When considering the 3 R's - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, many people skip to recycling with the best intentions, thinking it's the best thing to do. However, the intent of the 3 R's is to place emphasis first on source reduction, then stressing reuse of our resources, and then recycling when the first two options have been exercised. Reuse is an incredibly important waste-reduction tool and it can (and does) divert millions of tons of garbage from landfills every year.
Need some tips on how to practice reuse in your daily life? Here are some suggestions for different material types (some are a courtesy of the city of NY):
- Save used paper as scrap for shopping lists, notes and drawing paper for children.
- Write your shopping lists on junk mail return envelopes, or any used envelope and carry your coupons inside the envelope.
- Wrap postal packages or cover textbooks in brown paper bags that you've saved.
- Reuse newspaper as gift wrapping paper, or use as lining for your animal cage. You can even enhance your indoor compost bin with a few sheets of newspaper!
- Reuse last year's holiday cards to make this year's gift tags.
Plastic: It can be very re-useful!
- Fill empty plastic bottles (such as mouthwash bottles) with water and freeze to use in your coolers for picnics and camping.
- Use empty yogurt, dip, or cream-cheese containers to hold individual portions of food.
- Buy a lunch bag (or lunch box!) instead of using a paper bag.
- Bring Tupperware when going out to dinner to bring your leftovers home in instead of a 'take out' bag or box for packing your lunch (or use them to pack cookies and chips so they won't get crushed).
- Turn a large pickle jar into a cookie jar or a coin jar and decorate the outside.
- Punch holes in small jar caps to create a spice or cheese shaker.
- Keep bits and pieces, such as screws or nails, in jars and know at a glance what's inside.
- Reuse aluminum foil many times (and buy recycled aluminum foil to support buying recycled).
- Thoroughly clean out used aluminum cans from vegetables or beans and cover in old paper to use as pencil, pen and marker holders.
In the Home:
- Use sponges and towels in lieu of disposable paper towels.
- Wash out sandwich bags and reuse over and over.
- Use stale bread for croutons, crumbs, stuffing or french toast.
- Use rechargeable batteries.
- Use your own coffee mug when frequenting coffee shops; bring your own mug to work instead of using disposable cups. Most coffee shops will even give you a 'good customer' discount for bringing in your mug!
- Use old toothbrushes to scrub hard-to-reach places.
- Reduce hazardous waste associated with cleaning products by substituting some less harmful cleaners. For example: vinegar and scrunched up newspaper for cleaning windows; baking powder and water for removing mold and mildew and vinegar for cleaning toilets.
- Drop a Toilet Bank waste saver in your toilet tank to save water on flushing.
- Buy energy efficient light bulbs from supermarkets, hardware stores and electrical shops. They last for around 10 years they will save you money.
- Get a bike. Do you drive five minutes to pick up a loaf of bread at the supermarket? 25 percent of all car trips are less than a mile. By riding a bike or walking for short trips, you'll save energy and money, and you just might slim down in time for swimsuit season.
In the Office:
- Make two-sided copies.
- DO NOT PRINT EMAILS. Save them electronically.
- Circulate original memos instead of making numerous copies.
- Use one-sided scrap paper for notes and drafts.
- Use refillable pens, pencils and tape dispensers. According to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, Americans throw out 1.6 billion single-use pens each year.
- When receiving a package with polystyrene "peanuts" find a place to recycle them or that will take them back to recycle, or reuse them in new packaging.
- Turn your computer monitor off when leaving for more than an hour. Monitors use more energy than your computer does.
- Ink Jet Printers - Here's a guide to prolonging the life of ink cartidges.
With the Kids:
- Give children free reign over your unwanted papers, cardboard scraps and packaging--their creativity will take over from there.