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Front Page » August 11, 2011 » Senior Focus » From Gray to Green
Published 1,225 days ago

From Gray to Green


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The senior demographic is quite possibly the best generation to emulate when trying to live an environmentally responsible lifestyle.

That may sound funny to some, but based on their past and their experience, it is very true.

Many of them came from a generation that was used to recycling, reusing or "repurposing."

In fact many of the guidelines for being green are concepts that have been a part of seniors' lives for decades.

A portion of today's seniors grew up during the Depression, when recycling and conservation weren't trends, but survival strategies.

Particularly for depression era seniors money was scarce, many people made did with the resources they were dealt, stretching dollars just to stay afloat. In fact many of the concepts associated with today's environmental movement are strikingly similar to the ones employed during the Depression.

The beginning of World War II also made people learn to do with less and to recycle and reuse.

The war created shortages, some due to the use of materials for the war effort, in other cases because the raw materials used to create some things came from lands that were either under enemy occupation, were sympathetic to the enemy or were hard to ship from because of the war. Rubber was a good example; it was needed in almost every way for the war machines. To keep the use of rubber down, gasoline (which was also in heavy use) was restricted for non-essential civilian use.

But the war did more than just restrict things; it also created a recycling juggernaut in which neighborhoods, towns and cities got into the spirit of competition to see which area could bring in more scrap metal, rubber, paper and even clothe rags.

Food items were also restricted greatly particularly meat, butter, sugar and produce. People learned to do with less and create their own kinds of food that used different products. They also grew "victory gardens' in corners of their yards and on the roofs of their apartment buildings.

It was the green movement and we can learn a lot from it and from the seniors in our society about it.

The behaviors of an elderly parent or grandparent that lived through these times that may have seemed eccentric or odd at one time are now turning out to be what many people are embracing in order to live green. Concepts like relying on reusable handkerchiefs instead of disposable tissues; reusing lightly-soiled napkins; collecting discarded items from the curb and repairing them for renewed use; saving cans or food jars and using them to store other items; buying local products from smaller vendors; and similar things are methods of living ingrained in the persona of many older people.

Frugality and awareness of what things cost and what constitutes waste are other concepts seniors know well. Many have never adapted to the notion that products are disposable, preferring instead to hold onto appliances, electronics, clothing, and other items because they still have utility, not because the current season dictates they should be upgraded.

In 2008, Harris Interactive polled Baby Boomers ages 45 to 62 about their interest in the environment. Ninety-four percent of respondents said they took steps in the past six months to do something green. More than 80 percent were concerned about the environmental legacy that would be left for their grandchildren.

While many seniors are going green today for altruistic reasons, it also makes good financial sense. Recycling items, conserving utilities and fuel and making smart choices can stretch a fixed income even further. Choosing to walk or ride a bike instead of getting behind the wheel of a car may be not only environmentally friendly, but it's financially savvy as well.

Here are some ways of living straight out of the Great Depression that can be put to use today.

*Use the milkman if there is one available. Although it may seem like the milkman is extinct, milk and other dairy products can still be delivered straight to a person's home from a local dairy or farm. Adding reusable milk bottles reduces the reliance on disposable containers, while buying local cuts down on the fuel costs necessary to transport products.

*Pass down clothing. Clothing that is gently worn can be passed down to children or even donated to causes that help others.

*Walk.During the Depression, cars were a luxury and the gas to power them often could take food off the table. Walking or riding a bike are options are still available today.

*Use cloth diapers and linens. Reusable items, like cloth diapers, handkerchiefs and linens, are more environmentally responsible.

*Get outdoors. Instead of relying on television, which had yet to be invented during the Depression, children and adults went outdoors to socialize and have fun.

*Open the windows. Instead of relying heavily on air conditioning, try opening the windows on nice days and let some fresh air in.

*Use clothes lines instead of electric or gas dryers. Clothes dryers use about 10 to 15 percent of domestic energy in the United States. A clothesline can help reduce electric bills and energy consumption.

*Get into gardening. If you can grow what you eat, that reduces the dependence on commercially produced and harvested crops.

Many elements of the Go Green movement are similar to those employed during the Depression, when survival mandated people reuse and recycle items.

It was a time of true personal greenness.

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