Reuse: The Next Best Thing in the Cycle of Waste Reduction

Exploring the Second of the Three R’s

reuse, upcycle, or repurpose old mugs

Reuse: The middle child of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, it sometimes fades into the background. But when it comes to the 3 R’s, we’re thrilled to shine the spotlight on this powerful tool for sustainability. 

While the #1 way to have a sustainable impact is to Reduce, you will need to buy some things in order to live your life. But it’s important to consider the full lifespan of the items you purchase — from “cradle to grave,” as they say. 

Though it may eventually end up in the recycling bin or the landfill, the longer a product is in use, the lower its environmental impact. Reusing creates less waste. It’s about extending the cycle. So before you throw something out, consider if it could be reused or if there’s a reusable alternative you could try instead. 

Finding Reusable Alternatives 

With a surging interest in eco-friendly products, reusable alternatives are becoming easier and easier to find. Take a look at your daily routine, and see where you might find ways to replace single-use items with a reusable substitute. 

In the Kitchen

  • Trade in your single-use Keurig cups for their reusable K-cups, or opt for a french press or pour-over coffee setup. You can also get reusable coffee filters and washable socks for your drip machine or pour-over. 
  • Give up bottled water, and try a filter for your tap.
  • Switch to beeswax wrap instead of plastic wrap, and silicone bags or tupperware instead of ziploc. 
  • Use a dish cloth rather than disposable sponges. 
  • Go a step beyond reusable grocery bags, and try lightweight mesh produce bags. 
  • Get a Sodastream with reusable CO2 canisters to make soda or seltzer. 
  • Reuse jars and food canisters as storage containers, or bring them back to the store to buy from the bulk bar. 

In the Bathroom

invest in a safety (reusable) razor over a disposable

  • Ditch the disposable razors, and opt for a reusable one. 
  • Replace your cotton balls with washable cotton pads. 
  • Use reusable menstrual products. Single use menstrual products account for 19 billion pieces of trash every year in the US alone.1 There are now many options for reusable menstrual solutions, from reusable menstrual pads to menstrual cups and discs. Bonus? Reusable menstrual cups and discs only need to be changed every 12 hours! And even if you’re totally set on tampons, you can now get reusable tampon applicators! 

In the Rest of the House

  • Look for rechargeable or plug-in electronics rather than battery operated. 
  • And on that note — invest in some rechargeable AA and AAA batteries for items you use often like the TV remote. 
  • Invest in some reusable spray bottles for cleaning, and make your own cleaning products
  • Try wool dryer balls instead of single-use dryer sheets. 

Even many “single-use” items can actually be reused. Ziploc bags and aluminum foil can be washed and used again, as can plastic cutlery, Solo cups, and many food containers you get from take-out food. Consider saving up your takeout boxes for your next dinner party so your guests can take home leftovers without needing to return your tupperware. (Though you should encourage them to wash and reuse it as well!)

The Rise of Refilleries and Bulk Bars

bulk bars and refilleries

One of the best ways to amp up your reuse game is to visit a refillery or bulk bar. 

What is a refillery? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like! A refillery (or bulk bar) is a place where you can refill containers you already have with products that are bought and stored in bulk (which significantly reduces packaging). 

You simply bring in jars, bottles, or bags and then pay for the product by the weight of how much you take. Most refilleries are full of basic pantry necessities like flour, oats, sugar etc. But they also have liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, cleaning solutions, and laundry detergent. 

As more and more shoppers (like you!) become interested in reducing their waste, refilleries have popped up in many places. They go by various names, so try searching in your area for a “refillery,” “bulk bar,” “package-free store,” or “zero-waste shop”. You might be surprised what’s right around the corner!

Navigating the Secondhand Market

Last but not least, when you’re in search of a new item — check for a secondhand option. From furniture to lawn tools, clothes, and books, the secondhand market is a thriving place. 

When you buy something that someone else no longer wants, you give it a second life. In addition to that, buying second hand usually means you avoid packaging altogether! 

Another huge bonus to buying used items is that they are often significantly discounted, so you’ll save money, too. 

For some, thrift shopping is a favorite pastime. It can be extremely rewarding to find a diamond in the rough — say a limited 2008 Anthropologie dress that’s only been worn twice. Or to come across a pristine replacement for the Crate and Barrel dinner plate your brother-in-law broke. 

But for others, thrifting is a tedious process that feels overwhelming and can be time consuming. If you fall in the latter category, don’t fret. While buying local is preferable (to reduce transportation emissions), you can also shop online for used products.

Online Thrifting

The online market is teeming with options to search and buy secondhand. Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, OfferUp, and Craigslist all host thriving used inventories. You can even buy used products on Amazon — pay attention to the smaller links under the purchase options. 

If you’re looking for clothes, check out ThredUp for a massive online selection of used clothing that can be filtered by size, colors, style, or brand. 

Rent or Borrow

Another way to support reuse is to rent or borrow items instead of buying just for yourself. You can rent cleaning appliances, power tools, party supplies, and even Christmas decorations. So the next time you’re about to hit “buy now,” stop and think about how often you’ll use the item. If the answer is “not often”, see if there’s a rental option. 

As people become more aware of the massive amount of stuff we all own, some communities have started pushing for a return to the days when we would simply borrow from our neighbors. Online forums and app programs like Nextdoor and Streetbank allow you to connect with others in your area to offer and borrow anything from picnic baskets and bikes, to hedge trimmers and wet-vacs. 

Reuse by Repurposing

reuse by repurposing

While it’s best to reduce and reuse as much as possible, you can also repurpose outworn items. 

You can use a chipped dinner plate as a plant saucer, or reuse egg cartons as sprouting trays. Turn your old t-shirt into cleaning rags. Soup cans and jelly jars make great organizers for office, art, sewing, or workshop supplies. 

The options for reusing items are endless, and if you’re feeling crafty — try upcycling. (Upcycling is when you take old materials and create something completely new that now has a higher value than the individual pieces—we’ll go into more detail on this in an upcoming blog, so stay tuned!)

Every time we divert a product from the landfill, we lower its overall environmental impact and significantly reduce its carbon footprint. 

Of course, sometimes something is truly broken beyond repair or simply at the end of its life. In that case, it’s time to move on to the last of the 3 R’s: Recycle. 

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