Greener Pastures: Stop waste before you create it, Vail Valley |

Greener Pastures: Stop waste before you create it, Vail Valley

Cassie Pence
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado “-As a teenager, I was a clothes horse. I fell victim to every fashion trend marketed, including thigh high socks and short skirts, as popularized in the 1995 movie “Clueless.” I won’t be revisiting that look anytime soon.

I remember whining at the mall “Mom, I need it,” followed by, “but I have nothing to wear!” My mom would just smile and respond: “There is a difference between want and need.”

My mother didn’t know it then, but she was preaching the principles behind the newest of green buzzwords ” precycle. Just as my mother proposed, precycle is asking yourself “do I really need this?” before you buy it. After you’ve conversed with your conscience, the next step to precycling is the act of NOT buying it.

Precyclers do this because that store-bought thing is going to eventually end up in our overflowing landfills. And even if you can recycle that thing, it’s still not better than not buying it in the first place, because although recycling is a positive sustainable act, it takes energy to do it. Precycling is basically a “Just Say No To Stuff” life practice.

Before the capitalist in you turns the page in search of off-season restaurant deals, there are less extreme ways to practice precycling, ways more akin to the “reduce” in the famous environmentalist credo ” reduce, reuse, recycle. Here are several ideas to start the precycle cycle.

1. Eat whole foods

Buying and eating foods in their whole form ” like apples, broccoli and rice ” is not only healthier for your body, it’s healthier for the planet because there is less waste. Processed and overly packaged foods ” Kraft Lunchables are my favorite example ” are not only making younger generations obese, it’s plumping up our trash pits too.

In stark opposition to crafty Kraft products, the core of a red pepper or the hard, stalky ends of an asparagus can be saved from the trash and magically transformed into compost for the garden, eliminating all waste. It’s amazing how many of us actually buy something so readily available as dirt.

But please, don’t put your nice organic produce in a tiny, icky clear plastic bag. This grocery store habit is mind boggling to me. Just ask yourself this precycle question: Is a thin piece of plastic really protecting my produce? Or, am I just choking the sea turtles?

2. Consider packaging and buy in bulk

I have friends in New York who every time they order take-out, they pick it up carting their own reusable container. This is precycle ingenuity. Avoiding excess packaging, like the never-breaking-down-in-a-million-years styrofoam containers, is a great way to reduce waste. In fact, any restaurants still using styrofoam should be taken off your speed dial. Bringing your own coffee mug into your favorite caffeine dealer is another precycle act of genius.

When buying anything, consider its packaging. Is it in big, bulky hard plastic that you’ll need a vice grip to get into? Is there an alternative that is packaged in recycled materials, or better yet, an alternative that has a refillable package?

When you can, buy in bulk. Things like laundry detergent that have a long shelf life work well bought in gigantic containers. I’m still looking to purchase wine in a barrel, as the leaning towering of wine bottles in my recycling bin each week turns my greeness into black.

But don’t be fooled by individually wrapped bulk items, like a big box of little bags of potato chips or a million juice boxes all shrink wrapped together. This is not reducing anything. In fact, according to Oberlin College’s Recycling Program, every year we make enough plastic film to shrink wrap Texas.

3. Don’t buy bottled water

It’s time to pony up and buy a Klean Kanteen to hold your water. Or, clean out a glass juice container and use that to cart around H20. According to a USA today article, 1.5 million barrels of oil are used to produce plastic water bottles in the U.S. per year. That much energy could power 250,000 homes or fuel 100,000 cars for a year. This statistic is not even considering the plastic bottles after-life. If there’s anything that incites the eco-terrorist in me, it’s someone rolling out of Costco with a 24 pack of shrink-wrapped bottled water.

4. Junk your junk mail

Protect the earth and your PO Box from unwanted advertising by removing yourself from junk mail lists. The book “50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save the Earth” listed stopping unwanted junk mail as its No. 2 recommendation. According to the book, each year, 100 million trees are used to produce junk mail. Americans receive almost 4 million tons of junk mail every year, and 250,000 homes could be heated with one day’s supply of junk mail. You can remove yourself by going online to the Direct Marketing Associations Mail Preference Service and registering ( Or, you can pay $41 and have who promises to remove you from up to 95 percent of the junk mail lists, including catalogs. And 50 percent of that fee goes toward the New American Dream’s junk mail campaign, an organization dedicated to helping Americans consumer responsible to protect the environment, enhance quality of life and promote social justice.

5. Get organized

This precycle idea is dedicated to my uber organized hubby, Captain Vac. Think about how much stuff you have, but you don’t know you have it, because it’s lost in a junk drawer, hiding in the garage or stuffed in the back corner of a closet. It’s time to organize your stuff, assess what you have so you don’t go out and buy more batteries, for example, when you have plenty in a kitchen drawer next to the dishwasher warranty package. Take those free-wheeling nails and screws in your garage, and put them in a cleaned-out salsa jar. Skip buying a gift bag, and use one of those hip Eat! Drink! paper bags stowed in your mud-room closet.

Freelance writer Cassie Pence is married to the superhero of green cleaning Captain Vacuum, AKA Tim Szurgot. Together they own Organic Housekeepers, a cleaning company that uses strictly organic, natural and nontoxic cleaning products. Contact her at

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