Maybe you think you lived a fairly “green” life before retiring to a developing nation or maybe you believe you are doing that now, in your home country. Do you or did you recycle, dutifully collecting and separating your organic garbage from the recyclable stuff? Have you placed your pretty plastic container of recyclable material on the curb each week as the shiny recycle truck drove by, perhaps playing recorded sounds of the threatened Amazonian rainforest through its amplified speaker system? Perhaps you lived or are living in the suburbs or a rural environment and use your organic waste for composting in your garden which you tend with the finest, manufactured hand tools. If you did any of these things on a regular basis, good for you!! You are a better person than I. I did none of those things…at least not regularly.
I was the well programmed product of a consumer driven society, summarily discarding very usable things whose lives had barely begun. I didn’t care enough to learn. I didn’t need to learn. I had enough money to buy “new stuff” without regard for the lives remaining in the stuff I tossed in the trash. Even if you, like me, were not entirely engaged in recycling and other green initiatives, relax! You can start today. So for today, I will give you credit for being far more conscious of our environment than I was…then!
If you live in Ecuador, chances are you have become better at “re-purposing” items than you ever were in your home country. If not for the sake of the environment, you will do it only for your own selfish reasons so as to take advantage of the multiple uses of everything. Why? Because many things are really tough to get down here or expensive so one must substitute, repurpose or find another way.
Zip Top Baggies? If you live in North America, I seriously doubt that you washed one that previously contained leftover spaghetti so that you could use it again to store flour or sugar. I do. Those bags are expensive here. Furthermore, they are made from a petroleum based plastic and transported here using more carbon-based fuels. So…we reuse them, multiple times!
Nearly every purchased item, unless it is completely consumed (highly unlikely) can have several other lives in addition to the primary purpose for which it was intended. When one buys anything at all, the packaging, even a plastic bag, is a bonus item; a gift that comes with the primary item you purchased. For example, a plastic liter bottle of any liquid is actually at least three items; the consumable contents of the bottle, the bottle itself and the plastic bag you likely used to carry it home.
Obviously, plastic bottles and tops can be recycled for storing and transporting other liquids when emptied of their original contents or the bottles may be cut and carved into funnels, scoops, shoes, sunglass lenses, safety goggles, shims and spacers, fishing lures, decorative wind ornaments and many other things. Plastic bags are used multiple times their last life usually to hold wet, organic garbage.
Zip-top baggies are never used just once. They are carefully washed and re-used as many times as possible before the little zippie seal thing no longer works. Its final use will be as work gloves to keep hands clean while painting, picking up dog poo or some such thing.
Old newspapers become valued cleaning “rags” for glass table tops and windows and are wadded up and used multiple times. Their last use is often to start charcoal fires for cooking. Every glass jar with a lid is a treasure with multiple years left in its life; perhaps as a drinking glass or a sealable storage vessel for dry goods, or liquids. So a jar of jelly, mayonnaise, peanut butter or spaghetti sauce provides the launching pad for, perhaps, a decade or more of secondary lives for the glass container.
Even the lowly beer bottle is repurposed to contain used motor oil which is then used as lubricant for commercial machinery, heavy equipment, bicycles or to simply oil the blades of well-worn machetes in the constant battle against corrosion in a salty coastal or damp jungle environment. Large shards of broken bottles are inserted into the wet concrete along the top edge of security walls as a deterrent to those wishing to gain unlawful entry. Used, bald tires become the soles of shoes or are hand-cut into grommets, moisture barriers, seals or door stops. I have also seen them fashioned into fenders for motorcycles or mud guards for large trucks.
Every mechanical thing or piece of electronics is a collection of many smaller components. Perhaps one component has failed rendering the entire item inoperable. A craftsman will ferret out the broken component and either repair it or replace it, thereby granting new life to whatever it was. If the broken thing cannot be repaired, it is carefully disassembled and the collection of disassembled components is kept to repair other broken things.
Before retiring to Ecuador, the Pocket Babe and I lived a plentiful life, even during some financially challenging times; in fact, I am ashamed to say that we lived a wasteful life by the standards that I now apply. Those promoting a greener way of life in North America are making progress, albeit slowly, as more and more consumers begin to see both the immediate and long-term benefits. Unfortunately, the lifestyle requires extraordinary commitment as rampant consumerism is the norm. The opposite is true on Ecuador’s coast where the multiple lives of all consumer goods is clearly recognized and regularly exploited.
I am proud to say that Diane and I now waste far fewer resources than we ever did. In fact I now take pride in finding ways to repurpose items that I would have normally discarded without a second thought in my previous life. When buying a tub of margarine, I now eye the gift of the plastic tub with new respect, imagining the many great uses for it when emptied.
The cultural and life lessons that are regularly presented to me as a retired guy now living in San Vicente, on Ecuador’s coast are not always as formal as the Spanish class I am about to complete. Sometimes, just seeing an old man, walking the street in shoes made from old plastic coke bottles provides more lessons and infuses more humility than I am able to absorb all at once, but I try!
On another unrelated but extremely important topic, I am joyously married to an amazing woman who adds enormous value to my life and the lives of others. Her presence decorates every sunset and provides the inspiration for every breath I’m granted. This is our time! Together, we continue to find the multiple purposes for our own lives and will do so until the ticks and tocks on our personal clocks are all used up.
You don’t really think this piece was entirely about recycling your consumables, do you? Sure…that’s important but the real message is that we all need to reevaluate ourselves as we move into our retirement years, expecially if that is to happen in a far-away land. I suspect that you, much like an empty plastic bottle, have many undiscovered purposes remaining. Recycle yourself! Repurpose you!
I hope you are living the life you want. If not, you can start the process anytime you choose.
Remember, you will never know if you can fly until you step off the ledge.