By Natalie Slater, reuseit.com Community Manager
Most of us are familiar with the term “disposables” – from paper towels to bottled water, they’re those use-and-toss items that are so common in our daily lives we barely stop to think about them. As people have started waking up to the amount of waste these modern conveniences have created, we hear more and more about recycling our disposables. But if you recall the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” it’s clear that there are two steps that should come before recycling.
1. Reduce – consume fewer things (in this case, disposables) whether you pay for them or they are free
2. Reuse – repurpose the disposables you consume, and use reusable versions of those disposables whenever possible
3. Recycle – the last resort, if you can’t reuse it or avoid it with a reusable*, recycle it
*“Reusables” refer to non-disposable alternatives to items you use every day – coffee cups, lunch bags, straws, tea filters and more.
Since 2003 we’ve advocated conscious consumption of disposables– reducing the amount of things you take or buy in the first place, especially disposables, and opting for reusables over disposables whenever possible. Whether it’s the decision to only take one paper napkin at a fast food restaurant or to bring your own cloth napkin, it’s a conscious choice to consume less. We call this movement to reduce and reuse the Reusables Revolution, and by offering tools, resources and information all in one place, we’ve empowered our customers and many others to cut back on countless disposables over the years.
Switching to reusables conserves natural resources, and can even save you money over time. When you use reusable products you consume less – no more paper lunch bags, fewer plastic bags in the landfills, etc. Plus, when you purchase disposable items like bottled water or pre-packaged snacks you’re paying more to cover the cost of that throw-away packaging. By simply changing the way you buy the things you use every day you can spare the landfills while keeping more money in your pocket.
Recycling does have its place, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the consumption problem. Recycling disposables still takes energy and resources - resources that could be conserved if more people simply switched to reusables. Take plastic bags, for example - despite the growing numbers of recycling programs available, recycling rates for plastic bags are still low in most parts of the US. The sensible solution to the waste issue is to simply consume fewer disposables and to use reusables.
1. Start with the easy stuff that will make a big impact
Cut back on common disposables like plastic bags and paper towels. You might even consider keeping a diary for a day, listing all the things you throw away and pinpointing the areas where you could make the biggest impact. Here are 10 ways you can cut back on disposables right now.
2. Don’t give up
Remember, the Reusables Revolution isn’t about perfection. The goal isn’t to stop consuming disposables, but rather to consume a lot less, which makes a big impact. Being a conscious consumer of disposables gets easier as you go along. When you slip up and forget your reusable bag or coffee mug, don’t get discouraged – try to remember the next day and soon enough it will become habit.
3. Get the right tools – reusables that you will really use
Don’t be tempted by cheaply-made reusables, including giveaway items. They might seem like a good way to cut back on disposables, but they won’t last long enough to cancel out their own footprint and they could contain dangerous chemicals like BPA or lead. A 99 cent bag isn’t such a great deal if you never use it or if it falls apart after three uses – we call those “expensive disposables.” Our advice? Look for a handful of high-quality products you’ll actually use, made by companies you trust.
4. Consume disposables consciously & when possible, reuse them
When you have to purchase disposables, do so responsibly – recycled, biodegradable garbage bags, bamboo party utensils, etc. And try to reuse disposables whenever possible – plastic bags make great garbage can liners, packing material and pet waste picker-uppers. For more ideas on reusing common disposables, check out our DIY section.