Reuse What You Have

Use it up, wear it out...

Reusing materials diverts them from landfills and prevents the unnecessary harvest of resources and manufacture of excess goods. But what's a person to do when so much of our culture is based on a use-it-once, toss-it-out philosophy? From the moment we pick up our latté on the way to work to the time we change the baby at bedtime, we are making constant trips to the garbage can.

It's like the old saw about digging yourself into a hole. The first thing to do is stop digging.

In the last 50 years we have lost the habit of thrift. Reusing tools and materials was a technique that our grandparents had down cold. Thriftiness was a virtue people aspired to consciously. An old shirt might be worn several years until it couldn't be repaired. It was taken apart and reworked for wear or cut in to smaller pieces for quilts. Finally, when it was good for nothing else, it would be relegated to cleaning rags. Nothing was wasted if it could be used. Single-use items didn't exist in the same sense they do now. Nothing was "disposable" and wastefulness was considered a sin.

Thriftiness called on ingenuity, resourcefulness, and an ability high-end managers now pay big bucks for—that is, being able to think outside that box to solve real problems. Just think, by taxing yourself to come up with clever ways to avoid paper towels you could be developing powerful synaptic connections in your brain and making the planet a better place!

Start with one small, daily activity

Love your latté? Ask your local barista to put it in your travel mug. Work at turning your activities to reuse things into a habit. Habits are powerful forces for change. Make them count.

There are dozens of ways to reuse goods instead of buying new. Ideas for reusing things are published in a variety of books, many of which are available at used bookstores, in magazines, and on the Web. You can come up with dozens of your own solutions based on what you have. Make it a game to keep stuff out of the landfill. Before you toss an item in to the garbage consider whether it could be used somewhere else around the house, repurposed, or given away to be used by someone else. Some people have been so successful at reuse that they have virtually no garbage to speak of. What if you could reduce your garbage to once a month pick up instead of once a week?

Disposables don't necessarily save time

If your argument is time, reusing materials is not significantly more time or resource intensive than disposables. An excellent example is disposable diapers, millions of which end up in the landfill annually. Cloth diapers, whether you wash them yourself or use a diaper service, are much kinder to the planet and consume fewer resources than disposables. Cloth is also much cheaper than disposables, which can run hundreds of dollars a year. No baby? The same is true for a huge range of paper and plastic products.

Though buying new provides products that are fresh, clean, and completely ours, reusing what we can lowers the burden on the planet and lessens our dependence on natural resources that can't be easily replaced.

Reuse tips

The following are common items that can easily be replaced with reusable alternates.

Disposable items Replace with
Diapers Cloth. Wash yourself or hire a diaper service.
Paper plates and plastic cutlery and drinkware Real plates, glasses, and silverware. Use the good stuff. Otherwise, why keep it? Okay, so not for everyday or with the kids, but how about a special family dinner once a week? How else can you turn the little heathens into civilized people?
Paper towels and napkins Cloth dishcloths. Use the same way you'd use a paper towel. Use new ones for lighter use. Relegate older ones to be used for one time mop up of spills and other cleaning. Great filler in laundry. Used as napkins, they are big enough to be useful. Use linen for dining. What a luxury.
Razors A high quality razor and blades for a really close shave. Nicks happen, so be careful. Old razors are collectible, but very cool.
Plastic bags from the grocery Reusable clean bags. Empty and store. Keep a few in the car for shopping trips.
Grocery bags: Paper or Plastic? A canvas grocery bag or market basket instead, or reuse the same paper bag over (and over). If you're purchasing one or two items, don't take a bag at all. Some bags, especially at higher end retailers, are very nice and durable. Use (and reuse) them for lunches or whatever. Use paper bags for garbage instead of plastic kitchen bags.
Freezer and storage bags Durable plastic containers, or wash and reuse freezer bags. (Exception is storing meats, especially pork.)


The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Living by Trish Riley.

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