Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. 
-New England proverb

In my last blog I outlined the idea of reducing our intake of goods, buying only what we really need. Now I want to take things a step further. Even with minimal purchases, there are still things that we must have to live. The good news is that even when buying and using these things there are still ways that we can minimize our impact on the planet. This is where we run into the concept of reuse. In the following picture, I have compiled a collection of items in which I encourage everyone to acquire. These items may not be in the "necessary" category outline previously, but you'll understand in a moment why they are the exception to the rule.

These items can do over and over again what others can do just once, and by doing so they reduce our need to consume the items that they substitute. Take the water filter and bottle for example. I purchased these items that are indeed made of plastic and therefore seemingly "ungreen." But in the course of the past two years, these two items have replaced my need for countless bottled waters. A few years ago I started reusing my water bottles after I had finished the original water from them. I quickly stopped this practice when I learned that reusing these bottles threatens the purity of the water as chemicals from the plastic actually begin to leach into the water. With my home filter, I am able to purify my otherwise terrible tasting tap water, without much energy or waste. According to the All About Water website, "At this point in time, there is simply no better choice- for purity and economy- than filtered water."
Reusable shopping bags work in a similar way. They replace the need for countless plastic bags, and as a bonus they can hold more goods than traditional plastic bags and they swing over your shoulder for easier transport. Reusable lunch boxes save the need for paper lunch sacs and washable kitchen cloths saves the need for rolls of paper towels.
Even school supplies can be reused. Each year before classes start, I go through my old binders and notebooks, take out what I no longer need, and reuse them for the next semester. My roommate once teased me because I didn't want to concede and take a folder to the recycling bin. I had used it for so long, it had repairs on every edge and even the repairs themselves were coming apart. If every paper folder purchased at the beginning of a school year were reused, even just once, think of how many trees we would be able to leave in nature instead of turning them into pulp. I still have yet to find a good alternative for paper, except maybe utilizing the Internet more. Even still, some things just need to be in hard copy. One move I can be sure to make though is ensuring that I'm printing on both sides of my paper.
My favorite type of reusing is crafting, which I plan to devote an entire entry to in a few weeks. My second favorite is shopping. But other than my shopping bag how can I support reuse while shopping? Second hand stores. Many of my favorite outfits have had previous owners. These clothes may no longer work for the ones who originally bought them, but I love coming home with fun finds from the local thrift shop. By doing so I am keeping these items from being destined to landfills. I once went to a concert wearing a sparkly black dress no one could ever have guessed had been found in the back of a Goodwill store. The best part about these stores is that there are so many fun (and funny) things to try on, all of it is quite affordable, and you are helping the environment by reusing the materials rather than allowing them to be thrown away.
There are so many things that can be reused if we just get a bit creative. Some things can't be reused, but that is where recycling becomes important. Every time you try to throw something away or buy something new, ask yourself if there is an alternative that would allow you to reuse something already in the cycle of consumption rather than adding to the necessity for the use of more virgin materials.

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