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

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.