Why “reduce” is the most important “R” word.

Image by Maryan (one bored chica) | flickr.com

Image by Maryan (one bored chica) | flickr.com

We're all familiar with the three R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But it seems we've become much more accepting of the “Recycle” option. And granted, this allows us to maintain the same lifestyle as before, except we choose a different coloured waste bin. It's easy to justify purchasing single-use items such as water bottles and sandwich/freezer bags when I can say “I know these aren’t great for the environment but at least I’ll recycle it!”. This is not to say that recycling isn’t great we have saved tonnes of garbage from going to landfills by recycling and reusing the “waste”. Especially in the case of aluminum cans, recycling can be economically and environmentally sustainable.

Bottled Water. Justifying the purchase of bottled water with the fact that I will recycle it after a single use falls into the same misconceptions. It is all too easy to forget the fossil fuel and resource demands that initially went into the plastic bottle housing that sip of water which was only used once before being tossed. And even if plastics do end up in recycling plants rather than the landfill, the recycling process is energy demanding and can be harmful to our environment itself.

A paradigm shift: From Recycle to Reduce/Reuse. Where I can really make a difference to my impact on our only livable planet is by shifting this recycle paradigm to the other R-words. Rather than justifying unsustainable purchases with the option to recycle, first ask, can I reduce the use of this item? Do I need to store this in a Ziplock bag? Maybe I could use glass containers and reduce or eliminate my use of plastic bags all together! What other common disposable items can be reduced or reused with a little effort?

A new slogan: Eliminate, Reduce, Reuse. This approach will help us to err on the side of environmental sustainability (see what I did there?). The key to eliminating the production and presence of these items in our lives is simple: just don’t buy them. Of course some of these purchases are unavoidable in our busy lives. But I try to think about how that item could be re-used when I find myself reaching for that plastic-housed product. Selecting glass containers instead of plastic for common items can allow for more re-use options down the line as well.

Here are 3 ways to eliminate your use of common recycled products:

  1. Be prepared. Have reusable, light, stainless steel water bottles and coffee mugs at the ready. I recommend keeping a water jug in the refrigerator and adding ice to the bottle before heading out. Here and here are some creative ways to reuse water bottles!
  2. BYOB. Shop at a farmers market and bring your own bag. Plus you'll get the benefit of connecting with local farmers and enjoying fresh produce!
  3. Bonus: Homemade Iced Tea Recipe. Here’s a recipe for my favourite homemade iced tea! It's completely fool proof and you can experiment with different flavours. This has helped us eliminate pop and juice containers as well as cut back on our sugar consumption.
  • 6 tea bags (I recommend a combination of fruit teas, hibiscus, and green tea)
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 2 L ice water
  • 1/4 cups honey
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon, ginger, cardamom or other spices of choice
  • seasonal fruit slices
    1. Add boiling water to tea bags and honey in heat-proof glass pitcher and let steep ~10 min.
    2. Add ice water, spices and fruit and let cool over night in refrigerator. Enjoy!

Writing this article has helped to remind me that the next time I reach for a convenience item to think twice about whether I really need it and how I might reuse that “one-time-use” container. Here are some additional tips on how to reuse common food containers. Happy eliminating, reducing & reusing!

This article was originally published via Sustainable Collective, which has since merged with The Starfish Canada.