Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sustainable Essence

Wednesdays are devoted to sustainability

My grandparents called it reusing as in

Buy it new

Wear it out

Make it do

Do without

My parents called it recycling

And the latest version is re-purposing.

My grandparents were children of the Great Depression. Really more like teens of the Great Depression. All four worked to make ends meet for their families. All four were masters of re-use.

One of my grandfathers dropped out of high school his senior year to work full time to help support his family. He went to night school after work and earned his high school diploma. He went on to graduate from Carnegie Tech. With five boys in his family, clothes were constantly passed from one boy to the other.

My grandmother, whom he married, recalls wearing dresses made from the flour sacks her mother got her flour in. That family even recycled the ties from the ties from the railroad track. When the old ones were replaced with new, my grandmother's brothers would haul them up the hill from the tracks and chop and split them into firewood. Probably not very environmentally friendly, but they were warm when they wouldn't have otherwise been.

My other grandmother was already out of school and working. She always had a special drawer in the kitchen for bread bags, wax paper, string and rubber bands which she re-used when refrigerating leftovers. Sometimes these items would cover thoroughly scrubbed meat trays of cut vegetables for visitors, such as my brothers and I.

Her husband, my grandfather, taught me the important skill of salvaging nails from old boards and reusing them. I learned how to pull them out straight without bending them, so I could use them again on another project. He also built several bicycles from parts he would find in the woods. They all worked wonderfully well.

My father recycles lumber scraps from garbage collection day in the city by making them in roll-top desks and other carpentry projects around the house.
My mother is a master of recycling cereal boxes, doilies, wax paper, cardboard tubes, newspapers, Christmas cards - the list goes on. They all become new items in her various craft projects she does with teens and seniors.

This week, I had an especially inspirational week. I re-purposed feed sacks into garbage bags, old drink bottles into terrariums, and broken lead ropes into goat tethers.

Call it re-using, recycling or re-purposing, whatever you like. This is the essence of sustainability. Ask yourself, what do I usually buy at the store and what do I usually discard? Can I pair any discards with needs?
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