During the weeks of Lent, the Green Cheapskate will be sharing his suggestions for little daily sacrifices that can save you money and help Mother Earth breathe a little easier.
A few years ago as one of my notoriously wimpy New Year's resolutions, I resolved to start reading and following the "Instructions for Opening" printed on packaged items I purchased. This was a radical departure for me, given my lifelong practice of ripping things open with tooth and nail, like a lion gnawing a gazelle carcass on the Serengeti.
As a writer, I reminded myself that fellow scribes had labored over those words of advice and encouragement, and I told myself I was dishonoring them and their craft by totally ignoring their packaging prose.
I learned a lot that year. I learned that tens of thousands of writers are gainfully employed writing instructions for opening containers that would require no instructions for opening, save for the fact that tens of thousands of designers and engineers are employed to develop packaging sufficiently complex to require written instructions. I learned that packaging instructions, like all great literature, can easily lose something in foreign translation; four paragraphs of instructions in Chinese for opening the box my new electric wok came in were translated into English simply as "Open package carefulle (sic)." I also learned that, in the end, it usually comes down to tooth and nail.
But most of all what I realized during that year was just how much packaging there is in our lives. In fact, what doesn't come in a package? Even items packaged by nature, like fruits and vegetables, we proceed to package and even repackage. At the supermarket, most people stick their bananas in a plastic bag before they take them to the checkout counter, where that bag is placed in yet another bag. When they get home, those two bags are then placed in a third "trash" bag, along with the original product packaging (AKA the banana peel).
All of this packaging is costing us a fortune, wasting resources, filling our landfills, and creating a Costco-sized carbon footprint in the process. That's why I'm trying to get packaging -- and trash of all types -- out of my life for at least one week during Lent. Even though a lot of packaging and other "disposable" materials are of course now recyclable, I'm trying to either forgo them in the first place or creatively repurpose them when I can. If nothing else, it'll remind me of the epiphany I had about packaging a few years ago.
So this week (and hopefully from now on), my bananas are going directly into my shopping cart, and then directly from the checkout counter into my backpack for the bike ride home. The two-liter Diet Coke bottle my wife polished off yesterday has already morphed into a bird feeder for the backyard. And the cardboard box the UPS truck dropped off this morning has been drawn and quartered into file separators for use in my office.
Best of all, when I went shopping the other day I found myself shying away from smaller, overly packaged products, and buying bulk or deciding not to buy at all. That made me feel good and saved me some serious jack. Of course I didn't have to buy trash bags either, since I ain't gonna have any of that, at least for this week.
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