29 May 2009

revisiting the 3 Rs

[Furoshiki design by Candy Chang]

Maybe you've heard this before: "I'm green, I recycle."
And maybe you've thought to yourself: "I don't think so, fatboy."

The third R in the magic three - reduce, reuse, recycle - is in that position for a reason. It's the last resort of conscious consumption.

So why is it that so many place a bigger emphasis on recycling, or even worse, ignore the 3 Rs altogether? Are the other Rs not sexy enough? Do we have to disguise them like parents sneaking vegetables into their kids' food?

Or maybe we could all just use a little refresher course on how to practice the first 2 Rs in our daily lives.

The most virtuous and oft overlooked R. Reducing is about resisting temptation. It's about re-examining what we already have and making the best of it. The great thing about reducing is that we can save when we do it -- save resources, save money, save our butts (yeah, maybe even that).

Here are some no-sweat ways to reduce:

Energy (fuel)
turn off the lights, turn down the shades when it's hot, hypermile... more


turn off the faucet, take quicker showers, shower with a friend... more


print on both sides, increase the margins, use cloth instead of paper towels... more


say yes to reusable bags, bring your own utensils, drink from a canteen and travel mug, avoid goods with lots of packaging


mend torn clothes, reimagine your wardrobe, hang your clothes to dry, more (fabric care)


rekindle your romance with the kitchen (i.e., less takeout), buy only what you need, can and freeze in abundant months, compost the leftovers and scraps

Just buy less stuff

Need I say more?

Now here comes the fun part. Reusing is the most creative of the 3 Rs. It's all about re-imagining everyday items as something new. Kind of like Don Quixote and the windmills. It's an adventure waiting to happen (yes, I'm a big nerd).

Here are some fun ways to reuse:

These jars originally held honey, peanut butter, and jam. Now they're home to beans, quinoa, and rice. Just wash and reuse. Easy peasy.

Some stores offer bulk cleaning supplies, sold by the ounce. Green Depot has a refilling station where you can take any empty spray bottle or container (even those from your pre-eco cleaning days) to fill it up with safer, non-toxic cleaners. Or you can fill those sprayers with your own cleaning concoctions (get recipes here).

Egg cartons
Plastic egg cartons are great for sorting beads and buttons when you're crafting. They also make great paint trays.

Paper egg cartons are perfect for starting seedlings. Just fill with soil and plop in your seeds. When the sprouts are ready, cut out the individual section and transplant the whole thing into your garden.

Get more ideas for reusing egg cartons at Family Corner (via Food on the Food)

Plastic takeout containers
These also make great paint trays and craft organizers. You can even reuse them to store food (Caveat: I don't put them in the microwave, even if they say 'microwave safe'... I think this just means they won't melt, not that they won't leach chemicals into your food).

Plastic bags
There are so many great ways to reuse these scourges of society. Make plarn and knit or crochet them into something fabulous. Some more plastic bag craft ideas here.

Check out this crazy chip-bag chicken:

And if you think you're not the creative type, you can simply reuse plastic bags as trash bags, or funnily enough, to carry things.

Are your duds starting to feel like, well, duds? Remake 'em. Books on the subject abound. Websites, too. Get ideas on Threadbanger, Wardrobe Refashion, Etsy.

Here's one way I've renewed some old buttons:

(The little one on the right is me)

Yoga mats
The reuse of your old yoga mat is as limitless as your imagination. We've used my old PVC mat to keep our indoor veggie garden from overflowing on stuff below (it's on a chef shelf in the office).

Here's a tutorial on how to make yoga mat flip flops. Learn 50 more ways to reuse your yoga mat here.

Fabric on your couch wearing thin? One word: reupholster. Or do it on the cheap and make or buy slip covers.

Repaint or refinish furniture with no or low-VOC varnish and paints, like I did with this bookcase using Milk Paint:

Light bulbs
Check out this wild repurposing of incandescent light bulbs from Crafster:

Here's the one everyone is comfortable with... until ol' Debbie Downer (that's me) tells it like it is. Recycling seems like the right thing to do. And, while it's a heck of a lot better then just tossing everything in the trash, often, that's where your good habits of recycling end up. It's a complicated story, but the gist is that, what you put in the recycle bin doesn't always get recycled, and even when it does, the recycling process is very resource (fuel, water) intensive. And it's often polluting. Here's a great article, featured on elephantjournal.com (one of my favorite sites) that sheds light on the realities of recycling:

What you Need to Know about Recycling: It’s More than Putting Stuff in Bins by Tom Kemper, CEO of Dolphin Blue

Okay, with all of those depressing facts out of the way,
here are some practical ways to recycle:

  • Look for ewaste recycling events or centers in your area using Earth911.
  • In Brooklyn, 3R Living takes ewaste, or you can bring it directly to this place, ePlanet/eWaste.
  • Bring your old clothes, fabric, furniture, toys, etcetera to Goodwill or sell it on eBay
  • In NYC, Wearable Collections, a textile recycling company, will outfit your building with a collection bin (if you're in an apartment)
  • Also in NYC, find places to recycle your old textiles (they'll even take old bedding, shoes, accessories, etc.) from the Council on the Environment of NYC (CENYC)
  • Or, again, check out Earth911 for textile recycling in your area
Get reacquainted with recycling rules in your area
Odds and ends

Bottle caps

Believe it or not, these are not recycled, at least not in NYC. Luckily, Aveda has come to the rescue. I just dropped off a whole bag of plastic caps (ranging from laundry detergent to shampoo bottles)

Old cosmetics containers
Cosmetics company, Origins, accepts old (cleaned out) cosmetics containers. Read about my experience with their recycling program here.

Got any other ideas on how to reduce, reuse, recycle?
Leave 'em in the comments box below!


Mike Lieberman / CanarsieBK said...

Love this post. There are so many easy ways for people to help make a difference. Things don't have to be so drastic.

Thanks for posting.

Liz said...

You're right, Mike, it doesn't have to be so drastic. There are so many simple ways to make change if we just take a minute to think about it.

Thanks for commenting! :)