Color & Control:

Have You Always Been Green?

By Pat Irwin

Many of today’s seniors were influenced by the fallout of the 1930s’ Great Depression. They may remember those days, and consequently their values and practices reflect the lessons learned from hard times. Many seniors were also raised in circumstances and cultures that respected thrift.

War-time shortages meant there were fewer items to buy. Thrift, economy and good housekeeping were the watchwords of the post-war period.

Another trend over the past 60 years, of course, is the evolution of recycling from an afterthought to a goal for a few and, ultimately, into the concept of “living green.” Now, sections of every mainstream magazine offer advice on eco-friendly practices. And legislators, corporations and advocates have jumped on to the bandwagon out of necessity.

“Living green” means having a lifestyle that is environmentally conscious. It means being earth friendly or environmentally friendly, rather than doing things that are harmful to our planet and our health. In general, living green can be accomplished through doing what is known as “The three Rs”: Recycling, reusing and reducing.

But for most of us, this isn’t news—we’ve been doing it all our lives! We spoke to several seniors for their reflections on a lifetime of “green” practices, and how they have updated them for today’s lifestyle. Here’s what we discovered.

Reuse and recycle

Back in the day, we…

Collected milk, pop and beer bottles to return to the store for a few nickels; those bottles were all returned to their source, sterilized and reused

Saved newspapers and magazines for “paper drives,” often by the Boy Scouts or service clubs, who collected and re-sold them to paper producers for fundraising projects

Today, we…

Patronize vendors who return and reuse bottles and allow bring-our-own containers

Go online for publications, bank statements and correspondence—no paper!

Re-purpose any incoming paper into memo pads or art supplies for the grandkids

Advocate for recycling and organic waste disposal in condos and retirement homes

Help others manage their recycling bins

Shopping and food

Back in the day, we…

Collected shopping in a basket and carried it home the same way, or in a reusable cloth or string bag

Carried groceries home in brown paper bags and reused them in the kitchen garbage can (no plastic garbage bags back then), where they biodegraded along with the kitchen garbage contents

Also used paper bags as textbook covers and playtime paper

Ate fruits and vegetables “in season,” at maximum flavour and freshness

Kept fruit in a bowl on the table (not hidden in the back of a crisper) so it was readily seen and eaten

Diverted any organic waste into a compost pile or for farm animals and pets

Today, we can…

Realize that it’s only in the past 25 years that food has come with hygienic packaging for safety

Patronize reputable stores where single-use packaging is avoided and we know the food is safe to buy and eat

Always shop with reusable bags

Choose unpackaged products such as produce, bulk-store items and recyclable packaging

Shop at local markets for food that has not been artificially preserved

Endeavour to stop needing garbage bags at all

Continue to compost and grow produce in the backyard or balcony container, and share the bounty with neighbours and friends

Personal wellness and grooming

Back in the day, we…

Used drinking fountains

Had very few single-use products such as disposable razors or wipes; handkerchiefs were used instead of tissues—and, yes, diapers were rinsed, washed and dried

Were strangers to take-out meals and “to-go” coffee; we ate at home or brought lunch

Had far fewer grooming products—a bar of soap and bottle of shampoo instead of body washes, conditioners, mousses, gels, and cosmetics

Today, we can…

Always carry a reusable water bottle or thermal travel cup

Try to patronize local coffee shops and cafes

Choose multi-use grooming products

Opt for chemical and animal testing free


Back in the day, we…

Walked to school

Took public transportation and would have been deeply embarrassed if our parents drove us

Went to the public library, not the bookstore

Bought carefully, choosing the best quality we could afford; we expected to keep major purchases for a lifetime, and valued them accordingly

Had items repaired before replacing them

Today, we…

Walk for recreation and transportation, and think twice before we take the car

Volunteer once a week

Read books online or at the library

When downsizing, gift and donate our heritage possessions to family and friends

Still love trying to fix things!

Strive to set an example to our grandkids.

Pat M. Irwin, BA, AICB, CPCA, is the president of ElderCareCanada and a professor of distance learning at Centennial College.

Make a difference

According to the “green” website, today’s older adults are still leading the way in creating sustainable lifestyles. Here are some areas to think about when it comes to making changes.

Energy: Reduce expenses for heating, cooling, lighting and powering the home by insulating attics, windows and doors, and using a programmable thermostat (especially for snowbirds).

Car sharing: Seniors who no longer need their own car can use a car-sharing service, such as Zipcar, or get an Uber.

• Transit: Senior discounts are typically offered for public transit; railways such as Via offer discounts as well.

Downsizing: A smaller dwelling has a smaller carbon footprint, and requires less water, heat, light and furnishings.

Clean cremation urns: For when the time comes, many seniors are looking for environmentally friendly funeral options

Eating: Change to buying local and eating less meat. How about those veggie burgers, anyway?

Living green should be second nature to us all by now. Talk to your grandkids about living green and you’ll likely pick up a tip or two. Chances are they’re already on board and will be very proud of you for paving the way!

Related Articles

Recent Articles

Complimentary Issue

If you would like to receive a free digital copy of this magazine enter your email.