Copied and edited from an ageist rant... less most of the ageism, plus some technical points and clarifications. Blame
Back then, in the 1950's and 60's in America, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled; without being crushed, melted, and reformed, which costs more than washing.
Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. A lot of that clothing got made. Things got fixed, and you could fix them because they were made to be fixed.
We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. We valued our appliances, tools, and cars and we took good care of them... and they lasted.
We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
- The VW Bug, best selling car of /all time/ was massively popular then and got better than 30 miles per gallon, 36mpg was the stated value!
- The Model A ford (and there were a lot of them still on the road in 1950) got 25 to 30 miles per gallon. Of course, it was a death trap, and had a top speed (if you were crazy) of 65 mph.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. err... actually, it turns out that a high mpg car is probably greener than mass transit
Even a Camry (rated at 28mpg) gets very close to beating the bus on average. Rail is about twice as efficient as a car, IF the train happens to go where you need it. But still, Bikes beat everything but walking, and keep you in shape... if the cars don't kill you.
Locally grown food was the rule rather than the exception. In most metropolitan areas, the grocery van (and the milk, and bread and everything else) came to your house once or twice a week, serving everyone in the neighborhood in ONE trip, instead of each person driving to a different store at different times.
In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.
Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.
We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts -- wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Your clothes dryer puts about 4.4 pounds of carbon into the air /every single load/.
Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throw-away kind.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaper#Debate There are pluses and minus either way, but in a multi-child family, with a diaper washing service, cloth diapers do use less energy, if more water.
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. Kids read comics and books and they played outside. Remember outside kids? It's that thing that goes by the windows of your car. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances.
When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.
We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.
Ok, look... I'm not saying we should go back to the 1950's in every way. We've made a lot of progress since then: Women are treated a LITTLE better... and now have the opportunity to work all day and THEN "make" dinner and "care" for the kids and husband. Safety is much improved; these days you can be a complete idiot and yet survive. Corporations are well regulated which prevents pollution and economic collapse. And I do think life is more open now, more connected and more examined. Our technology is worlds ahead of what it was; the intertubes give us access to information we don't need almost as fast as we ignore it.
But we tossed the baby out with the bath water. Frugality, and with it sustainability, went into the ditch. We got lazy, fat, and stupid. Looking back at what was /right/ in the 1950's might do us some good today.