Get Real About “Reuse”

As a kid I learned about the “3 Rs” of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. When I decided to attempt a zero waste home, I learned about Bea Johnson’s “5 Rs” of her zero waste home: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. I also like Kathryn of Going Zero Waste’s modification to this rule.

Reusing an item is a great way to cut down on your household clutter, your waste/garbage and help the earth.

If you buy/make a high-quality item that is meant to be reused over and over again, that’s one thing. But here’s the question: is intentionally bringing something into your home with the wish or hope to reuse it “someday” that helpful to your life or the planet?

That greasy plastic takeout container? Don’t accept it in the first place if you can help it. Sure you might wash it and keep it for some imagined perfect use. You would use it giving leftovers to a friend! Bringing food to share at work! To corral small items in your office/playroom/garage? Pinterest ideas abound.

I used to get caught up in “it’s better than nothing!” And it is. Sort of. Maybe.

How often do you actually grab the things you’ve designated for “someday” reuse? How often do you take a look at your “reuse for later” piles and end up eventually – possibly after years of collecting – tossing them in the trash or recyling anyway? I am definitely guilty of this practice.

And speaking of guilt – that’s basically what this is all about. I feel guilty that I’ve acquired some single-use item, so I keep it in the hopes that I’ll reuse it.

Reusing stuff that is designed to be used only once or only a few times just isn’t sustainable. For the planet or for your home and life. I tried for years to be eco-friendly by saving and reusing. But I ended up with overflowing bins and bags of… bags and other materials.

On the other hand, reusing things is one way to respect that item even if it was designed and intended to be used only once and discarded. There are items like rubber bands from produce or the occasional paper (or even plastic!) bag that I get at the grocery store that I don’t want to use only once. Because I respect the item. I’ll reuse it until it cannot be reused any more. But that’s only possible recently because I’m bringing in fewer of these single use items.

So, what can we do?

First, we can get real with ourselves about what we can actually feasibly reuse in our lives. If you know you grab takeout from the same restaurant once a week, bring utensils with you. Bring a bag to carry it back to your home or office with you. Bring a takeout container if you can. If you run into trouble getting a restaurant or cafe to put something in a container for you, simply order it “for here” and transfer it from their (hopefully real/reusable) plate to your container.

My family can’t possibly reuse all the single-use bags we would acquire at the grocery store in our lifetime, so we bring our own bags. We bring our own kit of eco-friendly things to help us avoid typical single-use items like plastic utensils and disposable cups. We try to return things to their original owners for reuse (farms/stores) or even find someone else who will reuse better than we can like a school.

If you do get stuck with a plastic fork, sure, reuse it until you can’t anymore. But trying as hard as possible to avoid that plastic fork by finding an alternative is ultimately a better choice for your home (no more overflowing bags of bags under the sink!) and definitely the planet. Because even if you reuse that plastic disposable fork 100 times, it’ll still be sitting in a landfill for a million years. Give or take.

I am still learning how to navigate in a world that isn’t zero waste. I bring “trash” into my home more than I’d like. So, let’s help each other! Share in the comments here or on Instagram your confessions and your solutions and ideas for single-use items that we may not be able to avoid all the time!

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