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

Find more specifics about how I currently live and choices I’ve made on the “Beyond Recyclingpage.

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.

Lane County gave me an award for producing so little recycling even, never mind trash to throw away, for being a sort of "master non-recycler". Here's a little more information about me and this article:

I grew up in Reading, Massachusetts, then lived in Portland, Oregon for 12 years, then Eugene, Oregon for 18 years, and have now been back in Portland since February 2007. 

In Eugene I was somewhat of a simple living activist. In Portland I'm still living it. I work only part time. I don’t have a car or TV. I buy most of my food organic and bulk without packaging. While I was living in Eugene, Lane County gave me an award for excellence in waste reduction and recycling because I had so little to recycle even, never mind waste to throw away. I even owned a house for 4 years to try to demonstrate it. I had signs on the walls in the kitchen, living room, and bathroom describing what I did and didn’t do and what I bought and didn’t buy. The Register-Guard newspaper wrote this following article about me and my award. The Associated Press picked it up and it was also published in the Oregonian and in the Spokesman-Review, that I know of. I gave talks around town and sat on discussion panels. I got a couple of Simplicity Circles started based on the book The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life by Seattle author Cecile Andrews. She has also since written Slow Is Beautiful and Less Is More. Cecile and I had sat on panels together at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon a couple years in a row and at an Association of Oregon Recyclers conference.

A few things have changed since the article was written: I don’t own a house anymore and am a happy renter (I got tired of being a homeowner alone).  I do have a computer now.  I even experimented and tried to simplify by having only one name legally, Brookrod, for 10 years and during the time this article was written. Having only one name was interesting but problematic. In 2002 I changed my name back to the 3-name system, Steven Poole Brook, but the patriarchal family name, Poole, is in the middle now and my surname, Brook, is a chosen name. Otherwise I still live very much as described in the article. I may not be a "no-impact man" (as in the book and movie by Colin Beavan), but I do try to be a "low-impact person".


Living simply: Model recycler doing his part
by Lance Robertson The Register-Guard, Eugene, OR, Nov 13, 1999.

SPRINGFIELD -- Inside a thin plastic produce bag is the sum of Brookrod's household trash from the past few days: two strands of dental floss, a broken rubber band and one of those annoying stickers the grocery stores slap on fruit.

That's it. No cans, no plastic, no food wrappers, no cartons, no newspapers, no cereal boxes, no junk mail.

"Of the waste-reduction trio of 'reduce, reuse, recycle,' I emphasize the reduce and reuse parts so that I have very little to even recycle, never mind throw away," says Brookrod, a 45-year-old Eugene Public Library employee.

Very little. Now that's an understatement.

Brookrod, who legally changed his given name several years ago, generated only about 20 pounds of trash during the past year. And most of that was paper for recycling.

Compare that with the annual waste generated by the average Lane County resident: 2,778 pounds.

"It's quite a feat," says Tanya Baker, head of recycling programs for Lane County.

The Lane County commissioners thought so, too, and recognized Brookrod with a recycling award this week. He was one of three recipients of annual awards given to individuals, businesses and others for reducing waste in Lane County.

Brookrod, who lives in a modest two-bedroom home in central Springfield, felt honored. But he says he found the award a bit ironic, "since I don't really recycle that much."

That's because he practices waste-reduction techniques at home and in other aspects of his life, nearly eliminating all items that could be recycled or thrown into landfills.

"He's made a lot of decisions not to buy things that already are packaged," Baker says. "A lot of the waste we generate these days comes from packaging, or simply from the desire to buy a new thing before the old thing wears out."

While Oregonians have made great strides in recycling waste, we keep producing more stuff every year, according to state and county statistics.

Each Oregonian produces 30 percent more waste than he or she did in 1992.

An adherent of the "voluntary simplicity" movement, Brookrod bucks that trend. He buys only nonpackaged goods.

Nearly all of his clothing, furniture and other household items are secondhand or were scavenged after being thrown away. The jeans he wore Friday, for example, were obtained from a friend and local teacher who goes Dumpster-diving on weekends.

He also owns no television, computer, car or microwave. He rides the bus or his bicycle to work. He borrows his neighbors' lawn mower, then mows both lawns.

"I live my life pretty simply," he says.

Yet he lives alone, comfortably, in the house he bought three years ago on a quiet street off Mohawk Boulevard.

There's nothing unusual about his home.

The living room and bedrooms are neat and tidy, with the tasteful living room furniture and piano (all used, of course) nicely arranged. This isn't some cinder-block-and-board arrangement.

"He isn't some kind of hermit freak," Baker says. "Some people may think you can't live a normal life and generate almost no waste. But he's shown you can do it, and he does it without feeling deprived in life."

But how can Brookrod produce so little trash when the rest of us are filling up our garbage cans every week and hauling bag after bag of cans, plastic containers, newspapers and the like out to the curb for recycling?

The key is in buying bulk products or those that don't come wrapped or packaged, he says.

He buys bulk foods, spices, shampoo and other goods, putting them in reusable containers he's carted to the grocery store. He has his own garden. Instead of buying paper towels and tissues, he opts for cloth
versions. Even the soap he buys is not packaged.

Brookrod is able to read the newspaper at the library, where he works 24 hours a week, by choice. The only batteries he uses are in his home's smoke detector.

He tries to flush the toilet only once a day. A sign in his bathroom urges visitors to think about how flushing will impact the environment. It begins, "If you poop. ... "

Brookrod also composts all of his food scraps but says he's "pretty careful not to let stuff go bad" once it is prepared. "Most of it gets eaten." He's a vegetarian.

He admits, however, that his lifestyle requires him to make trade-offs frequently. For example, he bought a low-energy, front-loading clothes washer but dries all of his clothing on racks.

Brookrod grew up in Massachusetts but began to get serious about recycling and waste reduction soon after moving to Eugene in 1989. He says he slowly adopted many of the voluntary simplicity and waste-reduction techniques.

He legally changed his name several years ago because he didn't like the "patriarchal hierarchy" of how names are passed down to the next generation. The name Brookrod has no special significance, he adds.

"I've always had a concern about the great law of cause and effect," he says. "How I choose to live and shop affects the health of myself and other people, as well as the health and well-being of the planet."

In recent years, Brookrod has become a waste-reduction activist, holding meetings in his home on the simplicity movement and speaking at events such as the Association of Oregon Recyclers' Conference and the annual Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon.

Baker says others can learn from Brookrod's example.

"With just a few changes, like buying more bulk items instead of pre-packaged ones, people can have a dramatic impact on how much waste is being produced," she says. "Do we really need all the stuff we think we need?"
Copyright 1999 The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.


 Find more specifics about how I currently live and choices I’ve made on the “Beyond Recycling” 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.









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