Book Review: Can I Recycle This? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single-Use Plastics

Can I Recycle This? book cover

I recently read this book and thought it was worth reviewing. Serving as a guidebook to recycling better, this publication is so much more than that! It was visually appealing, as it is illustrated with colorful diagrams and visuals to enhance your understanding of the subject matter.

The author, Jennie Romer, is an attorney and sustainability expert. She has more than a decade of experience fighting for effective legislation on single-use plastics and waste reduction.1 Romer currently serves as a legal associate for the Surfrider Foundation’s Plastic Pollution Initiative “where she leads Surfrider’s policy efforts and litigation to reduce plastic pollution at local, state and national levels.”2 She created the Surfrider Foundation’s Plastic Bag Law Activist Toolkit3 and founded the website PlasticBagLaws.org.4 The New Yorker called her “the country’s leading expert in plastic-bag law.”5

“The truth is – and you knew this was coming – that recycling alone won’t save us or the planet.” -Jennie Romer

Illustration of plastic water bottles.
Image by LillyCantabile from Pixabay

Purpose of the Book

Romer wrote that people ask her all the time, “Can I Recycle This?” and that was part of the impetus for the book. But the answers are never simple. Laws in different municipalities and recycling material profitability vary greatly. Recycling collection does not translate directly to actual recycling. With her background in law and sustainability, she was able to put together this guide that offers recycling advice, waste management systems and processes, and briefs histories of how these systems came to be.

In her introduction, she echoed my thoughts from my Packaging Series on packaging and manufacturer responsibility. “Recycling is only effective if the materials can be sold for a profit, and the markets for what is profitable fluctuates. Sadly, a lot of our carefully separated and washed plastics end up getting shipped to developing countries and contributing to climate change. And that’s where policy and activism come in: The ultimate goal is to adopt sensible and effective policies to reduce single-use plastic and other packaging, and hold producers responsible for making better packaging and paying for the cost of recycling and waste disposal (and cleanup).6 Romer also viewed this book as a contribution to that movement.

Concise Overview of Waste Management

The first section of the book covered a concise overview of the recycling system and other waste management methods. Romer explained these complex systems well but with brevity. Topics included defining recycling and what recyclable means, the types of plastic resins (numbers on plastics), global plastic production, and how resources are extracted and produced. The book provided an overview of how single-stream recycling and other types of recycling systems work, sorting at Material Recovery Facilities, and the end markets for recycled materials. Additionally, she addressed “biodegradable” and “compostable” plastics, incineration, and how modern landfills operate. There is so much to learn, and I found this section fascinating!

Guide to Recycling

In this core section, the author covered the recyclability of specific items, from straws to eyeglasses to disposable coffee cups. This section used a color-coding system both in the table of contents and on the edges of the pages to make it easy for the reader to quickly assess recyclability.

The Toll of Our Waste

Romer also covered the toll that our waste takes on air and water pollution, wildlife, and human health. She wrote about environmental justice regarding communities adjacent or near incineration facilities, landfills, or chemical plants. The book detailed China’s National Sword Policy and how that has changed our recycling markets globally. She also included the human health and pollution ramifications of shipping our waste internationally.

People sorting recycling in standing filthy water in Bangladesh.
Image by Mumtahina Rahman from Pixabay

Personal & Policy Solutions

There are many solutions to avoid buying single-use disposable plastics, and Romer offered many ideas. She detailed greenwashing in advertising and offered advice on how to avoid those products. Most importantly, she explained how to have a voice within policy and regulations, particularly in regards to single-use disposable plastics. She defined Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and explored The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (BFFPPA).7 “The bill is a road map for how to address the plastic pollution problem in the U.S. and was developed by legislators in consultation with environmental groups and other experts,” she wrote. “The legislation looks at virtually the entire life cycle of plastics, from its creation to manufacturing and disposal.”

Inspiring

It can be hard to convey the importance of recycling and environmental responsibility. I found this book inspired me to keep the momentum going on fighting single-use disposal products, preventing climate change, and protecting human and animal life. This is our planet, and we need to protect ourselves from the catastrophes we are creating. We can all be the change. Romer hopes so too: “I hope that this book inspires you to become involved with plastics reduction and recycling.” I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone wishing to learn more about recycling and the related issues.

Ask for a copy of this book at your local library! Thank you for reading. Please share and subscribe.

Chalkboard drawing with the word "Together" and people figures in different colors.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Footnotes:

The Plight of Orcas in Captivity, Truths Revealed

Last updated on May 9, 2021.

Orca performance at SeaWorld Orlando
Orca performance at SeaWorld Orlando. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals (https://weanimalsmedia.org/)

As I mentioned in my first article in this series, I grew up loving animals and held a deep respect for zoos and aquariums. My parents took me to our local zoo often as a child. I loved seeing and learning about the vast array of species on our planet. They also took me to Disney World and several other parks in Orlando, but we never made it to SeaWorld. I’ve always wanted to go, and when I became a mother, I mentally added it to the list of places I’d like to take my son. I thought it would be truly awesome to experience.

But marine and ocean-themed amusement parks are often different from zoos and aquariums in that they do not provide anything close to a species’ habitat or natural environment. Established for entertainment purposes first and foremost, they are more amusement parks than aquariums. After learning all that I’ve learned this year, I simply cannot support SeaWorld and similar parks across the world. The lives they live in captivity are analogous to the circus, and I have never supported circuses.

I am choosing to not buy a ticket.

I want to share the resources with you that led me to this decision. But first, let me address SeaWorld and marine parks in general.

“Marine parks differ from zoos in that the animals – whales, dolphins and seals – are performers. This, say critics, puts them squarely in the circus tradition.”-Erich Hoyt1

SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego, photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

SeaWorld as the Representative

Though a very successful business, SeaWorld has always had controversial beliefs and practices. Thad Lacinak, Vice President and Corporate Curator of Animal Training of SeaWorld Orlando from 1973-2008, said in 1989: “You get the so-called environmentalists who say they don’t think the whales like it here, but what proof do they have? Everything we see indicates to me that they don’t sit out in the pool thinking about being out in the ocean– because of the way that they seem to enjoy what we do.”

While the issues of captivity occur in all marine parks holding captive marine mammals, SeaWorld is the epitome. The documentary, A Fall from Freedom, called SeaWorld the “largest, wealthiest, and most politically powerful of all marine parks.”

Blackfish

Film cover

After watching Blackfish, I was intrigued not only by the controversy of captivity but also by the relationships trainers developed with orcas. This film, the most well-known documentary about this subject, told of the dozens of killer whale incidents at SeaWorld, including several deaths. The producers interviewed many former SeaWorld trainers and all shared similar stories. Management routinely omitted information about incidents and provided misinformation about orcas. The work environment elicited a consistent fear of being transferred away from orca work or being let go altogether. The film interviewed marine biologists who have studied wild orcas and found SeaWorld’s “educational” materials offensively inaccurate.

The film highlighted that orcas in captivity behave differently than wild orcas because captivity is traumatizing to them. It brought the issue of keeping them in captivity into the public’s view. This argument had been going on for years between different agencies, scientists, and marine biologists. “Outrage over the film metastasized quickly into calls to prohibit keeping killer whales in captivity,” wrote

The Killer in the Pool

An article entitled “The Killer in the Pool” written by Tim Zimmerman inspired director and producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite to begin researching Tilikum’s story. The article, written shortly after Dawn Brancheau’s death, detailed the history of orca capture and captivity, as well as marine park practices, trainer injuries, and deaths.“For two years we were bombarded with terrifying facts, autopsy reports, sobbing interviewees and unhappy animals – a place diametrically opposite to its carefully refined image. But as I moved forward, I knew that we had a chance to fix some things that had come unraveled along the way. And that all I had to do was tell the truth.”

“If you pen killer whales in a small steel tank, you are imposing an extreme level of sensory deprivation on them. Humans who are subjected to those same conditions become mentally disturbed.” -Paul Spong, the founder of OrcaLab

John Hargrove, SeaWorld “Whistleblower”

Book coverBlackfish led me to John Hargrove’s book, Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish. Hargrove was a senior trainer at SeaWorld and spent 14 years of his life working in the industry. He left the company and became a “whistleblower” and provided even more insight into the practices of SeaWorld. I could hardly put this book down at times, it was so well-written and read almost like a novel.

Hargrove loved orcas from childhood and dreamed of being a trainer someday. While that dream came true and it was thrilling to work with the whales, it was also heartbreaking for him. He left because he was no longer able to go along with SeaWorld’s policies that he considered poor. These surrounded breeding practices, the separations of calves and mothers, and the mistreatment of trainers and animals alike. He loved the whales and had strong bonds with them, especially one named Takara. But he knew that “love alone was not going to save them.” He dedicated his book to all the orcas he swam and built relationships with for many years. “You gave me everything,” he wrote. “But most especially to Takara, who taught me so much and whom I loved the most.”

“It would make my life so much easier if I could say that those animals are thriving in captivity, living happy and enriched lives. Unfortunately, after all the years of experience that I had, I saw the psychological and physical trauma that results from captivity. A massive corporate entity is exploiting the hell out of the whales and the trainers.” -John Hargrove6

David Kirby’s book

Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity, book coverDeath at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity by David Kirby was published the same month that Blackfish first aired. Though difficult to read at times, the book was very well researched and well cited. Regardless, I learned a lot from his research. Throughout the book, Kirby followed the life and experience of marine biologist and animal advocate, Dr. Naomi Rose. It introduced many people taking part in this debate including former trainers, eyewitnesses of marine park incidents, animal rights activists, and marine mammal biologists. This book went beyond SeaWorld’s problems and examined the problem of cetacean (whales and dolphins) captivity. It covered the multiple accidents and deaths in marine parks, the OSHA cases against SeaWorld, the media backlash against SeaWorld from Blackfish, and other orca studies across the world. I recommend this book to those who really want to delve into the details of these topics.

Long Gone Wild

Long Gone Wild film poster This film, released in 2019, focused on the continued plight of captive orcas, picking up where Blackfish left off. The film covered the case against captivity as orcas continue to live in barren concrete tanks. It explained the effects of Blackfish on SeaWorld, as the park took a major hit on attendance and profit. It appealed to its audience to stop supporting SeaWorld – “Don’t buy a ticket.”

The documentary went into depth about the plight of captive marine mammals in Russia and China, triggered by the growth in ocean-themed parks in those regions. It also presented the proposed Whale Sanctuary Project, a seaside sanctuary for retired orcas that would provide a safe, permanent home in their natural habitat. There are sanctuaries for elephants, tigers, chimpanzees, and other land mammals, but none for marine mammals in the entire world. I’ll write a post in the near future about the project.

Many orca experts were in the film as well as renowned authors such as David Kirby (mentioned above) and David Neiwert (Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us). It explained the monetary value of the whales and how it has increased over time. Between 1966-1970, dozens of orcas were captured around Puget Sound, Washington, and sold for $30,000 – $50,000 each, some to SeaWorld. In 1976, people captured nine orcas from the seas around Iceland and sold them for $150,000-$300,000 each. Today, the wildlife trade values each orca between $2 million and $7 million dollars.

By the 1980s, wild orca captures had become controversial, especially in Western cultures. SeaWorld realized it would need to rely on breeding in order to have additional orcas for its parks. In 1985, Katina was born, becoming the first “Baby Shamu” for marketing purposes. It was effective. By 1989, SeaWorld had become a billion-dollar corporation.

SeaWorld did not respond to requests for interviews for this film.

The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity

The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity cover

I found this publication from the Animal Welfare Institute and World Animal Protection, authored by Dr. Naomi A. Rose and Dr. E.C.M. Parsons. This is by far the best report on this subject that I’ve found and at times difficult to stop reading. It is extremely well researched, organized, and written. It addresses the history of the public display industry and marine parks, the capture of cetaceans, conservation issues, animal environment, veterinary care, mortality and birth rates, ethics, swim with dolphins attractions, and the legacy of the film Blackfish.  I highly recommend this if you are researching this topic, or even if you are just interested.

“The only hope of winning this war is for the public to stop buying tickets.” -Ric O’Barry, Founder and Director of The Dolphin Project

Orca performance at SeaWorld Orlando
Orca performance at SeaWorld Orlando. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals (https://weanimalsmedia.org/)

My intention for this post is to make you think about the issue of captivity. Reconsider buying tickets to these parks. I’m going to save my money. Someday I’ll take my son whale watching to witness these beautiful creatures free in their own environment. In my next post, I want to explore the issues in detail. I’ll be using research from the sources I’ve listed in this article and many more. Thanks for reading!

 

Additional Resources:

Fall from Freedom film coverA Fall from Freedom from the Discovery Channel was a good film with some dated filmography and interviews. However, I learned more about killer whales, the captive industry, and the people who study them. This film helped me put faces with names that I’d read about in David Kirby’s book.

 

 

The Cove film cover

The Cove, an Academy Award-winning film that heightened public awareness of the global problems surrounding dolphin captivity. From the Oceanic Preservation Society: “A team of activists, filmmakers, and freedivers embark on a covert mission to expose a deadly secret hidden in a remote cove in Taiji, Japan. By utilizing state-of-the-art techniques, they uncover a horrible annual tradition of unparalleled cruelty. A provocative mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure, and arresting imagery make this an unforgettable and courageous story that inspires outrage and action.” I appreciate this film and think it offers valuable insight. But it was difficult to watch at times due to the graphic nature of the content. The team of people was amazing. They risked their lives to capture the footage and expose the mass murders of dolphins.

The Performing Orca coverReport, The Performing Orca – Why The Show Must Stop: An in-depth review of the captive orca industry, by Erich Hoyt, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, January 1, 1992. This is an older publication, but many of the issues are still as relevant today.

 

 

 

Website, SeaWorld Fact Check

Website, Inherently Wild UK

Article, “The harmful effects of captivity and chronic stress on the
well-being of orcas (Orcinus orca),” Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Volume 35, pages 69-82, January–February 2020.

Website, Orca Research Trust

Website, The Dolphin Project

Footnotes:

For the Love of Orcas

Last updated on June 13, 2021.

Orcas swimming with sunset
Photo by Bart van Meele on Unsplash

As far back as I can remember I’ve loved animals, and I’ve always felt the desire to protect them. I’ve never seen an orca in real life and I had always wanted to visit SeaWorld and had even hoped to take my son there one day. Over the last year, I’ve learned a lot about these amazing, majestic, intelligent, and beautiful creatures. But I also learned about the trials, dangers, and cruelty that come with having orcas in captivity. In this series, I’ll explain why I will now never be able to visit SeaWorld.

About Wild Orcas

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are perhaps the smartest species and have a higher emotional capacity than humans. Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family. There are several types of orcas and they are found in all of the world’s oceans, most abundantly in colder waters like in Antarctica, Norway, and Alaska. What they eat varies by location and pod preference. They live in matrilineal pods that travel between 50 and 100 miles per day. They have complex coordinated hunting techniques, showing a high level of communication. Mothers typically have one calf about every 5 years and calves, particularly males, will stay with their mothers for life. Orcas are apex predators, meaning that there are no animals that prey upon them.

Orcas have large brains and have challenged the belief that humans are the most intelligent species. These social animals have strong bonds with each other, organize for play and hunting, and communicate in ways beyond vocalizations that humans don’t understand. They use echolocation and rely on underwater sound to feed, communicate, and navigate. Even though their vocalizations sound the same to us, each orca pod possesses a unique set of culturally transmitted and learned calls.

“Social life for killer whales…is deeper and more omnipresent than it is for humans; their identities are defined by their families and tribal connections; and their empathy is powerful enough to extend to other species. If orcas have established empathy as a distinctive evolutionary advantage, it might behoove a human race awash in war and psychopathy to pay attention.” -David Neiwert1

There are many ecotypes of orca. The Southern Resident orca, which resides in the Pacific Ocean in areas ranging from central California to southeast Alaska, is critically endangered. There are only 74 individuals (three pods) in the wild as of October 2020. While they are protected, there are always threats stemming from food supply issues; pollution and contaminants in the ocean; global warming; and most importantly, human activities.

Orca pod in ocean
Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Sound Pollution

Whales are extremely sensitive to sound as they can hear (and feel) much higher ranges than humans, so sound pollution from ships can significantly affect them. The NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, requests that people choose land-based whale watching because it decreases the number of boats on the water, which reduces underwater noise that can disturb killer whales. The Whale Trail2 includes many land-based observation sites where you can view and learn about over 30 marine mammals, and there are more than 100 shoreside sites in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California.3 

One example of human activity and sound pollution comes from our own U.S. Navy, which “has been authorized for decades to conduct local testing and training, which includes firing torpedoes, detonating bombs and piloting drones.” Recently, NOAA Fisheries approved the U.S. Navy to continue military exercises in Puget Sound and coastal Washington waters for an additional 7 years.4 I personally find it very confusing that they permit the Navy to cause such extreme sound pollution but ask that others reduce theirs.

Orca swimming in the ocean
Image by 272447 from Pixabay

“Orcas filter incoming sound through high-quality fat in their lower jaws, and this appears to give them abilities to distinguish sound and where it comes from in ways humans probably can’t visualize.”

Free Willy, starring Keiko

Though the Free Willy movies came out in the 1990s, I had never seen them. This year, since COVID-19 has kept us home, we’re obviously watching a few more movies than before. We watched three of them and even though these movies are a little dated and a little predictable, I enjoyed watching them with my son.

Afterward, I was curious if they were based on a true story, so I researched a little and found that while the movie was fictional, the starring whale, Keiko, had in fact lived in captivity and had later been freed. I wanted to know Keiko’s story so I watched the 2010 documentary, Keiko: the Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy. Spoiler alert: I cried at Keiko’s death but he had lived in the ocean instead of a small tank for 5 years, and for a year and a half he swam freely in the ocean. He likely would have lived a much shorter life had he remained in captivity.

Keiko The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy Film CoverHis release was and still is controversial, but Keiko’s fame, life, and death hold great importance. One article described that “the fight for his freedom and his subsequent release…brought worldwide attention to the welfare of marine mammals in captivity.”6 Keiko will never be forgotten because of his importance in capturing the attention of the world regarding whales in captivity. 

 

“As a retirement project, it was a 100% success. [Keiko] lived in his natural habitat…the health problems he suffered from all cleared up. He thrived for 5 plus years. How is that a failure?” -Dr. Naomi A. Rose

Blackfish

Film cover

Then I saw Blackfish, twice. I was so intrigued by the relationships trainers develop with these animals. But there is a huge controversy about orcas in captivity. This film told the story of Tilikum, an orca that was involved in the deaths of three people over the course of his captivity. Tilikum killed an experienced trainer in 2010 and her tragic death was highly publicized. The film highlights the fact that SeaWorld blamed her death on her instead of the whale. I’ll explore Blackfish and killer whales in captivity in this series.

Luna the Whale

The Whale cover art

One of my favorite documentaries was called The Whale, about a wild orca named Luna that tried to befriend humans after becoming separated from his pod. The whale’s behaviors gained fame and soon many people were trying to interact with him. It became controversial because some marine biologists felt that this was not good for the whale. Luna showed the connections between humans and animals.

 

The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna book coverMichael Parfit, who coauthored The Lost Whale, said this in the film above: “We meet at a dock in Mooyah Bay and we look at each and we recognize something. This isn’t casual stuff, I thought, this isn’t insignificant…I looked at him, I looked at that awareness that looked back at me, and I thought, we’ve treated you with inconsistency, we’ve treated you with disdain, but still, you trust us. How in the world, I thought, will we ever be forgiven by life, by nature, by ourselves – if we let you suffer just because you’re trying to be our friend?” I wept during this film but it made me appreciate these whales even more. They are such beautiful, social, emotional, and intelligent creatures!

“Many people hope that someday we’ll meet an intelligent being from another world. Hollywood tells us this being will come flying down in a spaceship, and he’ll look a bit like us. Most importantly, he’ll have a mind like ours, and we’ll figure out how to communicate right away. But maybe it won’t be like that. Maybe it will be like this” [showing Luna the orca]. -Ryan Reynolds, narrator of The Whale

More on Orcas

There are many documentaries about orcas, and there are also dozens of books about orcas. I’m still trying to read them all. As I do, I’ll update this post and my Books page. I encourage you to learn and read about orcas! Check your local library to see what resources they may offer. Comment below to let me know if there’s a good book you’ve read that you’d like me to know about! Thanks for reading, please subscribe, and look for my upcoming articles on the Blackfish documentary, SeaWorld, and other marine parks.

 

Additional Resources:

Website, “Orcas (Killer Whales): Facts and Information,” National Geographic, accessed November 30, 2020.

Article, “Endangered orcas at risk from U.S. Navy, activists warn,” by Jeff  Berardelli, CBS News, July 31, 2020.

Website, “Meet the Different Types of Orcas,” Whale and Dolphin Conservation, accessed December 9, 2020.

Article, “The Whale Who Would Not Be Freed,” The New York Times, September 16, 2013.

A Plastic Whale film coverA Plastic Whale, Sky News documentary film, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Video, “Freeing Willy,” Retro Report, The New York Times, September 16, 2013.

Article, “How to Watch Whales and Dolphins Responsibly,” Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, accessed January 30, 2021.

Page, “The Luna File,” The Orca Conservancy, accessed May 5, 2021.

Article, “Befriending Luna the Killer Whale: How a popular Smithsonian story about a stranded orca led to a new documentary about humanity’s link to wild animals,” Smithsonian Magazine, April 13, 2008.

Article, “Luna: the Orca Who Wanted to Be Friends,” The Whale Sanctuary Project, accessed May 5, 2021.

Footnotes:

The Tiny House Movement: A Countercultural but Sustainable Solution

The Tiny House Movement: Challenging Our Consumer Culture book cover

I recently read The Tiny House Movement: Challenging Our Consumer Culture by Tracey Harris, a sociology professor at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia. Overall, the author argues that the tiny house movement is a countercultural social movement because it challenges many aspects of the American lifestyle and social norms. Some of these include owning a big house with furnishings and “nice” things; taking out loans and “financing” everything. Living in the right neighborhood with the right school, which often equates to a more expensive house. Staying very busy with work to make more money to pay for the house, the maintenance, repairs, and shopping to buy stuff for the house. “Keeping up with the Joneses” sounds stressful. Countercultural is starting to sound pretty good. This book was extremely well researched and well written, and I think all who are interested in tiny house living, minimalism, and sustainability should read it.

Tiny home on water
Image by Leslie Troisi from Pixabay

Tiny Houses

Generally, when I talk to people about my interest in tiny house living, many assume that I mean a 130 square foot tiny house on wheels (also known as a THOW). In fact, tiny houses can range in size from under 100 square feet up to 700 square feet, and small living is sometimes defined as up to 1000 square feet. Some are on wheels, some on concrete slabs or full foundations, and some are floating homes on water (also called houseboats). Tiny houses are versatile, customizable, and much more affordable than the average house. Some are off the grid but many are wired and plumbed for regular utilities. People are interested in tiny homes for a variety of reasons. Some want to work less in order to pursue their true interests; others seek to become and remain debt-free; some want to reduce their environmental impact; and most often, it is a combination of these.

“This transition relates not only to downsizing material goods but also requires a new understanding of what is meaningful and valuable in our lives. Leading lives based on experiences rather than acquisition is countercultural.” -Tracey Harris
Two story tiny house exterior
“Two Story Tiny House,” Park City, UT. Photo by PunkToad on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Home Ownership in the United States

We now have the biggest houses in the entire world. The average size of a new house in the US has tripled since 1950 and is now above 2,500 square feet and the average price is about $286,000. An upscale tiny house can run over $100,000 but are often less than that. There are also many other differences in cost! It costs much less to heat and cool under 500 square feet than it does for 2,500 square feet. The costs of repairs are lower because there is physically less to repair – fewer windows; a roof that is the fraction of the size of the average home; less electrical to repair, and likely only one bathroom instead of 3! “Big houses require more energy and materials to construct. Big houses hold more furniture and stuff—they are integral parts of high-consumption lifestyles. Big houses contribute to lower population densities and, thus, more sprawl and driving.”1 Overall, larger homes are not good for the environment and are not sustainable.

“It is completely out of control right now, in terms of the size of our housing. We really need to settle down and not only because of affordability but because of sustainability. We cannot sustain the level of growth that we have right now.” -Andrew Morrison, tiny house advocate 

Small house figure on a calculator
Image by Alexander Stein from Pixabay

We have too much stuff

In the United States, we have too much stuff. Our consumer habits are keeping us in debt, polluting the environment, and creating discontent. In addition to our large homes, we pay for additional storage – for stuff we probably don’t need! The self-storage industry grows annually; currently, 9.4% of households in the US, about 1 in 10, rent a storage facility. As a country, we spend $39.5 billion annually on self-storage. What else could we do with that money? There are a few situations in which self-storage is necessary, but self-storage should always be a short term solution.

 

“There are more self-storage facilities in America than there are McDonald’s restaurants.”2

Garage full of boxes and junk
Image by Maret Hosemann from Pixabay

Many people wonder how tiny house residents can fit all of their possessions in their homes. The transition to tiny house living does require significant downsizing in possessions. But as with minimalism, the focus would be on keeping the items that add value to your life and letting go of the belongings that do not. But this transition should enhance your life.

People living in tiny homes “acknowledge that a small house provides the vehicle for them to live larger lives, in part because they are no longer tied to the physicality of a conventional house and all of the baggage that comes with those ties.” -Tracey Harris

Debt

Between housing costs and the costs to heat/cool/furnish the home, general overconsumption, cars, education, and self-storage, Americans are more than $13 trillion in debt! We deserve to live better. In fact, some communities are embracing the tiny house movement as a potential way to address housing insecurity and poverty. In Detroit, Michigan, for example, programs assist people with lower incomes to become homeowners over time, which provides them with stability that snowballs into opportunities that they previously did not have.3

“The tiny house movement can help us all gain a better understanding of how we can challenge societal inequalities and environmental degradation by advocating for more choice, not less, in the ways we are able to house ourselves.” -Tracey Harris

Even if you aren’t interested in living in a tiny house, I encourage you to think about the sustainability of your spending habits and how much of your income is going to housing and caring for items you don’t use. Because the less you own, the more money you’ll have for what really matters to you. The less debt you have, the more freedom you will have to spend on travel, experiences, and giving. The benefits of buying less, downsizing, living deliberately, being debt-free are easy to see.

Environmental benefits

Consumer culture is taking a huge toll on the environment. Consuming less not only reduces expenditure but buying less stuff and having a smaller home is also environmentally friendly. Smaller homes use less energy and need considerably fewer items because of limited physical space. Production, transport, and disposal of consumer items is not sustainable at the rate of our current consumption levels. The tiny house lifestyle works counter to this culture by reducing the focus on possessions and putting it back on living a full life.

“We are heading for the proverbial rocks. It’s not just us in peril; it is our very home, planet Earth, which is being threatened by our consumptive choices and overspending.” -Tracey Harris

Photo by Nachelle Nocom on Unsplash

Community and Sharing Economy

Rather than owning and storing every type of household item or tool, minimalists and tiny homeowners embrace the notion of sharing, borrowing, even renting items they need only once in a while. Some neighborhoods have tool libraries, and there are some public libraries that lend tools and equipment just like books. People can share chainsaws, weedeaters, nail guns, and other tools. There are even kitchen libraries popping up, where you can borrow or rent kitchen gadgets that you might not need but a couple of times per year. Tiny house communities, like condos or housing associations, share large amenities such as pools, fitness rooms, and tennis courts. In addition, many also offer clubhouses for large gatherings. Others share communal sports equipment such as kayaks and bicycles.

Live Your Best Life

Though that phrase may seem cliché, living your best life is important, whatever that means to you. If the idea of living with less to achieve your best life is countercultural, so be it. Let’s just embrace it for what it is. This is your life and not for others to judge. If you are living tiny or minimalist, I’d love to know how that’s going for you. Is it helping you get the most out of life? Leave me a comment below. As always, thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

Footnote: