Sinking in a Sea of Paper

SueCarr-new-smBy Sue Carr

I never gave much thought to the amount of paper that enters my house until I started blogging for Mrs. Green. Now it suddenly feels like I’m drowning in it.

Junk mail. Newspapers (both subscriptions and freebees). Magazines. Newsletters. Papers from school. Throw in the cardboard on top of that—cereal boxes, egg cartons, UPS packages, and on and on and on—and suddenly the quantity becomes almost frightening.

As a newbie to the green movement, I have to admit that, until a few months ago, most of this went into the trash at our house. Our community only recycles cans, glass, and plastics (and only number 1s and 2s at that), so recycling other things can be a bit of a hassle. We’ve taken our newspapers and magazines to our church’s Paper Retriever bin for years because the funds raised go back to the church. But we allow them to pile up in the garage for months until the pile becomes an unwieldy nuisance (and quite frankly, a fire hazard) before loading it all in the car to schlep to the church.

But the rest of it—political mailers, catalogs, credit card offers, circulars, donation pleas, coupon packets, all of it—would go into the trash. Thrown away — or at least, “away” from me. Because, as Mrs. Green has taught me, there is no such place as “away.” It all has to go somewhere. I just never gave much thought to where that “somewhere” might be. Mrs. Green also introduced me to Catalog Choice, a free and safe service you can use to opt out of catalogs, coupons, credit card offers, phone books, circulars and more.

JunkMail

A mere two days’ worth of junk mail at our house

No more. This fall, I started collecting it all for recycling. Now I’ll grant you, this takes slightly more effort than simply tossing things into the trash. I keep my recycle bins in my garage, which is on the basement level of our house, so everything has to be carried down through the dingy, creepy basement, out around the car to the recycle boxes where it’s spidery and chilly and generally unpleasant. Then, when the boxes get full, I have to load everything into my car and drive over to our municipal complex (a walkable distance from my house, but not when hauling a box load of paper) to toss everything into either the “paper” or “cardboard only” bins sitting forlornly in the gravel parking lot.

Not my definition of fun, but definitely worth it when I think about the quantity of “trash” I’m keeping out of landfills.

I’ve streamlined this system a bit by using a reasonably attractive wooden box to collect paper and cardboard in our family room until it’s full enough to carry downstairs, about once or twice a week. It scares me that we fill it up that frequently. But on the plus side, the kids have learned that paper—any paper—goes into the recycling box instead of into the trash. I consider that a small victory for Planet Earth.

Now, if I could only find something to do with our endless supply of plastic packaging.

Sue Nelko Carr is a freelance writer, editor, blogger and a full-time mother, trying to live a greener life in Pittsburgh, PA. Sue blogs at http://suenelkocarr.blogspot.com.