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10 Ways to Go Green like Our Grandparents

Angel Ridout
By Angel RidoutNovember 10, 2014

It’s National Recycling Week, and November 15 marks America Recycles Day. Learn more on how “gray” is the new “green” and what we can learn from our grandparents on how to be more environmentally conscious. 

10 Ways to Go Green like Our Grandparents

When we think of “green living,” the image that most often comes to mind is a stereotypical flowerchild of the ’60s or a preachy environmental activist. What most people don’t realize is that our grandparents were reusing, reducing and recycling long before the “green movement.” Some of what my grandparents did during the depression and WWII is no longer practical, but we can learn from, adapt and use much of what they did every day to what we do today. Learn more about how you can live more green starting on America Recycles Day.

Around the Home

1. More Care, Less Trash


My grandma took great care to make sure that her furnishings, carpeting and appliances lasted as long as possible. Every week when she washed sheets she also rotated the mattress so that it wouldn’t develop sags or wear unevenly. She cleaned the dust out of the appliances on a regular basis and ran vinegar through the washing machine to clean the insides. Take care of what you have because large amounts of landfill space are taken up by furnishings and appliances that could have been used longer or donated.

2. Cleaning Green

Grandma never bought expensive cleaners that were meant to clean only one surface. For windows she used vinegar and newspapers. For scrubbing sinks and bathrooms, she used vinegar and baking soda, or sometimes lye soap. She did use liquid dish soap but very little of it since she said that elbow grease was the best cleaner ever invented. Many online sites are devoted to “green cleaning” and tout the virtues of scrubbing, vinegar and baking soda just like Grandma used. Green cleaning reduces the amount of chemical residue in the air, in our water supply and in our landfills.

3. Scraps to Stock

My grandma froze her leftover vegetable scraps and bones, and when she had accumulated enough, she made homemade chicken or beef stock. Scraps from the stock were composted for use in the garden. If you aren’t able to home compost vegetable scraps or lawn trimmings, many cities have composting programs that will do it for you and then sell the finished product to gardeners. Many people put scraps down the garbage disposal but that uses both water and electricity as well as putting a strain on wastewater treatment plants.

Around What and How You Eat

1. Shop and Save the Planet

My grandparents only went to the grocery store about once a month. Grandma canned her own fruits and vegetables and had a huge pantry full of staples. They bought meat from a local farmer and froze it for the winter. Nowadays, most of us have no idea how to can vegetables nor do we have the space to store 50lb bags of flour. There is still a takeaway though. Cooking from scratch and not stopping by the deli every day saves on packaging that gets discarded, and cooking from scratch is also less expensive and much better for your health. If you do have storage space, buying in bulk and refilling smaller containers not only saves you money but sends less packaging to the landfill.

2. Cookies Not Chemicals

When I was a child, snacks like soda and chips were only for summer picnics and camping trips. Grandma made her own cookies, cakes, pies and candy. There were no preservatives or added chemicals and they tasted divine. In the evenings, Grandpa brought in a couple of dried ears of popcorn from the cellar that we shelled into a large cast iron pan, popped and melted real butter over the top. Reducing the consumption of pre-packaged foods helps to cut down on industrial food factories that pollute the air and water, and reduces packaging going into landfills.

Around Clothing and Personal Care

1. A Stitch in Time

Grandma sewed most of her own clothing and if something ripped she sat down with her sewing box and fixed it. Socks with holes were not thrown away; she slipped the sock over a light bulb and weaved the hole closed. She made her own quilts, hot pads and sometimes even her rugs. I know very few people now who have these skills, but we can still follow her example. Anyone can learn how to sew on a button, and for more complicated repairs, it is less expensive to take a shirt to the cleaners to be mended than it is to buy a new one. Repairing or handing down clothes also keeps material out of the landfills.

2. Conservation in Motion

I think if they were alive today, my grandparents would laugh uproariously at the notion of paying a gym fee to get exercise. Life used to be much more physical. Mowing the yard involved manually pushing a mower, gardens had to be weeded and harvested, and farm animals had to be cared for. Trips to the corner store or post office involved walking, not driving in a car. Grandpa used to say, “God gave us two feet but only one rear end for a reason.” How often can you leave your car in the driveway? If you are unable to do errands by walking, how many errands can you combine into one trip? Fewer trips mean less fossil fuels used, less pollutants in the atmosphere and more money in your wallet.

Involving Your Family

1. You Are What You Eat (and Grow) 

My Grandma could make anything grow and knew how to cook everything that she grew. By teaching children where food comes from and how to cook your harvest, you can avoid producing a mountain of garbage as well as the problems that industrialized food production creates for both the environment and your health.

2. Passing Down Skills to the Next Generation

Teach children to repair buttons and the proper way to clean or make a bed. If you do any crafts such as needlepoint or quilting, teach these skills to your grandchildren. It will give the both of you a shared experience as well as a connection to you that will last throughout their entire life. Knowing how to do basic sewing and home care skills is good for the budget and the planet.

3. Waste Not, Want Not

Teach older children how to use leftover food to make new dishes instead of throwing out yesterday’s dinner. Budgeting is another area that is often overlooked when it comes to waste. Bring the lesson to a child’s level by explaining that they can waste $1 on a candy bar that will last for 3 minutes or save that $1 until they have enough money to buy something that they can enjoy for a longer time.

Reduce, re-use and recycle the way our grandparents did and you can save money as well as saving the planet for your children and grandchildren.

What can you learn from your grandparents to help reduce your carbon footprint? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Angel Ridout
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Angel Ridout
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