I'm intrigued by people who've been able to reduce their yearly waste to just a bag or two of trash. Even though our circumstances have had us without a garden for a couple of years, I've composted for more than two decades. But the idea of being so completely aware of every single thing I touch in a day and determining how much to reduce, reuse, recycle is astounding to me. The three Rs of environmentalism have become a mantra of sorts for me. I figure if I can keep it on repeat in my brain, the actions will become second nature. Where to start? Let's take them in reverse order...
This one is a no-brainer. Most communities with curbside trash pickup provide recycling bins. Those without usually have a place at their transfer stations to sort plastic, glass, paper, metals, and more for recycling. When I'm away from home I've taken to toting these items with me until I find a proper place to drop them. Even so, my issue with recycling is that it's become so easy for us to not realize all the items we go through in a day: plastic drink cups, beverage bottles or cans, unnecessary print outs, etc. We can feel a bit better knowing these items are finding a second use after processing, but I must admit feeling a little sad when our recycle bin fills up faster than our trash and with items that are just so disposable. With a little bit of forethought we can avoid using some of these things in the first place.
Using the backs of one-sided printouts, saving unavoidable plastic containers for leftovers, that's just the beginning. My family has made fun of me for years for inheriting my mom's passion for saving wrapping paper for future use. But this is the one I have fun with! I somehow acquire the plastic food storage bags and wash and reuse them until I can't anymore. I save large envelopes and food packaging (like the bags cereal and other food items come in), for litter box cleanup. I also run beautiful glass containers through the dishwasher to prepare them for a second life as packaging for homemade gifts.
If reuse is the quirky fun girl, reduce is her high-maintenance sister. You know the one, she's annoyingly intelligent and somehow always right. That's because this one often requires advance planning. I trained my brain long ago to remember to bring my own bags while shopping, whether it be for groceries or building supplies. There are some great ones out there that will squish right down to fit in your pocket, and having them on your person (or in your purse) is best. Similarly, could you keep a travel mug in your vehicle to hand to your morning coffee angel? Usually he or she will want you to hold onto the lid while he or she prepares your beverage. After that, the sky's the limit. You can fill your dance card with "no straw" organizations, and attractive, down-home food storage solutions are now widely available.
I feel good about where I've been, but I know I have further to go. I need to be better about bringing my own containers to buy bulk groceries (I've already made the decision to purchase loose produce instead of packaged when I can), and I need to come up with a way to remember to tell our Chinese take-out order taker that we don't need the hot mustard or soy sauce, or fortune cookies. Next up? I'm looking at you, Amazon Prime! It's far too easy to buy new things these days. But we do the best we can, working to improve ourselves and our actions every day.
What about you? Please share your little reduce, reuse, and recycle victories. I want to do more, and there's so much we can learn from one another.
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