There’s more to learn than reading, writing and ‘rithmatic

Photo by Ruah Swennerfelt Louis Cox collects electronic waste for recycling at Green Up Day.
Photo by Ruah Swennerfelt. Louis Cox collects electronic waste for recycling at Green Up Day.

When East Charlotte’s Lyceum Schoolhouse served local children (approximately 1870-1950), the “Three Rs” of reading, writing and ‘rithmatic were core teachings. Today the building is home to Charlotte Grange and the core teachings include the “Eight Rs” of responsible use of natural resources — respect, refuse, reduce, reciprocate, reuse, repurpose, repair and recycle. Here’s why.

When the Grange movement began in America after the Civil War, cities were growing and grocery stores were replacing farmers’ markets. Urban residents were forgetting where their food came from, forgetting about the needs and concerns of farmers who raised their food, and forgetting about the importance of healthy soil, clean air and water. The Grange was determined to remind us and to support rural communities.

At that time, most consumer products were made of natural materials and recycling was the norm. Old clothes became writing paper or patchwork quilts. Leftover kitchen scraps were food for chickens and hogs. And worn-out items bio-degraded easily into non-toxic residues. Nowadays many products, from food packaging to automobiles, are difficult or impractical (if not impossible) to recycle. And today vast amounts of non-biodegradable and toxic wastes are overwhelming the atmosphere, the oceans, and the soil, severely damaging the health of our living planet.

Tossing recyclables into a blue bin just isn’t enough. Responsible use of resources means we also need to thoughtfully reduce our overall material consumption and find ways to reuse materials, in order to cut down the volume of castoffs. Here are the “Eight Rs” that can guide our efforts:

Respect — Choose manufactured products for durability, low environmental impact and economic justice for those who make those products, not just price and convenience. Seek out products made from recycled materials to strengthen the market for them.

Refuse — Refuse to support wasteful practices. Keep reusable bags handy for shopping. If your favorite eatery uses non-recyclable or compostable containers/utensils, bring your own; and encourage the manager to switch to something more eco-friendly. Refuse to buy products that are over-packaged or in single-use plastic containers, even if cheaper.

Reduce — Whenever possible, buy quality goods that don’t need replacement or repair as often. Shop where products are available in bulk or minimal packaging, bringing reusable containers from home, labeled with their tare weights.

Reciprocate — Share tools/supplies with friends and neighbors, to avoid duplication of expensive items with limited or seasonal use.

Reuse — Look for used items before buying new. Use rechargeable batteries when possible. Try home-canning and home-brewing, which reuse the same glass containers. Donate to and shop at charitable organization outlets such as thrift stores to keep useful items circulating in the community.

Repurpose — Find new uses for old items, such as worn-out clothes for cleaning rags, emptied jars to store shop and household supplies, and newspapers/cardboard as garden mulch. Turn kitchen scraps into compost.

Repair — Learn how to make simple repairs at home or use local repair services.

Recycle — Yes, there is also the official blue recycling bin. But sadly, it rarely leads to true recycling, — that is, breaking down items into basic components and making more of the same items from the recovered materials. Most “recyclable” materials are “down-cycled,” that is, processed into lower-grade products, but only if the cost is less than making those items from new materials.

We are in the habit of acquiring and throwing away a huge amount of “stuff” without thinking too much about it. The Grange joins the increasing call for more thoughtful and responsible consumption in order to minimize our ecological footprints and leave a livable world for future generations.

Where to find local help
Charlotte Library:
collects/recycles small electronics, batteries, corks and stretchy plastic; also, annual book sales.

Sustainable Charlotte partners with Charlotte Library, Grange, and Good Point Recycling of Middlebury to collect/recycle electronic waste on Green Up Day (May 7); also Repair Cafes for requesting/offering simple repairs to common household items (April 30).

Onion River Co-op, Healthy Living and Shelburne Market offer many staples in bulk. Farm Craft VT (on Route 116 in Shelburne) offers minimally-packaged personal care products, teas and herbs produced organically on site.

Charitable donation/resale stores nearby: SCHIPS in Shelburne and Twice is Nice in Hinesburg (mostly clothing); Sweet Charity in Vergennes (household goods, small furniture); RePlay in South Burlington (household goods and clothing); Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Williston (household goods, appliances, furniture, clothing); ReSource in Williston (household goods, appliances, furniture, building supplies).

Chittenden County Solid Waste District transfer stations in Hinesburg and Williston collect a wide range of material for recycling; and their website offers extensive information on what and how to recycle.

Louis Cox, Ruah Swennerfelt and Linda Hamilton are members of the Charlotte Grange. Cox and Swennerfelt are also on the board of Sustainable Charlotte.