Simpler, More Sustainable Living: Getting Beyond Recycling
Steven Poole Brook, Brookrod
Beyond Recycling

Simpler, More Sustainable Living: Getting Beyond Recycling
Steven Poole Brook, Brookrod

What I Do and Don't Do

To see a brief YouTube video of me in the news on TV on April 19, 2009, click here.

Lane County gave me an award for being a sort of "master non-recycler", that is, for producing so little recycling even, never mind trash to throw away. Read the newspaper article on the "
Article" page.

See a timeline of my talks, articles, and award on my "Timeline/Resume" page.


Waste reduction, that is, reducing the amount of trash I throw away, has long been a passion of mine. Much household trash comes from food packaging. So I buy most of my food in bulk (and organic) without packaging. I bring my own containers to the store to refill. I cook almost everything from scratch. So when I eat I may have foods scraps afterwards from the meal preparation but I don’t have containers to throw away or recycle. As a result I end up with very little to recycle even. While recycling is obviously better than throwing away, it still requires energy and transportation and processing and remanufacturing, so I just try not to produce waste or recycling in the first place. You've heard of Master Recyclers. Well, I guess I try to be a "Master Non-Recycler", to get beyond recycling.


But I've also tried to simplify my life and live more sustainably in other ways too because as important as reducing waste and reducing recycling is, we must get beyond them. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists in the book The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, even more important are how we transport ourselves, how we eat, and how we operate our households. They say that transportation (cars and light trucks), food (agriculture), household operations (construction, energy, water, sewer) are the most harmful consumer activities contributing to the leading consumer-related environmental problems of air pollution, global warming, habitat alteration, and water pollution. If we think we’re doing enough by recycling and yet we’re not working on these other more important issues, then, well, we’re not.


I take seriously the “law” of cause and effect, that how I live will have an effect on my own well-being, on the well-being of other people both locally and on the other side of the world, on the well-being of other species and the environment, and on the planet as a whole. You may have read the book No Impact Man by Colin Beavan or seen the movie. Well, I may not be a "no-impact man", but I try to be a "low-impact person."


Here are choices that I’ve incorporated into my life over the years. So far, that is. I’m always hoping to learn more and take more steps. I don’t have or do some things that would be considered very ordinary. For instance, I don’t buy or cook with tomato sauce because it comes in a can. But, yes, I do have inconsistencies! And I’ve tried to point them out below. Your compromises or inconsistencies would probably be different from mine. Perhaps you would buy tomato sauce in a can, but you wouldn’t buy organic soy milk in a 1/2-gallon carton.

I work only 30 hours a week. I'd rather have the time to do things that are important to me, such as keeping fit (I go to a gym because my work at the library doesn't involve much physical activity), walking or using public transportation to shop instead of owning a car, and cooking all my food from scratch instead of buying packaged and processed food. All of these things take more time.


Some of the things I do may not seem to matter or to be important. The important thing, I think, is developing and maintaining the frame of mind. Cheri Huber says, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Cecile Andrews defines simplicity as the life lived consciously, the examined life. And as Gandhi said, “Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it” !


Absolutes vs. Percentages

I’m realizing that a lot of my life, a lot of my decisions and choices, are percentages and not absolutes (“I’ll absolutely never ever do this” or “I’ll absolutely always always do that”) and that as long as I try to keep the percentages low I’m helping somehow.



-No car. I walk, bus, train. (In Eugene I bicycled everywhere.) [My first big inconsistency – occasional

air travel!]

-No TV. (I try not to be influenced by advertising & consumerism & corporations by not watching TV

or listening to commercial radio or reading ad-filled slick magazines.)

-No DVD player

-Interior lighting is all low-energy compact fluorescent

-No air conditioner (have some electric fans)

-Dry clothes on racks in my apt. (Use washing machines in my apt. building, but not the dryers)

-Use the stairs and not the elevator: my apt is on the 4th floor, my work at the library is on the 1st and 2nd floors.

-Turn off everything completely at night, except for the refrigerator and 2 digital clocks. No green or

red standby lights. Power strips off.



I mostly cook from scratch, trying not to use packaged or processed foods.


90% or more of my food is organic, bought bulk without packaging. I bring my own containers and bags to shop: e.g. grains, legumes, flours, fresh fruits & vegetables, peanut butter, tahini, cooking oils, teas, spices, raisins, unrefined cane sugar, cocoa, honey, maple syrup,. . . [unfortunately not enough is locally grown]


Practically no packaged foods:

No canned food or beverages (e.g. no soups, no tomato sauce)

No boxes (e.g. no cereal, no pasta)

No bottles (e.g. no juices, no soda, no water). I eat fresh fruits and vegetables and drink water or teas or coffee [see below

about coffee!]. I pour water from the tap into my own bottle for traveling.

No jars (e.g. no jam)

No packaged frozen food

No plastic tubs (e.g. no yogurt, butter, or margarine, except sometimes stick butter/margarine to go

on my home-made-from-scratch multi-grain waffles!)


When I finish cooking and eating, I may have compostable food scraps but no containers or packaging to recycle or throw away.
I give my compost to a friend to add to his compost. (Since I live in an apartment, there is no compost pick-up. The City of Portland only has compost pick-up for houses.)



-Cartons: I do buy organic soy milk in 1/2-gal. carton.

-Once in a great while I’ll buy tofu in a tub or tempeh in a plastic bag, but I haven’t in many months. I

generally prefer to cook other types of bulk dry beans from scratch weekly in the crock pot. 

-I've been trying to drink a little red wine (organic!) with dinner for the health benefits. But I'm a lightweight. I have 3 oz. a night and a bottle lasts me a week. Of course, the bottle has to be recycled.

Vegetarian. I try to eat lower on the food chain. At home I have some milk (organic, in a returnable glass bottle. It takes me about 2 weeks to go through a 1/2 gallon) and some eggs (organic, free-range, I bring my carton back to the store and refill it. It takes me about 2 weeks to go through a dozen eggs). When I go out to eat I will seldom have fish [again, percentages vs. absolutes].

No meat.


I think being vegetarian has helped me keep my weight steady as I age. There’s very little fat in my daily diet, only peanut butter (with no additives. I grind it fresh myself at the natural food store in my own jar), tahini (bought bulk in my own jar), a little olive oil (bought bulk in my own bottle), and the little bit of milk and eggs that I use.


Bake my own organic whole wheat bread weekly in a bread machine (used) and throw in organic bulk sunflower seeds, flax seed, and millet.


When I had a garden I used to grow some of my own vegetables and fruits.


-No vitamins or supplements

-No recreational drugs.

-Coffee: didn’t start drinking until my 40s. Love/hate relationship. Now I have about two 12-ounce mugs of coffee a day. Organic, fair trade, and shade grown. [Read the chapter on coffee in the book Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things by John Ryan and Alan Thein Durning put out by Northwest Environment Watch. You would think it would have convinced me to stop! And maybe it will yet.]

-Alcohol: For many years I had no alcohol. Since 2005 I have the occasional drink. And as I mentioned above I've been trying to have a little red wine (3 oz., organic) with dinner in the evening.



No paper towels, no paper napkins. I use sponge, and cloth towels and cloth napkins (bought used).

No plastic wrap, baggies, or aluminum foil. Food storage in plastic and glass containers.

No cleaning chemicals, no cleanser, no oven cleaner (it doesn’t get dirty anyway).

Use dish detergent (bulk), baking soda (boxed), borax (boxed), and washing soda (boxed)

Dishware, pots, utensils, mostly all used

Crockpot, used

Bread machine, used

Waffle iron new in 2004, and another hand-me-down one.

Electric kettle new in 2008
Microwave -- bought my first one ever in 2013. I don't use it to cook but mostly just to heat leftovers.

No toaster, no mixer, no blender. (Not against, just don’t happen to use!)


Little trash, Little recycling

I have very little even to recycle never mind throw away.

No Kleenex, I use handkerchiefs

No paper towels, no paper napkins. I use sponge, and cloth towels and cloth napkins (bought used).

No plastic wrap, baggies, or aluminum foil. Food storage in plastic and glass containers.

No bottled water.

Laundry detergent bought bulk.

Avoid cafes that use paper cups or plates. I ask for a real mug or bring my own.

No disposable cups or plates or flatware at potlucks, I bring my own plate, etc. just in case.

Hardly any junk mail (I go for days with nothing in my mailbox sometimes)

No newspaper, I listen to NPR or BBC.

Save and use one-sided paper for scratch paper

I never buy batteries. There’s a 10-year battery in smoke detector. Some other things have built-in rechargeable batteries: camera, laptop, cell phone, electric toothbrush.

At work I keep a handtowel to avoid paper towels (you’d be surprised how much you have to wash your hands in a library) and an all-purpose mug at my desk, mostly for water.


[See also “Food” and “Kitchen” above]


No chemicals

No cleaning chemicals, no cleanser, no oven cleaner (it doesn’t get dirty anyway), no special toilet

cleaner. Use dish detergent (bulk), baking soda (boxed), borax (boxed), and washing soda (boxed).

Laundry detergent (bulk, no phosphates, biodegradable).

When I had a yard and gardens I avoided yard chemicals and chemical fertilizers.


Used items

Furniture and kitchenware are mostly all used

Clothes, bedding, linen: some used, some new



Toilet: usually flush a few times a day, more if necessary or if have company

Toilet paper, 100% recycled (80% post-consumer), not chlorine bleached

Turn water on and off as I shower

No Kleenex, I use handkerchiefs

Soap bars, thin cellophane packaging

No cleaning chemicals, no cleanser, no toilet bowl cleaner. I use combinations of

            dish detergent (bulk), baking soda (boxed), borax (boxed), and washing soda (boxed)

Electric hair clippers new in 2013 (The ones I had bought in 1987 finally died.)

Electric toothbrush (!?! my periodontist convinced me)

Waterpik (!?! my hygienist convinced me)

No shaving cream, no mousse, no styling gel, (no hair!)

Shaving: I don’t much – I have a beard! But when I do: metal handle not disposable about 25 years

old, twin blade cartridges eventually thrown away. No shaving cream -- I just use a bar of soap as I only shave my neck.


Do have:

Bicycle new in 1989

Bicycle pump new in 2006

CD/cassette player, used

Cell phone bought used. Sometimes I go for days without getting any calls.

Sewing machine, used

Laptop computer new in 2007 (no printer)

Scanner new in 2011

Netbook computer new in 2011

Digital camera new in 2004

Music keyboard, a hand-me-down from the 1990s.

Vacuum cleaner new in 2012

Lots of books, used and new

2 used radio clocks

Iron, used

2 Credit cards!?! I only use one of them and I pay the balance off every month.


I’ve emphasized some of these in my life more than others, some I’ve slid back on, and some are my next step.

  • Minimize waste, but not just that but also to
  • Minimize recycling
  • Minimize use of energy and other “resources”
  • Maximize food being organic as well as bulk, unpackaged, unprocessed
  • Eat lower on the food chain
  • Minimize use of toxic chemicals in the house and yard 
  • Not be influenced by advertising & consumerism & corporations by not listening to commercial radio or watching TV or reading ad-filled slick magazines.
  • Value time more than money or things. (I work 30 hours/week.)
  • Minimize number of machines and gadgets
  • Maximize used goods
  • Buy local (I’ve almost given up on trying to buy U.S.-made items. But at least I’ve never bought anything in a WalMart.)
Read the newspaper article on the "Article" page.
To see a brief YouTube video of me in the news on TV on April 19, 2009, click here.
See a timeline of my talks, articles, and award on my "Timeline/Resume" page.

Other Keywords: simple living, voluntary simplicity, sustainability, sustainable living.









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