Conservation Minnesota

Re-Use: Why is it such a foreign concept in the U.S.?

Last week I returned to Minnesota after spending two weeks in Mexico. I always enjoy our trips there and come home with greater insight about a number of issues. One thing that I noticed this year is how Mexicans tend to be much less wasteful than Americans. This, I’m sure, comes from having less to waste in the past and even now, but it has grown into a way of life that they (and we) take for granted. One morning while we were having breakfast in a little cafe the waitress cleared the dirty dishes off of our neighboring table. As she carried the dishes back to the kitchen she stopped to pour the leftover water out of a glass into a plant. While this is something that I’m likely to do at home, I’ve never seen it done in a restaurant before and the simple act caught me by surprise. It’s not as if that little amount of water really mattered. It wouldn’t have been a big deal to just throw it down the sink. But those little acts add up and make all the difference in the world.

One other day we were behind schedule in getting our kids to school (they go to Spanish language school in Mexico when we visit), so we stopped at their favorite coffee shop that serves bagels and crepes. Because we were late we had to take the crepes to go. In the past the to-go containers that I’ve seen have been as small as possible to carry the food, but this time the crepes were in bigger styrofoam to-go boxes with lids. When we got the school, one of my sons asked where the basura (garbage) was and the director of the school firmly told him that the container was not garbage. Instead, she would take it and they would find another use for it. Again, a simple act and, yet not. Everything there seems to have more than one useful life. Newspaper is used to wrap purchases. Pop comes in glass bottles that are recycled over and over.

I’m not sure how to change our mindset here in the United States about having unlimited products and materials. Will our behavior change only when we are faced with shortages or high costs? I don’t know. But I do know that changing the little things would add up to big results.

Kristin Eggerling is a board member for Conservation Minnesota Voter Center, the mother of two, and a freelance writer in northwestern Minnesota. 

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