Saturday, March 26, 2011


You've heard it a thousand times, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," but you may not have considered the applications of the motto. Modifying purchasing, usage and disposal practices is a great first step to sustainability. Today I will cover some very basic things that you should try to keep in mind (if you aren't already) about consumerism in general and reducing, reusing and recycling.

Some helpful tips for shopping...

  • Buy used whenever possible. Buying used means consuming less newly produced materials and making use of things that can still be used! Overall I think it's much less wasteful and it definitely saves a lot of money, especially on larger items such as furniture. Keep an open mind. Pretty much everything except food, toiletries and undergarments should be bought used if you can. (Buying used mattresses, cribs and car seats also present some problems.) You can find clothing, movies, video games, kitchen appliances and dish-ware, and anything else you need. Places to buy used are abundant, consider consignment shops, second hand stores, thrift shops, yard sales, estate sales and antique stores. Craigslist and Ebay are invaluable resources for buying used or sometimes getting things for free (well, not Ebay). I most like to shop at thrift stores where proceeds go to local charities. Rescue Mission stores, Goodwill, Salvation Army and Animal Shelter thrift stores are the ones I look to first. It's quite resourceful to try to make a difference with your money when you have to spend it anyway.
  • Barter if you can. Bartering happens on Craigslist as well and there are also other sites such as Swap where you can trade media. Swap is a great site for trading books, CDs, DVDs, etc. that you don't use any more for other media that you like. You can also find text books on Swap! There are also community based bartering programs, try Yahoo! Groups in your area and look for other options. Join a Freecycle Yahoo! Group for your area. Most cities have one. On Freecycle item are always free - not even traded. Great for clearing unwanted/unused things out and getting some useful things you need that someone else doesn't. 
  • When buying new, steer clear from one-time use or disposable items. Companies have done a good job of making disposable products seem like a convenience, when in reality they only cost you more money and require more production, which causes more pollution and waste. You may never eliminate some disposable items, such as toilet paper (though some very committed people use news paper). But there are some items you can find alternatives to. Be willing to pay more for high quality items that will pay for themselves in time.
  • Think "reduce." Not only are you consuming more and spending more money when you buy unnecessary things, but you are creating more waste as well. Ask yourself if you need the item, will it last, is it worth the price, could you make it yourself relatively easily and for less money, and if it's food, will you eat it before it goes bad.
  • Stay away from individually wrapped foods. Not only do these products cause much more waste, but they cost more to buy individually wrapped (compare the per oz. cost of one big bag of chips to that of a package of little bags of chips) and are usually unhealthy. Do watch for the emerging technology of compostable and quickly biodegradable packaging. And no, it won't biodegrade in your pantry.
  • Don't buy it just because it's on sale and don't assume that just because it's on sale it's cheaper than all the other options. Generally, use your head and be efficient. Compare per weight or volume costs, which are usually provided to you on the item's shelf label. Whaddaya know.
  • "But someone's gotta buy it." No, they don't. And if they don't the market will listen. That's the power of the purchaser, or consumer power. This is a good power to utilize to support responsible companies and not support irresponsible ones. Remember, not only do the type of products you buy make a difference, but the place you buy them, where they were produced, and how they were produced as well.

The conscious consumer saves money, eats better, and realizes that they have the power to change the market. Remember, the only reason that companies exist is to sell you their products so they can get your MONEY. It's not that all companies are evil or are out to get you (just most of them), but you do need to be on your guard so that you don't get taken advantage of. So when it comes to purchasing, be a skeptic.

Plastic bags are a big area of waste when it comes to shopping, and there are a lot of ways to get around using them.

  • Instead of using ziploc bags, try small, reusable containers. They may take up more room in a lunch box, but they'll also save your food from getting crushed. Even jars from things like pasta sauce, salsa, etc. can be utilized for food storage, and then you're also reusing too.
  • Trash bags are something that my husband and I have never had to put on the shopping list. We use plastic grocery bags as trash bags for small waste bins. For our large kitchen trash can, we purchased a stainless steel, foot pedal can ($25 at Big Lots) with a plastic liner that lifts out of the can. We simply lift out the inner plastic "bucket" and dump it into our city trash can (which only goes to the road once a month) and if it's dirty we wash it out with the hose and let it sun dry. Usually it's not that dirty or smelly because we compost our food waste. =)
  • At the grocery stores nowadays you may have noticed that they are trying to market reusable grocery bags to you. That's fine, they're cheap and usually made from recycled materials. It's also a good cause. But no one can stop you from putting your groceries in your own bags that you already own.

Reusing is a creative art, and I have only listed some ways to reuse instead of consume in regards to plastic bags. A good start is to evaluate items you regularly have to buy and try to think of reusable alternatives.

If you aren't already, I definitely recommend recycling what waste you do produce. Even our little city has 3 recycling centers. If yours doesn't, try looking at some local stores. Places like Target and Publix often have small bins where you can recycle a variety of materials in small amounts at a time. If there is a college or university near you, find out if they have recycling facilities on campus. These are usually open to the public as well as the student body. Just don't assume that it's alright to go hog wild buying whatever just because it's recyclable. There is still some waste involved with when recycling materials.
Otherwise, following the suggestions from the Purchase section above and asking yourself if there is any other possible use for the item before it is pitched should help reduce the amount of trash you're throwing out.

We have reduced our waste to one city trash can per month using these tips. We recycle two garbage cans of materials per month. We hope to further reduce our waste by finding alternatives to things like facial tissues (one option is handkerchiefs), and paper towels (perhaps by using old dish towels). I hope that you can also think of reusable alternatives to reduce your waste and environmental impact.

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