It took me numerous extended vacations and several months of permanent living in Costa Rica to even begin to grasp the extent and depth of the daily conservation efforts of your average Tico. For me, it is a little overwhelming and most definitely exhausting – conserving ain’t easy. When I lived in SC, I thought I was doing a great job of helping to save the environment (cue the hero music) – recycling, driving a car that gets great gas mileage, turning the water off while I brushed my teeth, buying green products… Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, I have since discovered that my previous efforts are like tiny ants compared to the mammoth efforts of Julio’s family.
They take reduce, reuse, recycle to a whole new level.
Take for example, electricity. One way in which the family saves electricity is by doing things in the dark. Hanging out in the dark, doing laundry in the dark, cooking in the dark. This has become my own personal Extreme Sport because I most definitely cannot see in the dark. I’ve adapted to hanging out in the dark, but I don’t know if I can play ball with this one…I’m a visual person, I like seeing things. And it gets very dark here…like camping in the deep woods dark.
Another method of saving electricity is by not using a dryer and instead hanging wet clothes out to dry on the clothesline. Not only does this save electricity, it also keeps the clothes nice for longer, eliminating the need to replace. Never mind the latest trend or style of clothing – you are respected more for maintaining the quality of what you already own. I did not think much of this principle until I realized that it not only applies to clothing, but to everything.
We save everything unless it is rotting, and if the rot can be cooked out, we will save the rotting thing, too. This is a new concept for me.
The other day, I asked Julio’s family if I could replace the paint bucket trash cans with a nice, big, new trash bin with a good lid because the dogs kept getting into them. They looked at me like I had lost my mind and I was told no. It’s not about money and they are not even consciously thinking about saving the environment. It is not about a lack of trash pickup either – the garbage truck comes twice a week to our house. It is as simple as this: they don’t even question replacing something unless it is 100% completely useless…for any purpose. We are now using old pieces of wood from our renovation project to keep the dogs out of the trash.
Instead of throwing plastic water and soda bottles into the recycling bin, we save them to use as containers for water or cleaning products. Cleaning products are sold in un-resealable plastic bags in a high concentration – you mix water with it in your own container at home. Cleaning rags are used, cleaned, and reused – no paper towels. Cars! The majority of cars here are from the 80s and 90s. Our ’89 Ford Festiva still runs like a champ and has a great looking body. It has to go to the shop every couple of weeks for maintenance, but that is just a part of reducing and reusing. It is not easy.
We even try to save gray water (used water). When we have a storm, we put buckets (and those plastic bottles!) underneath drips in the courtyard to collect water for the house plants. Julio’s mother collects the used water from the washing machine to presoak her dirty clothes and then uses the dirty used water to water more plants.
This new way of life is exhausting.
It means cleaning everything over and over and over all the time. We spend the majority of the first half of every single day cleaning things in and around the house. It is most definitely not about doing things the easy way…which is ironic considering Ticos are viewed as lazy. I’m the lazy one in this situation – I would much rather throw away the empty food container than clean it and store it for some unknown future use.
What is also very ironic to me is that one of my first impressions of some of the Tico neighborhoods was that they were dirty. I looked at the piles of wood and empty bottles and wondered why they didn’t throw their trash away. Now I know better – they are actually re-purposing these things I would so quickly toss into a landfill. I saw the old cars and buses spewing smoke and thought the landscape would be much prettier with shiny new cars. Now I see these old cars and buses as saving us from yet another piece of future trash being produced.
We will see how this plays out. I am all about conserving, but I am first and foremost about minimizing. I don’t want to keep a bunch of stuff around the house if we are not currently using it. Maybe we can build a storage shed with our pile of old wood…