The Refuse, Reuse and Rot steps of zero waste are actually pretty easy to take on and implement in your home early on in your zero waste venture:
- Refuse is a mindset that can start instantly (rejecting plastic grocery bags, receipts, avoid unnecessary printing at work, etc.);
- Reuse comes easily just with buying a few things to get you started and going from there (reusable grocery bags, lunch bags, food storage, etc.);
- Rot only requires that you buy the essentials for compost and just get started (post coming soon with details – but we do Bokashi composting).
I see these first few steps as the ‘first level’ of zero waste. You could easily take these three things on and these three things only, and be leaps and bounds above the average person and their consuming habits. You could live the rest of your life practicing these things and know that you’re a positive non-contributor to our wasteful consumer society.
The ‘second level’ requires a much higher and in-depth level of commitment when it comes to zero waste, but I believe that it truly separates those who are up for just the quick and easy “this is the best I can manage right now” compared to those who have a vested interest in altering their lifestyle, and the way in which they relate to the environment, their home, their consumerism, and the impact their existence has on the planet. This is not to say that the first level of zero waste is not a good step because of course it is! It’s just not being fully committed to the cause. And more than that (and as unfortunate as it may be to say it out loud) it’s a willingness to continue on in life in the business-as-usual way that most people do, outside of these few small adjustments, largely because at a surface level it seems easier that committing ourselves to something bigger.
I’m even guilty of the business-as-usual at times; the oh-so-easy laziness of our consumerist culture. Case in point, there’s a boba tea place near Dan’s parent’s house that I haven’t broken my addiction from…and I hate to admit that though I don’t go there ALL that often, I allow it to be okay that I order my mango green tea with boba in a disposable plastic cup with a disposable plastic straw in a disposable plastic wrapper…I don’t beat myself up for it, but at the same time I recognize that it doesn’t work with the lifestyle I’m trying to commit to. And the really dirty truth is I’m just not ready to give it up yet.
But boba tea aside, the second level of zero waste it making a deeper assessment of your daily consuming and purchasing habits. I see this second, and longer-term, level as the Reduce and Recycle steps of the 5 R’s.
Reduce can be both short term and long term. Short term, you can do an initial assessment of your household, and minimize and eliminate things that you clearly don’t use, don’t have a use for, or you actually don’t need. This is quick and dirty, makes you feel great that you’re taking another step toward being a minimalist, and that you’re donating what’s collecting dust in your household to somewhere or someone that will hopefully get more use from it.
The long term Reduce is the one that requires some commitment. The easiest way to accomplish long-term reducing is to get a sense of when you think they next time is that you’ll go out and buy something. Examples of things like this that I’ve transitioned over the last few months are shampoo, conditioner and body wash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, laundry detergent, dish soap, and makeup. Here are the steps I took to make the transition for these items, some of which are still in progress:
- I started by doing the research up front to determine a better alternative to my typical purchasing habits (e.g. bar shampoo and conditioner, bar soap, homemade toothpaste, bamboo toothbrushes, homemade laundry detergent, bar dish soap).
- While doing this research, I continue/d to use and/or make my way through what I had already purchased.
- When I got/get close to using up my old products, I bought backups of my new products to replace them with.
- When the old product is gone, I start using the new product.
This might seem like a pretty obvious way to go about making these kinds of transitions, though when I first started doing all this research on zero waste I personally had to resist the urge to throw out or throw away all of the old, bad, plastic, wasteful products I had around my house. As nice as it would be to start with a clean slate once you’ve been enlightened with a better way to consume, it’s not feasible for your wallet or the environment to go about it this way. You instead have to allow yourself to slowly make the transition, bit-by-bit over to a zero waste lifestyle.
You may also run across things that you can’t find an initial solution for, either based on location (city) or the type of home you currently live in (apartment, condo, etc.). Corn is a good example for us because husked corn produces too much waste living in an apartment with our small bucket Bokashi compost system (husk and rind would be too much too often for us). We’ve decided that until we find an alternative either for composting or for buying corn, we’re going to continue to buy it in bulk, frozen in a plastic bag. We have a long LONG term solution (really a dream at this point), to do large-scale composting in our backyard with home-grown corn in our vegetable garden when we have a house of our own…but that’s 3-5 or more years away right not. With items like this, we have to regrettably accept our situation until we find that alternative, or buy our first home.
Okay enough on Reduce, though Recycle is this same kind of mentality. The quick mindset for Recycle is to avoid plastic packaging whenever possible. Choose no packaging and reusable bags when you can, and when you can’t opt for glass or metal (and more specifically stainless steel). The basic reasoning for this, which I’ll go into in more detail in a later post, is that the recycling life cycle of plastic pales in comparison to glass or metal.
The long term solution for recycling is again to constantly assess what you’re putting into the recycling bin, and look for alternatives where you can. In an ideal world, you would reach a point where your recycling doesn’t have any plastic in it and is minimized down to only those things that you can’t buy package-free.
So that’s my out-the-gate perspective. I’m curious to hear yours, or how you first attempted to tackle the 5 R’s?
Also, because I’ve made it a theme to put cat photos in with all my posts, here’s Feta watching Friends with me the other day…she’s adorable, I’m obsessed, and I’m not ashamed!
The featured image was found through a “Refuse Reduce Reuse Recycle Rot” Google search. The image is from teensturninggreenblog.wordpress.com