Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse, Rot - Step 1: Reduce
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The critical first step of waste prevention has been overshadowed by a focus on recycling. Please help to promote a greater awareness of the importance of the "Reduce" part of the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra. For a great overview of how raw materials and products move around the world, see the video The Story of Stuff.
- Go Zero Waste: The ultimate goal - learn how at Zero Waste Home.
- Simplify: Simplify your life as much as possible. Only keep belongings that you use/enjoy on a regular basis. By making the effort to reduce what you own, you will naturally purchase less/create less waste in the future
- Determine Your Impact: The Eco Footprint, Greendex and Water Footprint calculators give you a great way to determine how you are impacting the environment.
- Reduce Purchases: In general, think before you buy any product - do you really need it? How did the production of this product impact the environment and what further impacts will there be with the disposal of the product (and associated packaging materials)? When you are thinking about buying something, try the 30-Day Rule -- wait 30 days after the first time you decide you want a product to really make your decision. This will eliminate impulse buying. The free, downloadable Wallet Buddy from The Center for a New American Dream is a great constant reminder to make sustainable purchases (including avoiding unessentials).
- Replace Disposables: Wherever possible, replace disposable products with reusable ones (i.e., razor, food storage, batteries, ink cartridges (buy refill ink), coffee filters, furnace or air conditioner filters, etc.).
- Buy Used: Buy used products whenever possible. Some sources:
- Borrow From Friends: If you only need something temporarily, ask if a friend or neighbor would loan it to you.
- Share With Friends: Share things like books, magazines, movies, games, and newspapers between friends and neighbors.
- Tree-Free Home: As much as possible, create a tree-free home:
- replace paper napkins with cloth napkins
- replace paper towels with a special set of cloth towels/napkins (or cut up old t-shirts for great towels) - store the used ones in a small container in your kitchen and just wash and reuse
- purchase bleach-free, toilet paper that is made from the highest post-consumer waste content you can find (80% minimum)
- if you print documents, print on once-used paper and/or bleach-free, recycled paper with the highest post-consumer waste content available (or hemp/alternative-source paper, if you can afford it)
- switch to a digital organizer for tracking your to do's and grocery lists. A few free suggestions: Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, GroceryIQ
- reuse envelopes, wrapping paper, the front of gift cards (as postcards) and other paper materials you receive wherever possible
- read books, magazines, and newspapers from your local library or online (many have email newsletters)
- create and use note pads from once-used paper
- leave messages for family members/roommates on a reusable message board
- make your own cards/letters from once-used products or handmade paper or buy at thrift stores
- if you will be doing construction on your house, search out alternatives to using newly cut wood (no endorsement of any company intended):
- Bulk Purchases: Avoid products that are packaged for single use (i.e., drinks, school lunches, candy, cat and dog food, salad mixings, etc.). Instead, buy in bulk and transfer the products to your own reusable containers. Many health food stores have bulk bins where they sell everything from grains to cereal to cleaning products. For additional ideas, read the Precycling information page.
- Buy Only What You Need: Buy only as much as you know you'll use for items such as food, cleaning supplies, and paint.
- Avoid Creating Trash: Avoid creating trash wherever possible: when ordering food, avoid receiving any unnecessary plastic utensils, straws, etc. (ask in advance), buy ice cream in a cone instead of a cup, don't accept "free" promotional products, buy products with the least amount of packaging, etc. Every little bit of trash avoided does make a difference!
- Shopping Bags: While shopping, if you only buy a few products skip the shopping bag. For larger purchases, bring your own. Learn about pollution caused by plastics.
- Junk Mail: For ideas on how to stop junk mail at work and home, check out:
- Waste-Free Lunches: Pack a Waste-Free Lunch whenever possible.
- Mug-to-Go: Carry a mug with you wherever you go for take out beverages.
- Address Early Consumption Habits: New American Dream offers tips for protecting your children from intrusive and harmful advertising that promotes mindless consumption.
- Encourage Hotels to Reduce Waste: When staying at a hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast let the management know that you like to support businesses that adopt environmentally responsible practices (including reducing waste). Print out and drop off the Environmental Solutions for Green Hotels environmental tips list. To locate environmentally friendly hotels, search on the Internet under "ecotourism" and/or visit Green Hotels Association.