Reuse Revolution

As you welcome 2009, do you find yourself fretting over your new batch of resolutions? Do you have some saved from last year’s ambitious list?

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, might I suggest one more item for the list? This is one that you can commit to for, well, let’s start with the year, but let’s hope it’s one that sticks forever: find ways to embrace reuse in every facet of your life.

We have all heard the mantra of “reduce, reuse and recycle” used over and over again, but it is important to understand what these terms really mean in order to comprehend fully why “reuse” is such a crucial part of the three R’s.

While recycling is an excellent way to reduce how much waste ends up in a landfill, it can be an energy-intensive process that produces lower-quality or “downcycled” goods, especially with regard to plastics. Furthermore, recycling often requires the use of chemicals or fossil fuels for transport and/or process materials.

These qualities make “reduction and reuse” the royal “R’s” in the environmental stewardship trilogy. Reusing items is often what makes reduction possible, and it eliminates unnecessary recycling. Making a commitment to reuse will not only save you time, but also money and the planet’s resources. Here are some ideas for jump-starting your reuse resolution this New Year:

Take Stock

Keep track of the amount of waste you generate on a weekly basis. How much recycling and garbage is coming out of your household, and of this waste, what could be reused or reduced? Once you have determined areas for improvement, set some tangible goals. Perhaps those three bags of waste can become one, or maybe those disposable plastic water bottles will find their status downgraded to that of unwelcome guests.

Modern lunch boxes take reuse down the road of style -

Modern lunch boxes take reuse down the road of style -

Pack Your Own

You have probably heard of the so-called “latte factor,” which is the amount of money you spend on your daily dose of caffeine. Why not take your hot beverages to work with you in your own reusable mugs? While you’re at it, pack your lunch in reusable containers too. You’ve just done away with an expenditure of at least $12/day by my uncertified public accounting, not to mention the cups, lids and plastic to-go containers that will no longer be your personal landfill legacy.

Buy in Bulk

Much of the waste we generate comes from excess packaging. Bring your own bags and containers, and purchase products in bulk, or in concentrated form, whenever possible. More and more stores are offering items from shampoo to olive oil in bulk (just don’t confuse the two!). These kinds of purchases are almost always less expensive, and stores often offer a discount when you bring your own containers.

The Trend of Thrift

One of the best places to find items for reuse is at your local thrift store. From clothing to furniture, thrift stores are an inexpensive and eco-friendly place to nab just the right new-to-you item.

Shop at Home

Before any outing that may involve a potential purchase, be sure to check your house thoroughly for the items you need.  Items from tape to picture frames can often be found lurking in a box in the closet or the murky “everything” drawer in the kitchen.

To avoid impulse buying, consider if a purchase is necessary for at least a week before taking the plunge. In the meantime, look throughout your house for alternatives that you may already own. Check out Real Simple’s column, New Uses for Old Things for ideas on creative conversions.

Obvious (I hope!) exception: If it’s a health staple like toothpaste or toilet paper, please do not let your commitment to reuse stand in the way of a necessary purchase, but be sure to buy the most environmentally friendly version (no chemicals, biodegradable, highest level of post-consumer recycled content, etc.).

Reuse Other People’s Stuff

Another great way to stave off the urge to shop and give yourself a great excuse to throw a party is to organize a swap with friends. Depending on your interests and needs, almost anything is fair game – clothes, books, toys and CDs are all popular items at a swap. Ask friends to bring some snackables and drinkables as well, and you will easily have yourself a fete, all without a new purchase. You can also check out the many swapping websites that easily and inexpensively allow members to swap books, CDs and DVDs online.

Free is the Magic Number

There are many ways to “shop” online without ever spending a dime. Websites such as Craigslist, Freecycle, and Freebootr have myriad free items that are yours for the taking.

Learn to Love Lending…

…and your neighbors. If you do find that you need a necessity such as a book or a tool, ask your friends if they have what you need first. As we all learned in the sandbox, sharing is a great way to extend and expand the use and variety of resources. Don’t forget about the library too; after all these years, it’s still a good place to find a book!

Lastly, resolve to share your progress with others; one of the most effective ways to inspire others is to share your success and excitement about the process.

Happy New Year – here’s to a healthier planet for all!

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  1. We’ve been hacking away at the reuse revolution over in blighty too. Don’t panic, our new site works wherever you are in the world and makes the whole process as easy as it can be. Please do try us out and tell us what you think, we’re all ears.

    The team.

  2. Great article! I particularly liked the Real Simple column you mentioned. LifeHacker also has some great articles about repurposing.

    There tends to be a lot of focus on recycling, but like you said it’s “an energy-intensive process”. Not only is reuse good for the environment, but in these tough economic times it can also relieve some pressure on your wallet. There are many opportunities to practice reuse in your daily life and some great resources to help you get started.

    Thanks also for the Freebootr mention!

  3. I have always been a “recycler” because my parents taught me how to be by setting examples. I love to “repurpose” things I already have rather than adding to our landfills and buying new. The challenge is fun. One of the things I repurposed was our son’s baby crib. It was never a good, sturdy one but I could never part with it. Three years ago I became a grandmother and once the baby outgrew the pack and play we had here for her I had to come up with a solution for a bed for her for when she’d stay the night. We don’t have a large house so I needed something compact. I turned our son’s crib into a “one of a kind” youth bed that is stronger than ever and fits in a corner of my bedroom. Why spend lots of money on a new youth bed made out of plastic? My daughter-in-law gave me the new crib mattress when our granddaughter went into a big bed. A few other things I repurposed recently was that I made a table for our deck out of an old window and a door and I also re-made a picket fence craft show yard decoration into a picket fence address sign for my front yard but adding old porch spindles on either side to give it more character. I picked up a demilune table (3 legged) at a garage sale for $10 that was without the drawer. I added a piece of beadboard from a paneling project for the bottom area that held the drawer and piece of “rope” wooden molding to the front edge. I painted it and it’s in my livingroom as a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture. We all need to get creative! I love having pieces of furniture no one else has. A friend of mine found an old chicken coop for free, cleaned it up and mounted it from the rafters in her basement and it now holds her crafting materials.

  4. a new upcomming site for free stuff is You see CL, FS and other listings all in one place with some helpful workflow and tools to make the process easier. It is too hard to find and give stuff away for free!

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  6. Check out if you’re interested in borrowing and lending items. My husband started the “Chicago’s Original North Side” group. There is also a “Chicago” group. Anyone can join and list items they’re willing to lend. You can search for items you’re looking to borrow and request them from the owner. The more people that sign up, the more items there will be to lend/borrow.

  7. Hubby and I went awhile without garbage service… During that time we inventoried our waste…. We got more into composting, we changed our shopping habits and recycled more and our waste went from a full 60 gallon container every week to two 32 gallon containers every 3 or 4 months minus the cat litter…… I now get compostable cat littter to compost (I learned the hard way to never flush the cat litter no matter what the bag says). So that rids alot of myy weight…. Now my garbage is picked up again and I put out a 60 gallon container once a month or garbage and a 60 gallon container of recyclables twice a month…..
    As far as free stuff from nieghbors…. Be sure to get thier permission or give them a heads up so they don’t feel trespassed and no feelings hurt…. fabric left overs I want to make a quilt… I reuse as much as possible and donate what I don’t need. Waste Not, Want not they say….

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