We’ve got to get serious about the whole reduce, reuse, recycle concept. Consider this: What if there was no “away” when you wanted to throw something away? What if you had to live with all the trash you accumulated, and had to find some way to deal with it yourself? I think in this case you would recognize the need for some serious changes.
I’m amazed at people who don’t even recycle. This is so fundamental to basic ecology. It takes very little effort—sort some things into one container as opposed to another. Yes, if you live in an apartment you may have to drive your recyclables to a drop off location but you can just load them into your car to run past there whenever you are out and about. It really does not need to be difficult once you get a system and make it a habit. If your waste removal company doesn’t yet recycle, then demand this as an option.
But as much as I like to evangelize about recycling, I realize this won’t ultimately solve the problem of waste. It takes energy, time, and facilities to break down the materials to make them reusable. The better route is to have less stuff that needs to be recycled in the first place. Don’t buy bottled water; invest in a good quality reusable bottle and refill as needed. Think twice about buying those soft drink cans or bottles (not least of all because that stuff is bad for you.)
Look for products that have less packaging and buy in bulk. At the local grocery co-op in Bloomington, you can bring your own containers and fill them with everything from beans to peanut butter to soy sauce. (Be sure to label them once you get home so that you don’t search through a half dozen yogurt containers on your shelf trying to figure out which one has rice.) This should be standard in every grocery store.
In fact, this is how it used to be before the proliferation of cheap plastic bags for produce or individual packaging for our so-called convenience. This has the additional advantage of enabling you to buy the quantity you need so that you can have fresher ingredients if you are only one person. I personally have gotten tired of buying something in a large quantity to save money, only to give most of it away because I can’t use it up before it expires.
Reducing doesn’t only apply to packaging but also to consuming less to begin with. Purchase better quality items that will last longer or can be fixed so that these things will not need to be replaced as quickly. It may be difficult for me to advocate, as a hard core cheapskate, but often it’s better to spend more money up front. Even if the environmental argument doesn’t hook you then consider the impact on your bank account in the long run.
If we change our spending habits in this way then the market will respond with more of these offerings and less of the cheap throwaway stuff. Before buying anything new we should ask ourselves if we really need it at all, and if so, could we employ alternatives to purchasing a new item. If it’s something inexpensive that you might have to retire anyway, consider trying to fix it yourself—you don’t really have anything to lose.
Other options include reusing items, as mentioned above. Repurposing could include using worn socks as mitts for dusting. Upcycling is taking trash and making it into something usable, like furniture built from beer cans. Refashioning often refers to clothing like the clever person who has transformed old jeans into a shoulder bag. Composting gives new life to food scraps and nourishes your garden. Look for freecycling events or message boards where you can give away your things and possibly find what you are looking for in exchange.
(But don’t just leave stuff out on the curb to get ruined in the elements like students do in Bloomington. Apparently my maternal grandmother sort of did this—anything that was not being used would be thrown “over the hill.” I cringe at the idea but have often thought that had I been there at the time, I would have opened the “Bottom Of The Hill Thrift Shop.”)
There are many changes we can make, and with a little creativity we can turn what could be a chore into something fun.