We all know the three “R’s” – reduce, reuse, recycle. Unfortunately, most of us skip right to “recycle.” We’ve gotten a little better at reusing with our reusable shopping bags and travel mugs; however, we often completely neglect the “reduce” part and don’t even consider other “R” words that could be huge game-changers in green-living. Here are a few more concepts to consider and fresh ways to practice the three R’s you already know.
Remember your reusable bags, straws, and cups. There’s no point in having these things if we always forget them at home! It’s good to keep your reusables in different places. For example, keeping bags and travel mugs both in your car and at home so you can switch them out as needed. We don’t always remember to grab the bags when we’re rushing out the door, so try to be mindful after you put your groceries away to bring the bags back to your car.
If you have forgotten your reusables, you can still refuse. The groceries can go back in your cart and transferred to your car without bags. Sure, it is more of a pain and it will take longer to unload, but that’s the incentive you’ll need to remember your reusables next time! Refuse the straw. Refuse to buy cosmetics with microbeads. Refuse to drive when you can walk or take transit.
Reconsider the norm and what you know about products. Think about everything you buy and ask yourself if there is a similar product with less packaging? Can this be made with no packaging? You can buy shampoo bars (like soap) instead of the liquid shampoo that comes in a bottle. There are zero-waste solutions out there, you just need to challenge yourself to find them.
Rethink (your diet)
Our eating habits have a huge impact on the environment. Eating and drinking local goods reduce the carbon emissions used to import things like beer, wine, and exotic fruit. So, eating local can really help to reduce your carbon footprint. In addition, the methane gas produced by factory farms contributes to a lot of the world’s greenhouse gasses. So, skipping the meat and eating a vegetarian meal (even just once a week!) can really help too.
It is often cheaper and easier to throw something out and buy new than to fix something. However, the amount of water that goes into making clothes is a lot more than you think. Sewing or having a professional repair your ripped pants is a lot better for the environment than tossing and replacing. If you’re replacing something that’s been imported, you’re contributing to the carbon emissions used to get it to your local mall. If you can repair something instead of replacing it, please do so.
If you can’t repair something, turn it into something else! Old clothes and sheets can make good rags for washing your car or floors. Old shirts can be turned into dog clothes or toys, sewn into pillowcases, scarfs, or quilts, or they can be cut, tie-dyed, and spruced up into new shirts. The sky’s the limit!
By remembering, refusing, repairing, and repurposing, you help reduce the things you buy. However, real reducing is not buying in the first place. Consider buying only what you need. We live in a consumer-driven society where retail therapy is too common and altogether unnecessary. How many pairs of jeans do you actually need? How many useless knick-knacks fill your home? This also applies to reducing the amount of water and resources that you use. Turn off the tap when you’re not using it while you brush your teeth, cut your showers shorter, and collect water in rain buckets for your garden. Turn the air-conditioning off while you’re not home in the summertime and consider dialing down your thermostat a couple degrees in the winter (your hydro bill will also thank you for this!). Live with minimalism!
Try to reuse every single thing you have. If you had to buy bags at the grocery store, save them and use them to carry groceries again next time. Save the mason jars you get pasta sauce in and use them as flower vases, homemade sauce containers, or give them away to someone who makes jams or pickles (just go to the farmer’s market and ask, someone will take them from you in a hurry!). In addition, buying clothing from thrift stores or buying anything used (furniture, appliances, dog crates, etc.) instead of buying new will certainly help reduce your carbon footprint.
The flipside of reusing is rehoming. Make sure to donate or sell your used items instead of throwing them away. Facebook’s Marketplace is a great place to get rid of some of your old stuff and make some extra money. Social media has also seen the rise of clothes swapping parties (where everyone brings a few items they no longer fit or wear and trades them for new items), which are great for getting new stuff without harming the environment. Hand-me-downs are also important (again, many social media groups connect people who can trade for free).
Make sure you take the time to sort your recycling and properly dispose of it. Not just in your kitchen, but at work, at the coffee shop, on campus, and everywhere! If you can’t find a recycle bin right away, don’t just throw your paper in the garbage. Look a little harder and take your recycling home if necessary. It is also important to compost if the option is available in your municipality (or backyard if you can!).
In a consumer society where everything is disposable and replaceable, it is sometimes a challenge to stay green! It starts with mindfulness. There are lots of small ways you can help the environment. A few questions to ask yourself are:
- Can I use this for something else instead of recycling/throwing it out?
- Do I really need to buy this new? Do I need to buy this at all?
- Can I buy a reusable version of this common single-use item?
- Can this be donated or given as a hand-me-down?
- Can I fix this or make it into something new instead of throwing it away or donating it?
- Is this the appropriate bin to throw my trash?
- Can I buy a waste-free version of this product?
Take these green at-home tips with you on the road! Check out our tips on staying green while travelling!
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