Simple ways to reduce waste and reuse all items

Inspired by the 2021 Earth Day theme, “Restore Our Earth,” Well + Good is running a month-long series called “Planet Hope” with expert-led content focused on food, clothing, sustainable living and daily activism. Check back for some practical advice on how to incorporate each goal into your life on an ongoing and meaningful basis.

The year of the pandemic had made me realize that I could probably part with a lot of items that I had not touched during this time when there is very little to do and very few places. where to go. For example, I’ve sold all of my jeans that don’t fit anymore (because why feel uncomfortable when you can just buy the right size … and also, who needs hard pants anyway? days?) And I donated an impressive number of Hollister sweaters that I accumulated working there in college (and stopped wearing years ago). But when I came across a half-empty bottle of green fabric dye, I bought when I tinkered with a Bring it on Uniform of clovers for Halloween four years ago, I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t want to destroy it, but I wasn’t sure about my other options.

This dye falls into the cloudy category of items that you will feel weird giving away, but be aware that they are still good enough to use. I have a number of items like this, as well as items that I know have no more lives, but I still don’t want to send them to landfill. For example, items like underwear that are either too small, too shredded, or too stained with blood. The last few months have sent me down the path of trying to find a home for odds and ends that I no longer need without throwing them in the trash. And through this process, I realized that there is a home for everything.

The last few months have sent me down the path of trying to find a home for odds and ends that I no longer need without throwing them in the trash. I have come to realize that there is a home for everything.

Liesel Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller understood this when they launched the first group Buy Nothing, a hyper-local gift economy, in their community of Bainbridge Island, Washington in July 2013. “We need to reduce, reuse, recycle, but how if we “refuse” first – refuse to buy? Asks Clark, who is also an environmental filmmaker for National Geographic and PBS.

We produce a lot of waste. According to the latest data available from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans produced 292.4 million tonnes of waste in 2018, or about five pounds per person per day. About a quarter of this waste has been recycled. Plastics, which are notoriously under-recycled, accounted for around 4.5% of recycled items, while they accounted for just over 12% of total waste produced. But while there is clearly room for improvement in the recycling department, this is not an individual solution for waste generation. “Turning down” new items, as Clark puts it, and finding ways to reduce waste generation is what can most significantly help reduce those numbers – and Buy Nothing is an initiative that aims to achieve that goal.

Buy Nothing groups exist primarily on Facebook, but the organization is also launching a location-based app in May (you can join the waitlist here). Buy Nothing allows users to share when they are looking for an item they would like to receive or an item they would like to part with. For example, consider the resealable bags that flour tortillas often go into. “I washed them, saved them, and posted 20 at a time. Lo and behold, there was a woman who absolutely wanted them, ”says Clark.

I joined my local Buy Nothing Facebook group in February, and found neighbors looking to get rid of everything from air conditioners and wine racks to a Vitamix blender that sometimes leaks oil but can be all yours “if you’re willing to clean up and fix this problem.” Someone quickly pointed out that his girlfriend wanted a blender for smoothies and wanted a new project.

So I wrote my first post: I was able to find a home for some unused beauty supplies, more than delicately used gel nail polish, a cork board, and that half-empty bottle of green fabric dye. The exercise helped me realize how simple reducing waste generation can be with just a little bit of dedicated research and effort.

There is even a use for all things that appear to be absolute garbage. Animal shelters are always on the lookout for old sheets, towels, and yoga mats. Knickey will take your old underwear (via a free shipping label), recycle it, and give you a new pair in return. Free the Girls accepts used second-hand bras (also via a free shipping label) and gives them to survivors of sex trafficking. The North Face will take your used hiking boots (just drop them off at a store), recycle them, and give you $ 10 towards your next $ 100 purchase. And art teachers will happily take some of your recyclables for projects – Clark found the gallery near her loved to get those foam trays that come with meat and fish and empty yogurt containers for the Arts and crafts.

If figuring out which organizations take which products sounds like work, that’s because it is. While throwing things in the trash is a reflex, developing lasting habits and stopping to think “could this have some other use?” requires mental muscle, many of us are not used to exercise. Clark confirms that changing your mindset takes thought, creativity, and dedication – but isn’t that the least you can offer?

“Remember, everything has value, everything,” she said. “Everything is made of one material, whether it’s wood, glass, plastic, metal, rubber, paper or textiles. There is a place where everything can go, ultimately, and hopefully be either reused or recycled. “

This change of habit also requires time and space. For example, I get a lot of packages for work, and if I held all the gift boxes for reuse, my apartment would look like a scene from Hoarding: Buried alive. And if I tried to offer them as and when I received them, managing the location of the boxes would become a full-time job. So make a commitment to do what you can; examine your habits and see where you can consciously and sustainably reduce your waste production, remembering that waste really is someone else’s treasure.

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