OPINION: What my Mexican grandma taught me about conservation (Hint: it involves Tupperware)

COURTESY: MARITZA OROPEZA - MARITZA OROPEZAEvery year, a total of 100 million pounds of trash are generated by National Park visitors. As much as I love that National Parks grant everyone access to the natural world, I have also seen how humans can ruin these environments unknowingly.

I am a firm advocate for the Leave No Trace principles and can't express enough how important they are. In Latino culture, we are taught that nothing goes to waste. My grandma was reducing, reusing and recycling before it was even a slogan. Before eco-friendly was cool. She would use the Wonder Bread bags to pack our lunches on the weekends when we would go to our local pool during the summers. You can never trust a Latino fridge. Was it butter, salsa or frijoles in that reused container? It was a surprise every time.

You'll find the use of random Tupperware in almost every Mexican household, including mine. As much as I hated reusing my old shirts as cleaning rags, I understood it more as I got older. My mom and grandma taught me that frugality was a way of life. We were taught to reuse everything and let nothing go to waste. Mexicans are essentially a zero-waste society. It wasn't until much later that I thought about how this attitude could have a much greater impact on the world. If more people took after my grandma and put things to use over and over rather than making them trash immediately, the world wouldn't be filling with waste. Hard-working people around the United States, people of modest means, like my grandma, are some of the best environmentalists because they can't afford not to be.

Many of the youth of today have a better understanding of the need to preserve our world for future generations than we did as children. They can see that they are part of those future generations that we always talk about saving the world for. What they need us to show them are the simple actions they can take in their everyday life to do just that. It's overwhelming to feel the responsibility to protect the world every day. So, showing kids that the simple act of not throwing something away that can be used again and again can help make them feel powerful.

That, coupled with giving them the opportunity to see places unspoiled by reckless consumption, has the potential to show them their place in the struggle to preserve our planet. We need to start making decisions for the welfare of all, not for our own convenience. ¡Yo cuento!

Maritza Oropeza is an Outdoor Leader for Latino Outdoors PDX. She works to provide underprivileged and young people of color access to the freedom the outdoors brings while advocating for the conservation of the natural world. You can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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