Become More Sustainable at Home with the Three Rs
It’s a mantra that many of us are familiar with: Reduce, reuse, recycle. But did you know these three words are actually in that order for a special reason? They form part of the waste hierarchy, an order of priority for use of resources and an essential tool in the fight for sustainability. The big focus has always been on recycling, but it’s actually the third ‘R’ that should be the next alternative after reducing and reusing.
So how can you better incorporate the Three Rs into your daily life? Here are our tips for each step to help you become more sustainable at home.
The first and most important step towards better sustainability!
Ultimately one of the best things we can do to become more sustainable is simply buy less. Before you reach for your wallet, think seriously about whether you really need something. If in doubt, go without and see if you can make do with what you already own.
Cut down on packaging
Every year, UK households generate a total of 1.7 million tons of plastic waste, and in the US plastic waste amounts to around 106kg per person, per year. Reducing your plastic and other packaging waste is a relatively easy way to become more sustainable at home.
Start by choosing package-free loose produce and other bulk products and use your own bags or other containers if possible. If something isn’t available loose or to buy in bulk, look for it packaged in cardboard or paper instead of plastic. Cheese and meat bought from the counter are also often still sold wrapped in paper, instead of plastic and Styrofoam in the fridge.
Body care and cosmetics are some of the worst packaging offenders. Instead of body wash, shampoo and hand soap in plastic bottles, go for soap bars—there’s even special bar soap gentle enough for your face.
Speaking of body care, so much of our personal care items are now also disposable. Face wipes, cotton pads, menstrual products and baby wipes are all single-use items that clog up both our sewers and landfills. Switch these out for environmentally friendly reusable items like flannel cloths and menstrual cups. Make paper cups, plastic plates and throwaway cutlery a thing of the past by using what’s in your kitchen at picnics and barbecues. If you must use disposable products, choose eco-friendly options that can be composted instead of recycled or thrown away.
Reducing paper usage is an easily overlooked but great step towards better sustainability at home. Did you know that most receipts aren’t recyclable? Or that each year the equivalent of 100 million trees is sent to US households as junk mail? Whether its receipts, catalogues, or letters from your bank, go paperless whenever you can. Now is the time to take up that long-awaited fight against junk mail!
Now that you’ve minimized, it’s time to maximize what you have!
Transition to reusables (that you already own)
Being sustainable shouldn’t require you to buy all new stuff. Cut up some old towels to use in place of plastic sponges and paper towels. Use clean, empty jars for food storage in and out of the fridge. Instead of using plastic wrap to cover a dish, put a plate on top. Trendy organic cotton shopping bags need to be reused 20,000 times to make up for the environmental impact of their production; reuse the plastic shopping bags you probably already have in a closet at home instead.
Buy second hand
It takes an estimated 10,000 liters of water to make one pair of jeans, and depending on where it was produced, immeasurable human cost. Buying clothes used instead of new lowers demand for cheap clothing, reducing exploitation of natural resources and people. It also saves perfectly good items from the landfill, and vintage and older pieces often last much longer than clothing produced today.
But it’s not only clothes that you can and should buy second hand. The appetite for “fast furniture” that is cheaply made and difficult to repair means that around 12 million tons of furniture gets thrown away in the US every year. Older furniture, cookware, and even lamps and other decorations were built to be passed down through generations. Check out your nearest secondhand shops and you’ll be surprised at what you find.
Master DIY and learn to sew
Another way to stem the urge to buy new while maximizing what you have is by learning a few DIY skills, including sewing. Learn to darn holes in socks, patch up torn clothing colorfully or inconspicuously, and don’t throw away those extra buttons! Tired clothing and furniture can be given a fresh face with a little dye or paint, and if you feel confident in your tinkering skills there are endless guides online on how to upcycle both.
Invest in what you own
If something is broken or stained and your best DIY skills just aren’t cutting it, take it to a professional. Old clothing can be professionally cleaned, and mended or adjusted by a tailor, giving them a new lease on life. Shoes can also be brought to a cleaner or cobbler. And believe it or not, there are also still people around who can fix your old electronics, boost your old laptop, and repair your refrigerator.
Perfect for all those loose ends you’d normally throw out, there are plenty of different crafty activities for adults, and of course kids. Handmade upcycled items make unique gifts that also give others the opportunity to think about sustainability in their own lives.
What you should aim to do with anything that can’t be reused.
Sometimes it’s not possible to completely forego all non-reusables, so when possible choose items with packaging that is easily recycled in your area. Make sure items are properly cleaned and sorted before putting them in the bin.
Try recycling at the supermarket
In some areas, your supermarket will collect recycling that is difficult to dispose of otherwise, like plastic bags, shrink wrap, and lightbulbs. Remove products from their packaging and recycle them before leaving the supermarket, or just bring it back the next time you go shopping.
Don’t throw away electronics!
It’s easy to end up with a drawer full of old or broken smartphones, charger cables, and batteries. It’s tempting to just throw these away, but not only do they contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment, they also have precious metals that can and should be recycled. Ask about electronics and battery recycling at your local electronics store.
Maybe you’re not yet ready to try going totally zero waste, but incorporating these tips at home where possible will set you well on your way to leading a more sustainable and eco-conscious lifestyle. Sustainability isn’t all-or-nothing, and every little bit helps!