By now, the message of reduce, reuse, recycle is part of the fabric of environmental change. Everyone knows to use the reusable water bottles instead of single-use plastics. Did you know there are simple things you can do, starting today, that have a huge impact? Here are ten changes you can make to reduce and reuse this week.
1. Bring your own shopping bags
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated in 2018, the most current data available, 4.20 million tons of plastic bags, wrap and containers were generated, and only 10% of that was recycled. 0.74 million tons used energy recovery to combust the product, and 3.04 million tons ended up in the landfill.
Bringing your own reusable shopping bags is an easy way to reduce your plastic use. You can also bring fabric or mesh produce bags instead of the flimsy bags in the produce aisle, further reducing your plastic consumption.
2. Buy Products Made of Recycled Items
Another easy way to help the environment is to purchase items made from recycled materials. You can purchase recycled paper products, clothing, purses and shoes and other goods made from recycled plastic bottles, and many companies are committed to using recycled materials in their products. Do a bit of research and buy recycled when possible.
3. Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk has many advantages. You have less packaging, it is often cheaper than single-serve portions and for ingredients such as cereal or pasta, you can buy smaller quantities and keep it in your own containers, such as jam or pickle jars or mason jars. Many stores now offer the option of bringing your own reusable container to the store, which further saves on costs.
4. Pitch the Paper Napkins
If you routinely use paper napkins, replace them with washable cloth ones. Not only are they durable, but you can also change your decor to suit your mood or the seasons, and you can put them in with the rest of your laundry. You can even give different colors to each member of the family. If you want to up your reuse/recycle game even further, buy a cotton tablecloth at the thrift store and cut it into squares, and put a quick hem on them for the perfect DIY project. It’s also a great project for someone learning to sew.
5. Go Digital
Instead of reading a paper copy of a book, newspaper or magazine, read a digital version online. Newspapers and magazines offer digital subscriptions, and many libraries allow you to borrow e-books on your tablet or laptop with your library card, and when the book is due, it deletes from your device so you don’t have to worry about late fees.
Apps like Libby and OverDrive allow you to borrow digital library materials from anywhere in the world for free as long as you have a library card. You can read on an e-reader, tablet or other smart devices, or a laptop or computer.
6. Get Creative with Gift Giving
Instead of grabbing a paper gift bag or wrapping paper the next time you want to give a gift, get creative with a more sustainable wrapper.
- Find a vintage tin, basket, flower pot or fancy box at a thrift store and make it part of a themed gift
- Wrap a bottle of wine in a fancy or seasonal dish towel for a zero-waste hostess gift
- Use oversized cloth gift bags for each member of the family during the holidays. You can find them online, make them yourselves from thrifted fabric, or find them at holiday craft sales. (never underestimate the power of church bake and craft sales!) You can even turn seasonal pillowcases into gift sacks with some trim and ribbon.
- Instead of buying a pre-made gift basket that is likely to have extra packaging, put together an assortment of the recipient’s favourite soap, snacks, cookies and chocolate. You can make batches of hot chocolate mix and divide the mix into individual mason jar gifts. Add a decorative, funny or whimsical mug and you have a perfect gift.
- Donate to a charity in the person’s name. This makes a perfect teacher gift and will be more appreciated than another candle or “world’s greatest teacher” mug.
7. Pack a zero-waste lunch
Use reusable containers to pack lunch with zero waste. Bento boxes with multiple compartments are ideal for school lunches because they can hold a variety of snacks in individual compartments and are easy to rinse out at the end of the day. Many of the containers have individual lids and are spill-resistant. Use a refillable water bottle instead of bottled water. Use metal or bamboo cutlery that can be reused instead of single-use plastic, and use metal or silicone reusable straws instead of plastic.
8. Coffee and tea conundrum
Greenmatch estimates the world uses 16 billion single-use paper cups per year, which translates to 6.5 million trees destroyed for the sake of convenience. And while many companies are ditching styrofoam for paper, beverage cups are lined with plastic to prevent leaks, which cannot be recycled.
Take your own reusable beverage container to your favorite coffee shop instead, this will reduce your impact for paper cups for the day. You will probably pay less, and you won’t be contributing to the landfill.
If you’re a tea drinker, buy loose tea rather than tea bags and brew it in a tea ball. Not only will the tea taste better, but you also won’t have a tea bag to deal with and the tea leaves are compostable.
And use a spoon instead of a plastic stir stick.
9. Harness the Power of Mother Nature
Limit the use of clothes dryers and harness the power of Mother Nature to dry your clothes. Use a clothesline and let wind and sun work their magic. Not only is it better for your clothes, it saves energy costs, it can be very meditative, and there’s that “fresh-dried clothes smell” that is unbeatable.
Use rain barrels to capture rainwater and use it to water your plants and gardens, or replace lawns with drought-resistant plants and vegetation. Strike up a conversation with the neighbor who has the great garden and exchange seeds or cuttings, keep an eye out for seed and plant swaps or organize a neighborhood plant share.
10. Borrow, Share, Barter or Rent
Sure, it’s easy to place an online order and buy that gizmo you need to do that home reno project, but when the project is over, what are you going to do with that chop saw/lawn aerator/paint sprayer/power sander? Why not borrow or rent the equipment? You can borrow, rent or share the equipment, or you can work out a barter with a friend or neighbor in exchange for help with a task they need.
Ask a few neighbors to share the cost of renting the equipment for the day, and work together at the various properties to get the job done with rented equipment. Not only can you build community and goodwill, but you can also save on costs and labor and you won’t have to find a spot in the garage for the lawn aerator.
People can get overwhelmed with the messages of reduce, reuse, recycle. Everyone agrees it’s an essential task everyone needs to do, but often, people don’t know where or how to start. Make some of these small changes and you can have a big impact on the planet, and reduce your dependency on so many things you don’t need.