for this 8x11 ft shed (walk-in)… $30. Since I only drive to town twice a month, I need only fill the gas tank once every three months. Groceries, $150 a month, electric, phone and propane, about $80. Turning off the propane tank when not cooking or needing hot water cut usage by half (pilot lights). I now live on about $10,000 a year and found saving $300 a month isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s fun to see how much frugality can pay off. Consumption is a double-edged sword. It gives people jobs but at the same time trash from it pollutes the environment. While people need jobs, we’d all be better off using less. If everyone did the economy would simply adjust to it, equalize. Only our ‘standard of living’ suffers… although an over-rated concept since I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. Only the 19th century could make me happier.

marlis keller_2
3/30/2009 1:23:53 PM

We live in Canada (immigrating from Germany 10 years ago) and are amazed every day at how much waste is produced here. Every thing you buy is made in China and breaks after the first use. We have our own garden, chicken, pigs, milk cow, horses and llamas. We live off our land and produce pretty much everything ourselves. We go shopping perhaps once a month, mostly for chickenfeed. We could live on perhaps 200 $ a month but insurance costs and taxes are killing you. Here in Canada is so much nature and uninhibited space. Only thing is, people do not value it at all. There are garbage dumps next to a river or lake, all the juices running off freely.... Earth hour was an other disappointment. We had a late candle light dinner and then went out for a walk. Only two houses in the nighbourhood took part. Everybody elses house was blazing with light. I do not know what has to happen to make people stop and think!

keri cady_1
3/30/2009 12:38:59 PM

I think this may be a wake-up call for many people. I have started growing my own food, making soap and recycling. I just started buying clothes from the thrift store. My hours have been cut and I find I can still pay the bills. So I wonder what I did with my money when I worked full time. I have wanted to become more frugal and I think now I know how.

3/30/2009 12:22:27 PM

We have been living more mindfully for a couple of years but the economy has made us take an even closer look at our lives. The interesting thing is that we live in a fairly impoverished part of the country and my town has lost several industries which has made things even tighter. It's interesting though, because very few people in this area seem to have any interest at all in changing old habits. I was at dinner the other night with friends who were discussing job losses and the impact of the economy on the community. None of them ever once mentioned implementing any kind of change in their lives. My husband spoke up and mentioned some things we had learned to do without and it was like he had said we were going to live on Mars in a spaceship. Thoughtful living is very hard here in some respects. It will be interesting to see what does happen in this area and how bad things have to get before people wake up.

3/30/2009 9:40:00 AM

Actually we have lived simply for nearly 30 years now, so not too much has changed apart from the fact that for the first time in our lives, we seem "cool" for the way we live rather than being viewed as either "old fashioned" or just plain odd. We have always used cloth napkins, cloths for wiping up spills, grown a huge part of our food, heated with wood, had goats and chickens, shopped thrift stores, made our soap, cooked from scratch, spun wool, made our clothing, owned second hand cars, much of the time we had a pony and cart as our second vehicle, we have lived without debt, etc. Part of that is our "plain" background and another aspect is just wanting to live without all the demands of keeping up with the Jones' mentality and of course, for us to step lightly on this planet.

3/29/2009 6:38:29 PM

I think the recession has made my life more eco-friendly. I was already on the way myself by recycling, using reusable bags when I shop, joining a CSA for fresh local produce, but being concerned about having a job has stopped unnecessary spending. Shopping is not done without a list now and is limited to only once a week if needed or twice a month if possible. There are many out there losing jobs every day, but maybe by learning to become more frugal families will be able to get by on only one income again. Maybe some of the bad things happening now can turn into positives down the road for ourselves and for our planet.

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