By Leslie A. Banks

lstark@my.madonna.edu

This summer, I sat around a table with my mom, aunt and cousin, going through a large box of my grandmother’s old recipes. My cousin inherited the box containing hundreds of recipes when my grandmother passed away, some 12 years ago.

Our goal to select a collection of recipes to construct a bound cookbook quickly became sidetracked as we spent hours reminiscing over decades past. What I found the most intriguing was trying to figure out what each recipe was recorded on: scraps cut from the boxes of tissues, cereal, or my favorite, Polident.

Touched by memories of frugal habits I teased grandma about, it occurred to me, though her hoarding was a product of the Great Depression, it would serve us well as part of a greener lifestyle today. And with harder economic times upon us, it can’t hurt to turn back to some of those older customs.

I may not go to the lengths of keeping a drawer full of used tin foil and greasy sans-zipper bags, but I made a decision that day to pay more attention to reducing and reusing, and to quit pretending that recycling alone is enough to call myself environmentally proactive. 

I’ve made changes in my personal life to put more emphasis on reducing and reusing. For years, my husband and I were going through a case of bottled water every week and felt we were doing our part because we recycled the bottles. But I now realize there’s a reason “recycle” is third on the list of the three Rs: it should be a last resort and only in conjunction with efforts to reduce and reuse.

Inspired by grandmother’s ways, we’ve quit bottled water – cold turkey – and switched to tap in refillable bottles. We also started saving spaghetti-sauce jars and the plastic tubs from used butter or cottage cheese to use for leftovers. It’s better than sending those often discarded items to a landfill, or even to the recycle plant that burns fossil fuels during processing.

I’m warmed with memories of my grandmother every time I cut up an empty box to use for grocery or to-do lists. Once in the habit, it’s hard to imagine just throwing those things away without reusing them.

We’re building a collection of reusable grocery bags and ask for paper when the load is more than our bags can handle. Many feel these efforts don’t make a difference, but in conjunction with switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and choosing to drive efficient vehicles, we’re on a better track than we were a just a year ago.

The bottom line is that people can make the choice to lessen their ecological footprint by making a few simple changes to their lifestyle and focusing on reducing and reusing, rather than the old scapegoat: recycling.

Since I’ve become more conscious of my abuse of the recycle bin, I’ve started noticing it more around me. So many people take recycling for granted and forget their first two duties are to reduce and reuse; tossing something in the recycle bin doesn’t mean they’ve done their green deed for the day.

I was strolling along the main vein of Madonna University’s campus when my newly keen eye caught an overflowing recycle bin full of unused Fall Course Schedules. Shocked and confused, I started asking questions.

I was glad to find out that over the last four years, Madonna University has decreased the number of printed Fall Course Schedules by 25 percent. But even with the reduction of printing, the number of schedules printed for Fall 2009 was still 30 percent higher than the number of enrolled students in Fall 2008 and 2007.

With the Course Schedules available online, I’m confused why the powers that be choose to print more than the number of enrolled students. With many processes already paperless, the schedule seems like an obvious choice to scale back on.

When the life expectancy of a course schedule is at maximum, a few months long, why is Madonna University printing so many?

The schedule is available online for students to peruse, and Madonna University computer labs offer more than enough resources to access the Web for students who don’t have internet access at home or may need assistance.

In a time when grades and billing for each semester have gone paperless, I don’t find it necessary to waste the cost and natural resources used to print thousands of books that, in reality, serve the user for a couple of days.

Jennifer Lowe, a Graphic Design major, says she likes to have the printed schedule so she can sit down and plan her upcoming semester using a highlighter to mark class options.

I understand that need, but I feel students who want the paper in their hands could just as easily pull up the online version and only print the pages relevant to their program needs. This transfers the low cost of printing a few pages to the students rather than keeping the cost of thousands of full books in Madonna’s budget.

More importantly, by students only printing the specific pages they need, a small fraction of natural resources are used in comparison to the production of the paper schedule and later, the recycling process for unused schedules.

Since the electronic schedules are usually available online about a week before the printed version hits the shelves, many students have already downloaded the PDF file and started planning the next semester.

So do earth a favor by focusing on reducing and reusing instead of falling back on the energy-burning process of recycling. Don’t grab that printed schedule just because it’s there; maybe if we stop taking them, they’ll stop printing them.

 


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Reduce, reuse - and if you must - recycle

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