Reducing our waste The three Rs are the rule of thumb to follow when anyone wishes to reduce their waste. Although I am sure everyone is familiar with them, I have to say that the only one most people live by is recycling. The other two, reducing and reusing, aren't seen as often and I would love to invite everyone to attempt, on either November 1st, which is World Vegan Day - or September 21st, which is the International Day for Peace, promise to do something extra for the planet from that day on. After all, if we are going to support animal rights and speak up for them, we also need to protect the very habitat in which they live. Let's make sure Wall-E stays a fiction movie and never becomes a reality show!
1- Stained, ripped, or old clothes: these are fantastic for paint projects, gardening, lounging in the backyard, construction projects, arts such as painting, clay work or sculpting, or any other time when you're either at home - and out of view of the public eye - or doing some dirty work. If you don't need them but know somebody that would, keep it for them, especially if that person is a bit smaller than you and taking the clothes in won't be a problem.
2- Recycling: the most famous of the three Rs and one that nowadays is accomplished by quite a large percentage of people, recycling is easy in most cases and the city where you live has its list of items that can be thrown in the blue, black or green bin, and the yellow bag - depending on where you live and what item you are recycling. There are more things we can recycle, though. They need a few more steps, but things such as batteries and glasses can be brought to certain local libraries - search your city for locations. At times, companies such as Sears in Canada have programs where you can bring your old small electronics, like computers, VCRs, TVs, game boxes, and even refridgerators, for them to break them apart and sell the reusable parts to recycling companies. Several places still melt the copper in the electrical cords and the metal to make new products, reuse some of the plastics, and find a safe way to dispose of what can't be reused again. Search for the locations where you can drop off paint. As for old furniture that can't be used or any other item that needs to be thrown away in a safe way, contact 1-800-GOTJUNK, or look up your local equivalent.
3- This article I wrote when the site opened is one that explains a very good way to make small buildings out of mud and old plastic bottles. If you need a shed for your tools and equipment but would rather not purchase one, or to make a dog house - or one for other pets - here is a great project in which you can easily include your kids. In the comments, user Kristo also put a link to another person's blog who has done a similar project. I invite you to check it out!
4- Try not to buy anything new for an entire year. If a year seems much too long, go for one month only instead. You will see how you can manage. There are several questions to ask yourself while doing this. With the wide variety of free entertainment on the internet, you don't need to purchase actual CDs and DVDs. Or, rent them from a video store or the local library, where you can also enjoy an assortment of music and books (of course). If you need clothes, there are great consignment stores, and formal wear can be easily rented, as well as costumes for parties and for Halloween. As for electronics, search for them used on Craigslist or any other local listing. Garage sales, estate sales, donation centers and resale stores are all great as well. And last but not least, for things that are typically used only once and then thrown out, try to either make them last longer, or find another alternative. Instead of purchasing plastic garbage bags, reuse old grocery bags. Use old margarine, ice cream, and yoghourt containers (you can ask friends and family to help you collect them), as well as jars of all kinds, to put your food in and to use for other occasions such as if you need to sort out things (nails and screws, jewellry, batteries, hair elastics, etc.). Bring a cloth tissue instead of paper throw-away kleenexes. Think about learning how to use cloth diapers. You get my drift.
5- Some things can be borrowed or shared. If you are not a handyman, why purchase several tools that you know you will only use once a year? Ask your friends, family or neighbours to lend them to you, and purchase only the basic ones that are needed in an emergency, or used more often, like a hammer, screwdriver and measuring tape. Same goes for those who use public transport regularly - there are car-share companies in most major cities, or you can call a cab when a car is absolutely necessary. If you know you won't use your bicycle often, borrow the neighbour's, or have one for the whole family. I've even heard of a group of women who can't afford expensive jewelry and who don't have many occasions to wear them to, so the five of them purchased an incredibly expensive necklace together and share it. You could do the same if you are lucky enough to be on great terms with someone who wears the same size of clothes and/or shoes as you.
6- Bring your own bags. Most grocery stores now even sell reuseable bags, but if you have your own, use it. If you have scrap material left over from a sewing project, this is one way to reuse that - by making your own bag. It's not that hard, and if you aren't shy about carrying a bag that isn't made perfectly, you can sew the pieces together. If you are good, then by all means, help those of us with two left thumbs out! Or better yet, get a local seamstress to make some for you out of her own scrap material, and that way you may even have much more choice as to which design and colour your bag will be made of.
7- You may not need to shower absolutely every day. At times, if you know you won't do anything all day, you could skip a day. And, really, most people can shower only once every second day. I sweat too much personally to do that, but most people actually could get away with it.
8- Try to stay away from disposable items. Buy razors with rechargeable blades. Always use porcelain dinnerware. Make your own popsicles so as to not have to throw out the stick. Avoid taking out your food; try to eat it at the restaurant, or if you must, have a couple of Tupperwares handy to avoid using those nasty styrofoam containers, or go to a restaurant where you know the take-out containers are biodegradable (I was once told I could literally dig a hole in my backyard and bury it there, and it would disappear within a few weeks. Unfortunatel I was living in an appartment, and just chucked it in the recycling bin, which is another good option.).
9- If you don't read the newspaper often, cancel your subscription and split the cost with a neighbour who does. Ask your company to send you email bills instead of having them mailed to you on paper - most companies, if not all nowadays, accept to do that. You can even avoid buying cheques by paying for them online. Most landlords in building apartments now offer interac payments for the rent, too, so you don't even have to give THEM cheques anymore, either! Alternately, if you are good with your finances, you can also have the amount of your bills withdrawn automatically to avoid forgetting about it. I'm not, so I opt for online payments... but the wise ones can afford to have these sometimes mysterious amounts taken from their accounts when they aren't thinking about them.
10- Compost. If you don't have one, check out the articles fellow writer Carolyn wrote on the subject. Or, search for a local community garden and give it to them. It's far less smelly than most people would think to keep around the house. After all, it smells like garbage, right?
11- Women have alternatives to throw-away menstruation products. There are reusable cloth pads, which can be washed in the machine, and are available at organic and natural food stores. Or, there is the Diva Cup in North-America and known as the Moon Cup England, which is made of silicone and is literally like a little cup that collects it. Women's periods are still taboo in society and we are meant to believe that our monthly blood is something that needs to be thrown out without thinking about it every month. This way, we are a little bit more connected to an important part of us that makes us who we are: the bearers of children.
12- Instead of using actual vegetables for vegetable broths, use the skins and peels, put them in the freezer, and pull them out when you want to cook a soup.
13- Purchase foods with less packaging. For example, opt for the bulk section in your store, or shop at Bulk Barn. Not only are you reducing waste by using less packaging, you actually save on your dry foods as well as jams and peanut butters. Most have some organic options, although I have to admit that there aren't many choices, but there are quite a lot of natural food options as well, such as the peanut butter and almond butter. And, if you wish to take it one step further, ask the clerk at the cash when there aren't any customers to weigh your plastic containers - remember those I told you to save up and collect from friends and family? This is a great way to use them. They will weigh them then substract the amount from the total of the item's price. Alternatively, you are more than welcome to reuse their own containers as well. If bulk is not an option, look for products that are not double-packaged. Some organic cereal brands are sold in bags only, for example, and since you aren't paying for the box and are buying a larger size, you actually pay the same price as the mainstream brand. For other products, try to purchase the larger containers as much as possible as they contain less packaging than two that add up to the same weight or content. For soaps and hair care, I recommend Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, or locally-made products, since they are often packaged lightly. Some other companies keep packaging simple as well.
14- Refuse the tissue they wrap your clothes in before putting them in the bag. Was that tissue ever necessary? They claim that delicate products need to be protected, but when has a plastic bag ever snagged lace? It's so gentle! Or, bring a small cloth or towel of your own if you feel better knowing that your cute underwear is safe, or wrap it in another item if you purchased something else.
15- Try to always give-away or sell any unwanted stuff. As the saying goes, "someone's trash is another's treasure". Garage sales are great but not always convenient, so don't be afraid to think outside the box by advertising on Craigslist, Facebook, and Tweeting, or any other way you can think of. Word of mouth is also often enough for the bigger items. As for clothes, several cities have donation bins at different locations. Look them up on the internet. Save toys for Christmas time - give to the local church, goodwill or shelter.
16- Avoid purchasing canned or bagged vegetables, especially the packaged fresh ones at the supermarket, and especially if they are in season. The metal in cans is actually bad for us anyways, so it's better to opt for the freshest option possible. Better yet, start gardening. Or, for those who have the time, making your own preserves is a lost art - especially for people like Canadians, who needed it for the longest time, until metal canned varieties made their appearance - that is very enjoyable. You make yourself, so you know exactly what's in it; you make it with the freshest local produce, and if you want to get creative, you can make jams, relishes, dips, sauces, apple butters and applesauce and many other great things that can last such a long time on the shelf and still taste fresh when you open it.
17- Consider reupholstering old furniture with cloth, and revarnishing wooden furniture. Do it yourself if you know how, or take a class to learn to.
18- Perform a regular maintenance of your large appliances and your vehicles (don't forget the tires). They will last longer that way.
19- Have your printer cartridges refilles instead of buying new ones. Also, don't forget that some companies have recycling programs where they buy your old computer or give you a credit for it, as well as for your old empty ink cartridges.
20- If you're good at sewing, scout the local seamstresses and clothing manufacturers (although I doubt there are any of them left) and make items out of the scraps. Anything from hair accessories to patches for your pants to cloth tissues can be done here. Small doll clothes could make your kids happy, or start selling cloth grocery bags.
21- Buy an artificial Christmas tree that will last several years instead of throwing out a natural one each year. Also, I've known people that need to buy new decorations for their tree every year. Instead, buy a set that you know you can enjoy for a long time, even if it means going for the more expensive one.
22- Buy a travel mug and a metal or plastic water bottle. They're sexy (or so I've been told at an organic restaurant). And, several coffee shops actually offer a discount if you bring your own mug or cup. My coffee mug repaid itself in discounts many times already!
23- Reuse old enveloppes for storing things, or just by never closing the flap.
24- Buy a charger and rechargeable batteries. The money you will save on new batteries will repay the charger in no time, and these batteries last a long time now. Gone are the days of rechargeable batteries lasting only half the time of ordinary batteries.
25- Stop using paper towels and opt for a cloth or rag.
26- Dry your clothes by hanging them outdoors during the summer and set up a small spot indoors - the basement is usually great for this - by tying rope on posts and using hangers.
27- Have things repaired when they fail as much as possible. I know lots of them cost almost as much to repair than a replacement, but try bargaining with them to see if they will reduce the price of repair. I nearly had a fit in a Radio Shack store once because all that was broken in my digital camera was the reflection mirror in the viewpiece and, to avoid seeing me burst out of the place angry, the manager offered a generous reduction on the repairs. I'm not telling you all to lose your cool, but try to talk to them to see what they can do.
28- Make pads out of the paper that is about to be thrown out in the recycling. This is a great idea for work too. You don't need anything fancy. Just use the largest stapler you can find and make the pads according to the size the staples can accomodate, or try using the photocopier's stapler. Of course, you should also try to print and copy on both sides as much as possible, too, and always think twice before printing an email. Use email instead of faxes (although that is pretty much the way to go now) - scanners are wonderful tools!
29- Look for concentrates when buying soaps, shampoos, cleaning products and detergents, then put them in another container and add water. Also look for those with a high level of post-consumer material, such as recycled toilet paper.
30- Put a note on your mailbox that says that you only want the mail addressed to you to avoid receiving unwanted flyers.
31- Wrap gifts in old newspapers and reuse wrapping paper.
32- Be willing to share your books, magazines, and even clothes, movies and video games if you feel comfortable with that.
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*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.