Monday, January 14, 2013

Recycling's in Our Blood ~ My Column from Sunday

As I cleaned out the dishwasher this morning, an epiphany blossomed in my mind like a morning glory flower. 

Down on the bottom tray toward the back, there was an empty pasta jar that had contained the Paul Newman sauce we’d used to make spaghetti the night before. Without thinking, we’d washed the jar in our dishwasher.

Both Jilda and I always wash the jars, although they frequently sit around collecting dust on our counters.

When it gets too cluttered, we reluctantly toss the jars into the trash. Recycling is an option, but it’s a pain for those who live here in Walker County.

But this morning as I reached in to retrieve the jar, I asked myself: “Why do we always wash these, knowing we’ll probably never use them?”

I contemplated the question for a moment and then it occurred to me that both our parents and grandparents did the same thing.

As I flipped through the dusty pages of my memory, I realized that recycling for them was not a fad, and they weren’t doing it because it was “the green thing to do.” They did it to survive.

They lived during the Great Depression where resources were scarce. They could reuse a quart jar to preserve food in the summer, so they could eat in the winter. 

In today’s disposable society, that is such a strange concept. We’re conned into thinking the stuff we buy that’s made overseas is cheaper. We use an item a few times, and when it breaks, we toss it in the trash and go buy another one. Things that last are rare these days.

When Jilda’s mother passed away, we worked months in her old house to dispose of all the things they had accumulated through the years.

In the basement were shelves of canned beets, tomatoes, pickles, blackberries, peaches, and okra. There were old rusty tools hanging on the walls that were made early in the 20th century. With a little oil, along with some love and care, the tools would last another 100 years.

Ruby and Sharky left those tools and other stuff from the basement workshop to the kids. When it came to divvying out the tools, Jilda and I chose a long-handled hoe, a tray of wrenches made of real steel and plumbing tools. My other choice was an odd one.

As long as Sharky lived, he collected nuts, bolts and other hardware. If he was in the grocery store parking lot and saw a nut, bolt or washer lying on the ground, he picked it up as if it were a shiny dime. When he got home, he tossed them into a five-gallon bucket.

I inherited that bucket of bolts, and to this day, if my truck, lawnmower, tiller or anything else loses a nut or washer, I always take a long screwdriver and rattle through that bucket of bolts. Nine times out of 10, I’ll find exactly what I need to make repairs.

I guess what I’m saying is that our impulse to save jars, plastic containers, and other things is one that was ingrained from a very early age.

I can’t help believing that our country would be better off if we all learned from our ancestors and recycled more.


  1. Anonymous10:06 PM

    I enjoyed this very much. I remember my grandparents saving jars and having a pantry full of canned vegetables after each summer. I also remember my dad having his shoes re-soled. My husband is still using the tools that were passed down through three generations now. We have a bucket of nuts/bolts and everyone in our subdivision knows to check with us first before making a trip to the hardware!

  2. Isn't that interesting? My parents did the same thing. I can still see the shelves filled with beans and corn and pickles on the old shelves in the cellar...and the somewhat dank smell that surrounded them. There was an artesian well at the neighbors house where the water flowed year round into an old wooden trough. There was a tin cup attached with a string and everyone drank out of thought of germs then, I guess. Down in the cold overflow were some bottles of home brewed root beer and birch beer....nothing like it in the world. Thanks for conjuring up those wonderful old memories. Have a good night- Diana

  3. recyling got a lot better in my city when they started rolling out the big containers versus the old bins.

  4. A delightful post. I buy in bulk at the health food store so I use my jars. That is exactly the reason I wanted to get rid of houses and stuff this past summer. I didn't want to leave it for my kids to do. It was so traumatic, though, that I wish I would have. Ha

  5. It IS sad that things aren't made to last these days. Maybe people don't even want them to. Gives them an excuse to buy a new version, color or style. I don't know. My town is big on recycling though and I'm glad of that. It's easy to recycle here in Austin too. Nice post!

  6. Oh, and Happy Birthday!

  7. I feel fortunate that those who raised me stressed the importance of recycling. Great post as always Rick.

  8. My parents did the same and so do I. My daughter can recycle so newspapers, etc. I give to her for that purpose.

  9. People dispose of things too easily these days.

    I, too, was raised by Depression Era parents but enjoy finding reasons to keep items that normally would be trashed.

    That jar could become a new pasta jar or even a jar for your tool bin.

    I separate screws, nuts, bolts, nails into handy little containers and label them. When the need arises I have only to reach for the correctly labeled repurposed container.

    These jar lids can also be attached to a board or the bottom of a shelf reattach the jars and the contents of visible. To use, just unscrew.

    Repurposing is only limited by your imagination.

  10. For the longest time I would wash jars and plastic tubs and reuse them to hold leftovers. One day I realized that I hadn't done that in the longest time, and wondered why I ever had. The answer is that my mom always did - and still does. I often take home leftovers from her house in repurposed margarine tubs. Better than in the landfill, right? It's one of those sweet memories that we often take for granted until we stop and think about it. To this day I try to reuse things or at least recycle if I can't. We're probably the last generation to save things like that. My kids are much more into tossing old things and getting new ones.

  11. I know that I get my skills to reuse and be creative about things and the multipurpose is due to my great grandmother lived in the Great Depression

  12. I love your storytelling and this post in particular gives us food for thought. Occasionally I will save a jar or two (jelly jars mostly) and use them to store leftover sauces and such.

    We could definitely wash and reuse many things that get tossed if we just stopped and gave it a second thought.

    Great post.

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  14. Great post Rick.
    Our city recycles plastic and cans but they don't recycle glass jars because the recycling plants is too far away and transporting the glass is too expensive and therefor not profitable.

    I used to save jars to make pickles for our church suppers but since i work at our dairy farm full time I have little time to make the pickles anymore so I just toss them in the trash immediately when they are empty.

    My husband picks all kind of metals, nails and nuts and bolts too. I normally check the pockets before putting his pants in the washer. One day he left a nail in one of his pant pocket and the nail got lodged in one of those little drain holes and when the washer spun, the nail ripped a gash in the fibreglass liner of the washing machine. The repairman said that it cost more than buying a new one. My machine was almost new and I had to buy another one. I bought a big energy efficient front load washer. A very expensive nail that we both missed when we checked the pockets.


  15. My Mother-in-law would always send home left-overs from the holiday meals we had at the farm in jars that were saved for that purpose. I do the same! I work with a lady that helps abused women start over. She helps them set up housekeeping with needed items. Vacuum cleaners are a big needed item. I said "hey, I have one you can have since I just bought a new one"...well I didn't have one..I had 3 in the closet! I was happy that they could be fixed and used, but embarrassed that I felt it was easier to just buy new. We are a disposable society and I hate when I fall into that trap!

  16. I tried to recycle. When I moved to Jax, I had two blue recycling bins in my garage. Each week I put out recyclables in a bin. Then one week the garbage men took my bin along with the things in it. I thought it was strange, but I still had another bin. I put it out the next week. Same thing happened. I can't get them to give me another bin and no one can explain to me why my bins were taken away from me. It's so unfair . . . . *sob*



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