Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Made Easy: Reuse

August 17, 2009 at 6:02 PM | Posted in Environmentally Friendly Living, Psychological Wellness | Leave a comment
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I don’t know about you, but it used to be that whenever someone mentioned reuse to me, my mind was immediately overwhelmed by thoughts of unattainable things. I would think of things like saving spent paper towel and toilet paper rolls in crafts, making purses out of candy wrappers or melting plastic down to create something useful. While some people certainly do these things, they don’t exactly fit with a normal lifestyle and these kinds of activities can’t possibly find recurring use by an average person.

Some people go to great lengths to reuse materials.  This artist was arrested for reusing traffic barrels in a more compelling manner, but we all can't be that awesome.

Some people go to great lengths to reuse materials. This artist was arrested for reusing traffic barrels in a more compelling manner, but we all can't be that awesome.

As it turns out though, in my progression to someone who has come so much closer to living in harmony with the earth, I have learned that reuse is actually not that difficult to do at all. In fact, it can save you a great deal of money and it helps to bring you out of the consumerism slavery we were all born into. So let’s talk about a few things that are really easy to do.

The most obvious thing is reusing purchased goods within the home. While this category of reuse is mostly limited to crazy, outrageous things, there are a few pretty easy ones. Reusable shopping bags, as I mentioned before, are pretty simple reusable goods. They last a long time and prevent you from accumulating a massive stockpile of plastic shopping bags under your sink, so they serve two purposes at once. Even better is that they require no creativity whatsoever – just buy them and reuse them (and in most stores you get a neat little discount for using reusable bags). Reusing water bottles is a fairly easy thing to do, though I don’t recommend you reuse them for too long due to health concerns (soluble plastic, etc). I think you may find larger water containers more useful. In fact, buying water is a terrible thing to do, but if you must, buy large containers. You can cut them in half and use them to hold things in a shop or something, too. Otherwise, at the least, they are recyclable.

These might be the worst thing ever...Im not sure.

These might be the worst thing ever...I'm not sure.

While I’m talking about water bottles, consider a nice, portable bottle that you wash and reuse regularly. I’m talking about the nice ones you see athletes with. They are handy for taking to class, work or the gym and they prevent the use of disposable containers. You can also use a thermos to take hot or cold drinks in. In fact, a portable container for liquids makes it easier to be healthy, too. You can brew an herbal tea in the morning and sip away at it all day at work. It will make you feel hydrated, alert and better all-around, and you’ll be doing it at no cost to our landfills.

Consider alternatives.  Rather than a new, tiny bottle for every sip, why not hold your better-than-tap water in one of these?

Consider alternatives. Rather than a new, tiny bottle for every sip, why not hold your better-than-tap water in one of these?

An investment in a bottle like this is also a wise one - reusable and portable, tap water or purified water.

An investment in a bottle like this is also a wise one - reusable and portable, tap water or "purified" water.

Of course, a lot of us have learned to reuse plastic shopping bags just by going about our daily lives. They can be used to line the inside of small waste baskets found in a bedroom or office to make disposal easier. They can also be used to clean up after pets. I find that using my reusable bags is good most of the time, and every once in a while I have a huge load of groceries that simply won’t fit into my four bags. That way, I take home a few plastic bags every once in a while, so I never have more than I can use.

Another cool thing I’ve found is that a lot of the dairy industry is converting over to reusable containers. A very wonderful opportunity that exists for Nebraska residents is this: at Hy-Vee locations, you can buy milk that comes in glass containers. You pay a $2 deposit on the glass that is fully refunded to you when you bring the glass back. Hy-Vee, per agreement with the supplier, ships these bottles back to the dairy farm where they are washed and refilled. This is even better than recycling because the containers are not altered or remanufactured. Not only is all of this excellent news, but the milk is locally produced, meaning that by buying it, you are supporting not only reduced transportation expenditure on the goods, but also local industry (good for the economy). And it’s really the best-tasting milk I’ve ever had.

Reused milk bottles are becoming an industry standard.

Reused milk bottles are becoming an industry standard.

It sounds like I’m cheating, but using regular dish towels is reuse in a sense. It eliminates a lot of waste due to paper towels and you can just keep washing them and using them over and over again. I mentioned it before but I’ll mention it again because it’s one of the best habit changes I’ve ever made.

There are, of course, some more ridiculous things you can do. I bake fish in a 9×13 cake pan because it’s super easy, but I like my fish covered in foil to seal moisture in. I reuse the same piece of foil at least three or four times before recycling it to cover because it never gets dirty. Any bacteria that accumulates is killed in the next bake anyway. I sometimes find uses for random plastic items that would otherwise go to the recycling bin – mostly reusing containers as organizers or bins for random items.

The next really easy thing you can do is repair items when they break. Ok, so not all of us are stellar mechanics or savvy with electronics. That’s ok, you don’t need to be. Let me give a few solid examples of things I’ve repaired (or had repaired) lately:

– My humidifier tank. One day last winter, I had an aggressive bloody nose. Naturally, I was looking upwards at a 45 degree angle to minimize external accumulation of blood, so I couldn’t exactly see what was going on below me. I had had it with bloody noses, so I took my humidifier tank (then in one piece) down to the kitchen to fill it up. I set it on the counter but (blast those attractive, curvy designs) it just rolled right off. Being made of less-than-kickass plastic, the bottom plate and the tank sides separated themselves quite nicely. I bought some plastic epoxy adhesive and bonded the two back together. It’s working just fine now, with a little bit of a stick every time I remove the tank due to some extra epoxy chilling on the sides. Either way, I spent $5 on epoxy and $40 on the humidifier, and I would have been pissed if I had to spend another $40 just to replace the tank! The unit itself was fine, but the company that made it was incompetent and would not send a replacement tank, even for a fee.

– My blender. Most small kitchen appliances come with warranties, and mine was no exception. When it broke less than a year after I bought it (I had a two-year warranty), GE refused to replace it. Lesson one: don’t buy shit from GE, they’re douchebags. Lesson two: know someone who likes to tinker with electronics. My stepfather graciously offered to take a look at it when I mentioned that the only thing wrong with it was a cranky electrical contact. GE, in all their wisdom, decided that the best cord entry method for the power to the unit was from the underneath, causing the cord to enter the device performing a 90-degree bend. We all know how cords tend to get separated from their contacts in the case of extreme bends. So the blender quit working because of their stupid design, but with a little bit of home remedy, it works again. I think I might have been able to fix it myself had I thought of that, but who knows.

Some other things that my family (not me specifically) has replaced include, but are not limited to, washers, dryers, computers, plumbing fixtures, air conditioners, the works. It helps that I have a rather handy family, and I realize not all of us do. But things like my humidifier tank remedy are simple and anyone can do them. Even if you can’t fix something yourself, it’s usually cheaper and easier to have it repaired than to buy a new one. With today’s consumerism culture, it sometimes seems that people trade a lot of extra money for a little convenience by simply tossing out the old, fixable one and buying a brand new one. It might just be my low-income background, but it would seem better to me to save money and not buy a new one most of the time.

There are some other ways to reuse things that we simply don’t think of as reuse all the time. For example, when you buy used clothes from a second-hand store or off of a web-based selling service like E-Bay or craigslist, you are reusing someone else’s goods. There is a social stigma we have that used simply isn’t as good as new, or if someone wants to get rid of it, there’s a reason. Sometimes people are just tired of taking care of something, or they have outgrown their use for the item. Reusing clothes saves a CONSIDERABLE amount of money on your end, and buying used appliances or cookware is a great thing to do, too. I managed to snag an excellent road bike off of craigslist by being patient. That’s a great take, considering bikes are becoming more important to have and are costing a considerable fraction of a used car when new (I find this to be ridiculous, especially when you take into account that most bikes are shoddily constructed and break easily or require a ton of maintenance, but this is a separate rant).

Another thing you might not think of as reuse is composting. What? When you compost food scraps, the nutrients left over in the food are regained via bacteria, worms and nature’s best. You can use the compost for your flowerbeds, your garden plot or just in the yard. You can even sell it if you find a market for it. Either way, it’s better than simply tossing it and sending it to a landfill. Yes, it will decompose there, but it won’t be reclaimed for use because of all the other not-so-biodegradable waste mixed in. If you compost food scraps, it’s possible to reap the benefits in a very “reuse” sort of way.

Heres a stellar compost setup.  Easy to maintain in your backyard, somewhere out of sight (perhaps behind a screen of native grasses!).

Here's a stellar compost setup. Easy to maintain in your backyard, somewhere out of sight (perhaps behind a screen of native grasses!).

And that reminds me: for you gardeners out there, consider this. Most plants have a natural way of reproducing. With annuals, it’s usually seeds that form in late fall and overwinter on the ground, sprouting in the spring again. With perennials, they reproduce and spread via rhizomes, roots or seeds. Oftentimes, with things like hosta, grass or bulb-based plants, you can separate them and produce two new plants. This saves costs when it comes to getting new plants. You can also save the seeds from smaller plants and annuals and reduce your dependence on the spring garden center rush considerably. The seeds you obtain directly from the plant are usually more reliable, and just like humans that reproduce, you can have a guess as to what you are getting. These are easy ways to sort of “reuse” your plants from year to year. If you aren’t sure how a particular plant reproduces, look it up on the greater internet. Handy little tips like this are the nature of creative reuse and the key to getting out of the consumer whore vicious cycle of life.

Finally, a word about recycled items. Reusing products can be as easy as buying friendly ones. For example, when you are buying toilet paper, take a look at the source of the wood. It’s not difficult to find one or two brands whose paper is made with some reasonable percentage of post-consumer material. I buy things packaged in recycled material as often as I can. You can find paper products made from recycled paper rather easily. You can also buy plastic containers made from recycled material. These are EASY changes to make that will make you a more responsible consumer without affecting your lifestyle.

I hope this article has shed some light on how you can be a responsible reuser of goods without having to go out of your way or drastically change your lifestyle. Most of reuse is simply prudent advice: when you reuse, you save money. You won’t buy as many paper towels, spend nearly as many hundreds of dollars at clothing retail outlets, and you won’t shell out as much for things like small kitchen appliances. If you choose to really go the distance, you’ll get awesome-tasting milk in reused glass. That’s a really great thing that I think everyone should take advantage of. The next time you have an opportunity to purchase a good made from recycled material, I hope you do. And when you are considering a costly purchase, ask yourself if a used version wouldn’t be so bad. Instead of a $100 set of stainless steel cooking implements, consider a $30 used one from craigslist or E-Bay. And seriously, get off the paper towel fix. You’ll thank yourself.

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