Being Green – our generation didn’t have the green thing back then!!

The following piece ‘Being Green’ has been circulating on various social media platforms over the past few months and it really struck a chord with me. Like the woman at the checkout we didn’t have the ‘green thing back when I was growing up but everyday we were doing the ‘green’ thing without actually realising it.  Just take a few minutes to read it through and you too will see how easy it was, and still is to be green.

Being Green!

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman, that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.” The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.” She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Being Green - our generation didn't have the green thing back then!!

Old Cash Register ~ Photo Credit ~ South Park City Museum via

Back then, 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 truly recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Being Green - our generation didn't have the green thing back then!!

We returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the shops

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags. But too bad we didn’t do the green thing back then.

Being Green - our generation didn't have the green thing back then!!

Brown paper bags were used to wrap groceries and then reused to wrap books

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. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Solar powered clothes dryer!

Solar powered clothes dryer!

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. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. 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. But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Being Green - our generation didn't have the green thing back then!!

A single radio to keep up with the daily news stories

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. 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. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

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. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint. But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?

Being Green - our generation didn't have the green thing back then!!

No computers or electronic gadgets back then.

It struck me as I was reading it that life was so much simpler back then. I remember my mother washing out the milk bottles (the two in the photo escaped as I found them while doing a litter pick!), using brown paper to cover school books, washing the nappies by hand and we walked or cycled to the shops. My first introduction to typing was on the typewriter in the photo above (that’s not that many years ago!!). I remember strapping it to my bicycle and cycling four miles to the classes and back home again.

Whoever originally wrote this piece was right – we probably didn’t consume nearly as much oil/gas/electricity back then. However, it wasn’t because we were being ‘green’, it was more because technology hadn’t advanced far enough yet. What do you think? Were we being ‘green’ back then or was it just a way to make ends meet?

All photographs unless otherwise credited are copyright of Mary Gethings.


  • Dee Sewell says:

    Life was so much simpler back then Mary and interesting you posted this after we had a long power cut which made the entire family aware of how much we depend upon the internet and electricity. I actually missed the radio the most and being in touch with the outside world!

    I do miss the glass milk bottles though, and the sound of his milk cart trundling along the road and yes, covered all my school books with posters, magazine pages or even wall paper! I think everyone was thriftier back then as parents had grown up themselves in war years with rationing etc (well for me in the UK anyway). Definitely we live in a throw away society these days, I wonder will it ever be any different?

    • Mary says:

      24 hours without electricity, water or phone lines definitely made us realise too how much we have come to depend on technology now. It was good to get the chance to just sit and have a chat without any interference from TV’s, internet etc.

      I had spotted the piece a while back and it brought back memories of life back then and how simple things were. I agree Dee back then with rationing and large families to support families had to be thriftier. I remember returning the ‘Big Brother’ lemonade bottles to the shops to get 3p for the bottle. We live in a throw away society but I think with the recession and so much information out there now on being ‘green’ people are beginning to take it on board and change their habits. It’s a slow process and I think it will take time to see a big change.

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