We all know the 3 big R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We probably learned about them in school, or from conscientious parents. The problem I find, is that most people ignore the first two, and only focus on the last one. Also, we’ve added 2 more R’s to our list, as per Bea’s suggestion over at Zero Waste Home: REFUSE, and ROT. So our 5 R’s are: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, “and only in that order.” So I thought I’d take today to talk about all the R’s EXCEPT recycle (because we all know how to recycle).
Refuse (Refuse, Refuse):
I think this one is incredibly hard for most people, and I’m certainly no exception. When I go to events and they hand me a little bag of goodies (also known as a “swag bag”), I always used to just take it without thinking, even if I knew I didn’t really want anything in there. People are always offering me bottled waters at their house, or a candy after dinner at a restaurant.
Learning to refuse things you don’t need is going to be a vital part of cutting down on our consumption and waste. Do you NEED the swag bag with a chapstick, a bottle of water, and a couple of coupons? Does your kid NEED the goody bag at a birthday party with a slinky, a bouncy ball, and sugary candy? Can’t you do just as well with a glass of water at a friends’ house rather than a plastic water bottle? And the plastic-wrapped peppermint candy at the host stand as you walk out of the restaurant isn’t necessary (or good for you!).
Sean and I have started saying no (and really, it’s as simple as that). Nope, don’t want a bag from the grocery store when all I’m getting is a loaf of bread or a jug of milk. Nope, don’t need your free coupons to such-and-such buy-one-get-one-free. Nope, I don’t need a bottle of water (We both now carry our own reusable water bottles, and tap water is just fine with us!). If you have kids, you can probably really relate to the birthday party goody bags (I know I always had them at my parties growing up, and got them at other peoples’ as well). If you tell the parent of the birthday child, when you call to RSVP, that your child is just fine without the goody bag, I highly doubt the parent will argue with you. They’ll probably be grateful that they don’t have to worry about one more goody bag, and maybe it’ll get them thinking that NONE of the kids need them (maybe… just maybe).
Now, reduce is tied in very closely with refuse, but it IS a little bit different. Instead of asking do you need this, reduce asks, do you need THAT MUCH?
Probably the best place you can see reduce in our house is the kitchen, with our diet (which has an effect on our consumption and waste). We have reduced the amount of processed foods we eat. This means we have fewer cardboard boxes and plastic trays from TV dinners, fewer shrink wrap plastic from popcorn bags and candy wrappers, and fewer pounds to lug around!
As well, we’ve reduced the number of toys we buy for Kiera. We used to go to the pet store after every major holiday and pick up a couple of new ones on sale (wait until the day after Christmas, and then all of the snowmen and reindeer stuffies are half off!). Now, we’re letting her really destroy the ones she has before we bother to buy her new ones. She has some favorites anyway that we couldn’t throw away even if we wanted to. Just toss them in the wash, and they’re brand new again to her. The other thing we noticed, was that when she got new toys, her “destructiveness” levels tended to spike. What I mean is: when she got a new toy, she not only destroyed the toy, but was more likely to chew up other stuff, like a piece of clothing that accidentally got left on the ground, or the trash from a trashcan that wasn’t put back under the sink all the way. It’s almost like something new gives her the signal to keep looking for more ‘new’ things to get in to, while if she just has the old toys, it’s easy for her to see what is a good choice, and what isn’t.
I have reduced the number of clothes in my closet. I realized that if I looked objectively at my closet, I probably wore about 10-15% of the clothing in it on a normal basis. So I started weeding through it and took out clothing that was (a) too small, (b) I didn’t wear at least once a month (like holiday outfits and such), and (c) I bought/was given to me, and I had never actually worn it. Now I was down to about 30% of my closet, but I still had enough laundry to do 3-4 loads of clothes! So I asked myself, “If all of my clothes were clean and hung up, which clothes would I pick to wear FIRST?” I set aside all of my favorite outfits, enough for about a week and a half’s worth of outfits, and threw out the rest. I now have 4 pairs of jeans, 1 pair of shorts, about a dozen tank tops, and a couple sweaters. Those are the clothes I wear every day (even in winter here in lovely So. Cal.), so I really don’t NEED anything else. I do have a couple of nice tops for family get-togethers or to go out on a date, and I do have an “interview outfit” that is business appropriate. Also, a couple of heavier jackets for when it does get a little chilly. But that’s it. I even went through my shoes, and I think I went from about 20-25 pairs down to 6 (1 everyday, 1 walking, 1 sandals, 1 black boots, 1 black heels, 1 brown heels).
This is probably my favorite R. Sean thinks I’m crazy, but about half of our recycling doesn’t even make it to the bin every week, because I pull it out with some sort of project in mind.
We’ve turned a milk jug into a watering can, toilet paper tubes into seed-starter pots, a tin can into a shaker (to stop the dogs from barking), and a shoe-string potato can into a piggy bank. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! We also use toilet paper tubes, brown paper bags, empty kleenex boxed, and shoe boxes as toys for the guinea pigs. We use empty marinara sauce jars and pickle jars to hold dry goods (nuts and rice and what not). We use old wine crates as dog beds or as guinea pig huts. There are so many different ideas for reusing common items from around your house, and I know there’s more we do around here. I haven’t even touched on kids’ arts and crafts projects, either! If you have something headed for the recycle bin, do a quick google search first and see how you can reuse it. You might find something brilliant you never thought of! (Also, pinterest has TONS of ideas, but please pin responsibly!)
Now, this one probably sounds gross, but it’s actually not gross, not smelly, and actually REALLY good for your garden. I’m talking about compost! If you don’t compost, you SHOULD. Just throw all of your yard clippings, lawn mowings, kitchen plant scraps, and even egg shells and coffee/tea grounds in a pile in the corner of the yard, and wait. Nature will break it down into the most wonderful dirt/fertilizer you could ask for. If you have dogs, or wild animals, put a fence around the pile, or get a composter from a hardware store to put your scraps in.
There are MANY types of composters out there, and many people just like the “put it in a pile and leave it” method (personally that’s our favorite, too). Do a little research, find out what’s best for your yard and situation, and start composting.
Well, that’s my wrap-up on the other R’s. Have you refused, reduced, reused, or rotted anything lately? How to you follow the 5 R’s in your home? I’d love to hear from you!