Reduce and Reuse: A Recycling Conversation

Yesterday I wrote about some of the problems with recycling.  Although I remain committed to recycling, I decided I need to do some other things in order to cut down on waste.  Toward that end, today I am writing about reduce and reuse, the other sides of the recycling triangle.

I have been intrigued by the people who have adopted a Zero Waste lifestyle.  I always like to watch the videos about people who are living up to the challenge of Zero Waste.  Although I won’t ever be a person who can fit a year’s trash into a jar, there are plenty of ways to reduce waste in my life.

Bea Johnson

First, we reduce what we have and what we are willing to get.  Bea Johnson is the guru for the Zero Waste lifestyle and she says we need to refuse freebies.  Those t-shirts or pens that you can easily pick up anywhere usually end up as waste.  And, by taking them, we are inviting the company to make more and give away more.

How much stuff do you really need?  I write about this on a regular basis because it is a constant struggle in the RV.  I am pretty good at living with a limited wardrobe.  I know that the things in my closet are clothes that I actually wear.  We get books from the library on our computer or iPad.  The Columbus library has an excellent selection of ebooks.  We stream videos instead of purchasing dvds.  Tom and I don’t go shopping if we don’t need anything.

I am working on reducing waste when I go to the grocery store but it is more of a struggle.  My sister is better at this than I am.  For instance, I like grapes but they come in a plastic bag.  I would buy more fresh produce at Farmer’s markets, where I could eliminate the bag, but we work on Saturdays.  My sister solves this by picking clusters of grapes out of the plastic bags and putting them in a reusable produce bag.  She asked for the store’s permission before she started this.  Julia also makes her own yogurt and eliminates the little plastic containers.  Of course, we always take our reusable bags to the grocery store to bag up the groceries.

I need to work on buying at a bulk store.  Stores where I can put things such as flour and cereal in my own containers instead of using prepackaged.  Did you know 15% of the price of an item is because of the packaging?  I could buy flour or cereal this way but I have gone for convenience instead.  Maybe I need to think more what is good for the earth instead of what is easy for me.

Tom and I eliminated bottled water a while ago.  We have a good water filter in our RV and we fill reusable bottles with water.  I recently decided to drink one less bottle of Diet Coke a day to reduce the amount of plastic we are generating.  I’m sure that sounds silly to you, but I really like to drink Diet Coke.  Small steps can make a difference.

One of the biggest areas of plastic waste that everyone could reduce is children’s toys.  It is especially easy for grandparents to buy a cheap toy that pleases a child for a minute.  Most children have rooms that are cluttered with toys they don’t use.  Fewer toys means a bigger imagination.  And, let’s face it, a lot of kids prefer video games these days anyway.

Second, we need to buy things with an eye toward reusing them.  How can we use something in different ways?  Bea Johnson recommends buying everything secondhand.  She gets all her clothes from Goodwill or other used stores because she feels it is better for the environment.  A lot of churches have rummage sales this time of year and yard sales are popping up all over.  If you head to these sales, look for items you would normally buy new instead of picking up junk you don’t really want.

One way that I am reusing things is by washing plastic bags.  My parents have done this for years and I never thought it was necessary.  But seeing the recent crisis in our oceans with plastic waste makes me want to reuse as much plastic as possible.  If I only wash it once and reuse it once, that is half the number of plastic bags I use in a year.  And, instead of buying more plastic bags and using them, I try to use washable containers instead.

Johnson family

Bea Johnson says that her two kids are not deprived by living a Zero Waste lifestyle.  Instead of a life filled with things, they are able to afford a life filled with experiences.  Experiences that enrich them and make them more responsible citizens of the world.

These are just a few of the ways we are trying to live more responsibly.  How about you?  How do you reduce, reuse, and recycle?  What changes can you make that will be good for the environment and you?