Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: In That Order
We’ve always been fairly good at recycling – putting around 75% of our weekly waste there versus sending it to the dump. But, after reading a few too many articles about recycling, especially plastic, not actually being recycled – partly due to what people try to recycle and partly due to issues with the economics of recycling, we wanted to act. We started 2020 determined to reduce the amount of waste we produced and focus on the first two words in that common phrase – reduce and reuse.
To say the least, it has been a challenge. At this point, we’re all familiar with how 2020 has gone. Masks aren’t necessarily the most reusable of items and it’s not like not using them is really an option. Our grocery stores initially stopped letting us use our own bags. We ended up ordering out a bit more trying to support local restaurants but many make use of single-use containers. But even through all of the struggles that 2020 threw at us, we have still made some progress. We aren’t as far along in our journey as I had hoped and expected by this point in the year, but we’ve made small, steady progress toward our goal.
Now 9 months in, here are 4 things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Use what you already have
Maybe this goes without saying. When we started the year, and even now, we have a multitude of products that I would stock up on, namely toiletries. Because of this, we haven’t had a need to purchase toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, or soap all year. I am very eager to try some of the waste-free products on the market today.
2. Reducing plastic waste isn’t expensive
Let me start this one by saying, it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. While we worked to use what we already had we started making preparations to replace those products with lower waste options, doing research, understanding which would run out first and then eventually buying the product. When it came to deodorant, I was running low, found several brands and decided I would try a couple over the course of the year – keep an eye on for a post on how that went!
3. It’s so easy to not use paper towels!
I discovered how many dish rags we actually have once we started looking to stop using paper towels. Where did they all come from?! For whatever reason I had a weird aversion to using dish towels but now, why would you use anything else? Taking small, easy steps focusing on “reduce” is a great way to start.
4. It is hard to find stuff NOT wrapped in plastic
By far the most difficult thing I’ve found about going zero waste is how few things come packaged without plastic. It is nearly impossible to completely remove plastic from your waste stream. While our goal is to still be zero waste, it will take much more time than I had initially anticipated. The important part here is that we are continually evaluating the products we use to see if there are better alternatives.
If we all took a little time to do this, the amount of waste we could reduce and the stuff we could reuse would increase dramatically. For instance, we’ve started buying more fruits and vegetables without plastic – no produce bags, no styrofoam, no pre-packaged items. Again, these are easy things to avoid.
One of my favorite quotes is: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” -Anne Marie Bonneau
I think that quote rings particularly true here and I’m very excited to continue our zero waste journey – with a particular focus on reduce first, followed by reuse and recycle as a last resort! Check out part 2 of this series!