Following up from my post on new years resolutions to make a difference, I wanted to talk a bit more about resolution number 2: reduce, reuse, recycle. Whilst on the face of it these seem pretty simple things to do, and ones we kind of all think we’re doing a bit of anyway, I’m going to say that really trying to live by the three R’s is just a little harder than you might expect. One of the main reasons it can be hard is that there aren’t many companies, products or services that make it easy for us to change our habbits. Those that do exist aren’t necessarily mainstream and so it can make it difficult to access them.
I hope that by sharing some ideas on the three R’s it’ll help kickstart us all into changing our habits and say, jog on mainstream, we want less packaging, recyclable packaging, compostable packaging, products made for life, products made with natural friendly things not environment damaging things!! (If you watched Trashed which was on my list of films from new years resolution number one, I have no doubt you’ll be right behind me on this one!)
Firstly, reduce. It’s sounds so mean and horrible. Why should I cut back on the things I like? I work hard, why shouldn’t I be able to buy the things I want and enjoy myself. Well, I think we all have a responsibility to consider the impact our lives have on the planet. Its not easy to make changes to your lifestyle, its not particularly convenient, especially when it seems that everyone else around you is just going about business as usual. However I wouldn’t necessarily say that reduce is about doing without, giving up or having to feel hard done by, its more about getting rid of excess.
I’ve been trying a few simple things that I hope will help get me into the reduce mind set. My plan is that by starting off small, it seems manageable and that small successes will inspire me to keep making bigger and bigger changes to reduce my consumption.
One easy way to starting reducing is to buy things without packaging. Say, switching from shower gel to soap. Its so simple! But if you think about it, why buy something in a bottle that needs producing and transporting, then transporting and recycling, and producing and transporting again. It makes no sense! Companies like Faith in Nature and Lush make soaps you can buy unpackaged and before you panic they’re gentle on your skin and more often than not, vegan. Try and switch to as many products as you can that don’t come in packaging and watch the size of your rubbish sack reduce over the months.
There are so many examples of similar ways to reduce on things, mainly packaging, so here are some further suggestions:
- Never, ever, ever get a plastic bag when shopping -you know you hate them as much as I do! Take a reusable bag : )
- Buy dried foods in big quantities. Say, 500g instead of 50g or 5kg instead of 1kg. It generally means you get less packaging and as it’ll last and last it won’t go off and go to waste.
- Being a member of a veg box scheme generally means you get less packaging than you would buying the same food in a supermarket. Likewise shopping at a local market or green grocers means you can pick unpackaged products and of course use your own reusable shopping bag.
- Refill your Ecover cleaning products instead of buying new bottles each time.
- Buy quality, durable products. These may be more expensive initially but they will outlast cheaper, poorer quality products and therefore avoid going to landfill. Also if you keep opting for the more durable, expensive option you’ll be forced to consider whether you do really want to part with your money for it. You’ll have to ask yourself, do i actually need this!
This is a really nice R. It’s essentially recognising that all those things we already love doing are good! Think buying second hand, vintage, being crafty reusing and adapting things to give them a second lease of life.
When I moved into my flat almost a year ago, I managed to resist a visit to the temptress that is that yellow and blue warehouse and avoid buying loads of cheap stuff I thought I needed. Instead I sat back, making do with what I had until some second hand gems found their way into my home, slowly filling up any furniture gaps. Plus it meant that looking round vintage and charity shops was never in vein, looking for stuff to buy for the sake of it. I had my furniture items in mind and over the months I’ve ended up finding most of the things I needed without having to buy anything new.
Take this tiny second hand chair, it found its way into my flat by chance and I thought, this tiny chair is the perfect height for a bedside table! It has indeed made the perfect table for my bedside lamp (which is an antique bottle with a lamp fitting popped into the top) and bedtime reads. (Ok so not all of my books are second hand but you get the idea!)
This is my trusty trunk. I found this gem and gave it a sand and a lick of new paint and now it makes itself useful by providing me with some extra storage and as a little table for my cacti collection.
So reusing things can be pretty darn awesome! But it can also be applied on a more day to day basis. For example, this year I have been reusing food bags that some of my leafy greens occasionally come in. They can be given a rinse, dried out and used again a hundred times over, yet normally we just use them once and throw them away, insane! On that same note take foil, I buy recycled foil and try to use it pretty sparingly but even then its crazy to think of all the energy used to make something that is used just once. So now I give it a little rinse under the tap and use it as many times as I can before recycling it again. Oh yes and take plastic shopping bags. Oh my loathing for them and the powers that be for not banning them!!! If you insist on getting one, just empty your shopping out of it, scrunch it up real small, put it in your pocket then next time you go to the shop, you don’t need to get another one!
Recycling has proved much more complex than I imagined. Mainly because I thought I was already recycling. But then I really looked at everything I was putting in the bin and at everything I was recycling and it seemed that I was far from perfect. It appears I have been confused by an unclear system of labels and symbols!
Some of the things I’d thought weren’t recyclable turned out to be and some things I’d expected to be recyclable weren’t. So here is my mini guide to the confusion that is recycling symbols.
This first symbol is a sneaky one. The best thing you can do in the UK when you see this symbol, is ignore it!
It does not mean the packaging can be recycled or that it is made from recycled material. It is actually a trade mark and has no specific meaning for UK customers. Confusing huh! In Europe the symbol is used to enable a packaging producer to demonstrate that they have paid into the recycling and recovery of a proportion of their packaging at the end of its lifetime. It can be found on products here in the UK because the same packaging/ product is sold elsewhere in Europe.
These symbols are meant to simply indicate whether the packaging is recyclable or not. The left one showing it is generally recyclable and the right one showing it generally isn’t. So at a quick glance when buying the product you’ve got a good idea about the packagings recyclability. So this is a good one to look out for. However, this generalised system technically means that either symbol may or may not be able to be recycled, it depends on what facilities you have available to you locally.
The one on the left, depending on accompanying text can mean that anywhere from 20 – 75% of people have access to recycling facilities for this packaging. The one on the right with the cross through it means that less than 20% of people have access to recycling facilities. Most local authorities are doing more to improve the range of materials they can offer recycling for but you will need to check what your door step collections offer and what other recycling facilities are available to you at local recycling centres. On that note one good thing most large supermarkets can offer you is recycling points for plastic bags and things like batteries, printer ink cartridges etc. So my advice would be check out what you can recycle locally and keep this in the back of your mind when shopping.
This last one is a plastic recycling symbol. Depending on the type of plastic there will be a different number inside the triangle. Again whilst it technically means that the plastic is recyclable whether you have access to the recycling facilities that can recycle it is another question. So once again my advice is to check what plastics you can recycle either on your door step collection, at your local recycling centre or at other recycling points at supermarkets etc.
Told you recycling was kind of complicated!
I hope this helps point out why it is key to follow the three R’s in the reduce, reuse, recycle order. If we can reduce our excess consumption (often in the form of packaging), reuse what we do have until its completely worn out and only then recycle what we’re left with, we know that we are doing our best to minimise the chances of things going to landfill. The more we opt for no/ minimal packaging, or compostable packaging, the more it will show companies that, this is what we want. Then they’ll have to listen up!