People often focus on a single section of the ‘reduce, reuse & recycle’ motto. However I think it is important that we try to remember it as a whole. From an energy and resources point of view it can make a big difference. It is also important to try and remember to apply this concept at work, school, college, university etc.
It’s also important to remember that in the modern world we all have busy lives and we often need speed and convenience, but I think we can make a difference without having to give up our everyday creature comforts.
Reducing our consumption can have the largest impact on our use of materials and energy. If we simply don’t consume something then it obviously never needed resources to produce.
- Napkins and handkerchief – something as simple as switching back to traditional fabric napkins and hankies which can be washed and reused rather than using paper disposable ones.
- Reusable Bags – When you are shopping try to take reusable shopping bags with you. If you really had to take one of the supermarket bags, try to make sure you take it back with you and use it again in the future.
- If you are doing a one off DIY job, ask friends if you can borrow power tools etc. or hire them rather than buying something that will hardly ever be used.
- Why buying, try to buy products with as little packaging as possible for example loose apples rather than the shrink wrapped multi-pack where the apples are on a card, plastic or foam tray.
- Composting – I had trouble deciding if this should go into Reduce or Reuse as it really is a little of both, maybe even all three. If you compost garden and household organic waste you can reduce your general waste and reduce the amount of store bought compost and fertilisers you need for your garden.
- Avoid using single use batteries. Where possible use rechargeable. Some modern ones are referred to as ‘low self discharge’ meaning they store better without going flat and are often ready to use from the package without needing to be charged first. This gives you the convenience of disposable batteries with the added bonus of being reuseable.
- Its not just when out shopping you can reduce. Simple things can make a difference too, such as :
- Only taking one square of kitchen towel, and getting a second or third if needed.
- Putting full loads in the washing machine or dishwasher means fewer cycles, extending the life of the appliance and reducing the use of energy and water.
- This article wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention simply turning things off when they are not in use.
Reuse / Upcycling / Freecycling
Reuse of an item is great from both a resource and energy point of view, requiring no additional virgin resources to be extracted and often minimal to no energy input. Reuse can also save money and reduce landfill requirements
- Glass Jars – If you buy jam or pickles they normally come in a glass jar, you can refill these with your home made produce after washing and sterilising. If you can’t make use of them, wash them offer them to a friend or through a freecycling site. If you have an attractive bottle from something you have used it can be turned into a vase or with a small purchase of a pouring spout can be reused for cooking oils or cordials.
- Household electrical & digital devices – These days so many items have a lifespan of 12 months or less before they are deems obsolete, it’s such a shame as many of these devices still perform the task they were designed for perfectly well. When you are done with something, why not consider offering it to someone else through an online reuse community or offer it to a friend etc. but whatever you do, don’t throw it away or leaving it languishing in a drawer.
- Spectacles – Did you know you can donate these to charities, where they get used around the world in places where their availability is limited. See http://www.vao.org.uk for an example.
- Printer cartridges – Many brands of ink cartridge can be refilled, often many times over and some manufacturers offer schemes when you can send back your empties. Local schools and charities also often have schemes in association with local refilling companies as a way of raising fund too.
- Traditional glass milk bottles are a great example of reuse, now hardly seen having been replaced with plastic or waxed card cartons. These bottles were collected by the dairy in various ways, sterilised and put back into service. The energy and resources required to use these bottles again is negligible compared to recycling or new. Once at the end of their life, damaged/broken ones would be recycled.
- Furniture – Either when moving house or through redecorating a room, we often end up with items of furniture we not longer need. There are so many ways that these can reused or adapted.
- Kitchen units from a refit or chests of drawers could be put into a shed or garage for additional storage.
- Offer them to friends or the community at large through one of the various reuse / freecycling sites.
- Sell it either via online auctions or local classifieds.
- Offer them to local charity organisations or shops.
- As a last resort you could take them to a recycling centre where they can often be broken down to raw materials and recycled.
Recycling is one area that gets lots of attention, most local authorities now do household recycling collection. You can also take items to recycling points at many retail locations etc. So rather than explain all the different ways you can recycle I thought I would include a few snippets of information about various materials to help guide your future efforts and purchases.
- Glass thrown in to household general waste often ends up in landfill and never decomposes.
- Glass is classed 100% recyclable, meaning it can be used over and over again.
- Aluminium and Steel from cans etc. can be recycled and ready be reused in just a few weeks.
- Recycling aluminium cans saves up to 95% of the energy used to make one from new material.
- Recycling steel saves up to 75% of the energy when compared to making it from virgin material.
- Up to 50% less energy is require to recycle paper when compared to using virgin materials from trees.
- Recycling 1 short ton of paper can save around 17 average trees and around 3 cubic metres of landfill.
- Plastics can take several hundred years to decompose.
I have included a few links to sites that we use for recycling info from time to time and where some of the facts and figures used in this post were obtained.
If you have more ideas, examples or comments related to this post let us know in the comments below.