When you hold an item in your hand and think about its connection with the environmental problems you’ve heard about, use your imagination and think about the parts you can’t see: where it came from, and where it’s going. That’s a mind-shift that politicians haven’t made yet, but the most innovative thinkers about sustainability are focused on what they call “cradle to cradle” analysis.

Plastics, for example, are made from petroleum products, fossil fuels. “Fossil,” because oil and coal are the remains of forest life in the early days of the planet. That laundry soap bottle used to be ferns and mosses in an ancient landscape. How odd to think that today our use of these ancient resources is threatening our future on earth!

Thinking of the future, here’s a simple tip: do not scrub out containers that are going to be recycled. Using quarts of clean water to wash potato salad tubs and cottage cheese cartons is not a net benefit to the planet. Do the bare minimum to ensure that your recycling won’t attract pets. A swish in the water you’re using to soak a cooking pot is enough. I sometimes toss especially messy containers into the dishwasher on top of everything else, where they take no additional space.