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Reduce, Reuse First, Then Recycle

September 2, 2009

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See all those jars?  That’s just some of the waste that our family keeps out of landfills and recycle centers each year.  I’ve been thinking about trash andrecyclables in a recent convergence of two things:  1.  buying canned tomatoes to get us through until I can more and 2.  a conversation with a friend about the Cash for Clunkers program.

As I’ve been seeing more recycle-ables accumulate in our basement recycling area, I can’t help but think how much smaller, than the average American family, our trash/recyclables output is, and it’s still quite large in my book.  We take a 32 gallon trash can to our local landfill along with all of our collectedrecycling items about every six weeks.  Our recyclables fill half of a small pick-up truck bed.

The recycling mantra is:  reduce, reuse,recycle.  I think the average American likes to skip over the first two and focus on the third, if they focus on any at all.  This is true for the Cash for Clunkers program which got me stirred up thinking about this at all.  Recycling still takes a tremendous amount of energy and resources to take the wasterecyclables and turn them back into useable items.  It is far better to reduce in the first place, then reuse items as a second option and finally, recycle the things you can no longer use.  I know that in our own household we can certainly do better, but we have come very far in the past few years and most things aren’t difficult or too time consuming.

Here are some things that we have done to reduce our output:

  • Use cloth diapers
  • Use cloth menstrual pads
  • Use cloth napkins
  • Use cloth toilet paper
  • Primarily use cloth kitchen towels; I purchase a roll of paper towels very two or three months
  • Use cloth grocery bags for most purchases
  • Eat out take out infrequently
  • Purchase processed food sparingly
  • Avoid or sparingly use  disposable dishes and utensils, even for parties/potlucks
  • Use cloth produce bags part of the time
  • Buy food in bulk to reduce packaging, including meat
  • Buy milk fresh from the farm in glass bottles, which we return
  • Use glass (preferred) or plastic containers for most food storage, greatly reducing the number of zipper bags we use
  • Use our public library system for most reading and rarely purchasing books or magazines
  • Rent DVDs from our local movie store or library
  • Purchase from a CSA reducing the use of produce packaging
  • Can much of our preserved food, reducing the use of bottles and cans (including salsa, jams, tomatoes products)
  • Convert to paperless billing on your bills that offer this feature
  • Use a French press to avoid paper coffee filters (prior to that we used drip pot with a mesh filter to avoid paper filters)

How we reuse:

  • Shred part of our twice weekly paper for guinea pig bedding
  • Compost vegetable/fruit scraps or give them to the guinea pigs
  • Compost guinea pig bedding
  • Reuse wrapping paper/gift bags
  • Use the few grocery bags we get for trash can liners
  • Purchase clothing primarily second hand
  • Look for used books first when purchasing
  • Save office papers for the girls to draw on the back so both sides are used
  • Use grass clippings as mulch
  • Walk for some errands rather than drive

There are areas that we can improve, certainly.  My biggest one is that I could walk far more than I currently do.  I use my car more frequently than necessary.  We could also get good bike set-ups for the whole family, but finances are tight right now, so that isn’t going to happen soon.

Our quality of life is enriched by the efforts that we make to reduce our output and reuse our resources rather than reduced as some people might imagine it would be.  Our children appreciate what we have and are reducers and reusers by nature, now.  Certainly something that I had to learn later in life.  How can we inspire others to incrementally make changes to reduce the consumption of our resources, both financial andenviromental?  What can you personally do?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2009 7:04 pm

    i love this post. everyone should read it. we are down to usually one trash bag of non-recyclable trash a week. it seems no matter how hard you try, everything in the world is wrapped in plastic. how in the heck did we get here? my big thing this school year was using all fabric bags and pouches for the girls school lunches and now they are taking real spoons and remembering to bring them home. the only thing i cannot do is give up toilet paper, i…just…cannot…do…it.
    but then i guess there are worse things.

    i think you are right, as a country the message is so not reduce, reduce, reduce. it’s how much more can you get for the buck? cheap, plastic crap that needs to be replaced.

    so glad i stopped by tonight!

  2. Mom permalink
    September 3, 2009 6:13 am

    Great post! I love that you put these posts in to remind us all about this. I don’t understand why so much unnecessary plastic wrap is used. What a waste. We have cut down on plastic storage bags quite a lot. We very seldom buy them anymore. As I have stated before, I bring my lunch in containers so I don’t throw things away. I have a plate, saucer, bowl and utencils I keep at work because I hate the waste of plastic utensils and paper or styrofoam plates. Now a couple of co-workers have down the same thing. So I am hoping it is catching on. I have always been big on reusing. Anything I don’t want I try to find someone I can give it to so it doesn’t end up in the trash. I reuse gift bags. If they are in good shape I will reuse them for gift giving, if not I just use them for tote bags or storage bags. I haven’t been to the library for books, but that is because I haven’t needed to. I have a steady supply from my ex-neighbor and then I pass them on to others and ask them to pass them on. I always get more ideas from your list, so please keep up the reminders.

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