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Growing Up Poor Gives You A Special Sense of Community And Environmentalism

2011 October 13

By Kristinn Vazquez

I have a confession to make. I’m cheap. Most people wouldn’t guess that about me. I do like to spend money on others. But, I’m cheap when it comes to resources at home and at work. I would argue most of us who grew up poor can relate. We’re environmentalists because we’re cost-conscious.

As the oldest of six, you wouldn’t think I received “hand-me-downs.” You haven’t met my family. I received the coolest clothes from an older cousin. When you’re poor, you realize the things you don’t need. You don’t actually need paper towels. You also don’t buy anything you could borrow. And, you rarely throw anything out. Someone might need it or have a creative use for it. Poor families have an incredible sense of community.

In our home now, all kinds of things become art supplies for the kids. Empty toilet paper rolls, bubble wrap, gift ribbons, plastic triangles from the center of pizzas, etc. (use your imagination)! Yogurt and butter containers become leftover containers. Plastic bags become pet waste bags. We’re constantly trading our kids’ clothes with friends. Here’s one we just learned: you can catch water in the shower and use that to water the plants. These are small ways to reuse and recycle materials, but they’re cost-saving measures for us, AND they’re good for the environment.

At the office, I help manage a program that considers bigger ways to recycle. We run the Responsible Appliance Disposal program that encourages utilities, retailers, and manufacturers to take your old refrigerators and window air conditioners, and responsibly dispose of the components that are harmful to the environment. If not properly handled, the refrigerant and foam contribute to ozone layer depletion and climate change. This month, RAD partner GE worked with Appliance Recycling Centers of America to open the first fully-automated appliance recycling facility in the U.S. Based in Philadelphia, the facility will not only serve more than a 12-state area, it has also created more than 50 new green jobs.

I’m proud to be helping the environment and the economy. On a personal note, if you’re upgrading to a new, more energy-efficient refrigerator, resist the urge to put the old refrigerator in your basement. This lowers the demand on the energy grid and perhaps more importantly when you’re cheap, lowers the demand on your own utility bills. I’d love to hear your ideas for creative recycling.

About the author: Kristinn Vazquez is the Deputy Director for the Stratospheric Protection Division. In her free time, she focuses on trying to see the world through her children’s eyes.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. More than Recycling permalink
    October 13, 2011

    Although I agree that being poor certainly increases one’s awareness of material purchases and their use, I would not equate this with being an environmentalist. In addition to reusing materials to save money, someone on a tight budget is also more likely to purchase the cheaper products, regardless of their environemntal impact – this applies to all things from buying cheap processed foods to applying inexpensive more hazardous chemicals around the house and yard. It is a fact that buying fresh locally grown meats and produce typically costs more than buying food in grocery store that may have been shipped hundreds of miles to arrive on the shelf. When it comes to landscaping needs, it is much cheaper to apply a bag of synthetic fertilizer laced with herbicides, then to take a more time intensive organic approach. I am not disregarding the importance of recycling and energy efficiency, but environmental values must go beyond one’s individual needs and consider the broader longer term impacts or our actions.

  2. Rosemary Nichols permalink
    October 13, 2011

    Kristen: Your comment really resonated with me. I too am the eldest of six children and learned very early how little my family could do with, since we had no choice. Even today (I will be 65 in January) I proudly report that “I don’t buy retail”. Comparison shopping is the only kind I do. Saving (or doing without) is in my blood. Not incidentally, that lifestyle makes us live much lighter on the planet.

  3. LINA-EPA permalink*
    October 13, 2011


    Loved your post. Paraphrasing the saying, necessity is the mother of invention, necessity helps you go green.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Linda permalink
    October 13, 2011

    If you run a dehumidifier in your home, use the collected water to flush the toilet or water plants; you have to empty the tank in any case, so it might as well serve another purpose.

    I’ve just recently discovered a great new recipe that is a fantastic way to “recycle” leftovers in the kitchen – soak cubes of stale bread in a little milk, mix in some finely chopped vegetables – onion, bell pepper, carrots, a tomato, celery, whatever you have, add some shredded cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Cover the pan with foil and bake in the oven until the top is crispy and golden brown. The result is somewhere between stuffing and a vegetable casserole, but it’s wonderfully tasty and can really be stretched to feed a group.

  5. Ernest Martinson permalink
    October 14, 2011

    Is buying naturally grown local food that more expensive than food shipped in from far away? I don’t mean the price as reflected in the retail price. I mean additional costs not reflected in the price that the poor must pay due to the lack of options the middle class possess. For example, welfare for both the big industrial farmers of such commodities as corn, wheat, soybeans and their fellow thieves such as processors like Archer Daniel Midlands and Monsanto. The subsidized roads and airports that facilitate food transfers from faraway places in machines powered by subsidized fossil fuels and ethanol. Fields artificially fertilized by subsidized natural gas.

    Rather than criticizing the poor for the economical pursuit of the necessities of life, I say reform the economy so that prices reflect real costs both to taxpayers and environment. At that point, poor and middle class alike will be reduced to seeking the lower priced item which reflects reality. That is what ecological economics is about: the sustainable allocation of scarce resources.

  6. MarilynRoberts permalink
    October 17, 2011

    I was enjoying reading the post of yours. It is good, really. I find the post very much useful.

  7. sovereign permalink
    October 18, 2011

    I was raised very poor also. I was the 2nd child of 6……..and it seemed there was never quite enough to go around……when you did get something new like a pair of shoes you really appreciated them and took the best care of the things you got.

  8. Svetlanamaine permalink
    October 21, 2011

    TY for the great info! I would never have gotten this myself!

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    October 30, 2011

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  10. amynight permalink
    November 5, 2011

    You can spend thousands of dollars on unnecessary courses, or you can get the best prepbooks, study guides, textbooks, books, strategies from the experts, all for a fraction of the cost. Use your study time effectively.

  11. May 14, 2012

    We do donations ourselves to the local non-profit recycling centers. We do bring them used appliances and they recycle them. This is very good program.

  12. July 25, 2012

    thanks for article Growing Up Poor Gives You A Special Sense of Community And Environmentalism , this nice posting

  13. herve leger sale permalink
    December 5, 2012

    thanks for your article

  14. Ballard Home Services permalink
    February 18, 2013

    Great article. Thanks

  15. Don Rodgers permalink
    February 25, 2014

    We do paper recycling and much of the shipping materials are reused

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