Use it or lose it, the saying goes — but why only once? Learning how to “reuse” might be the next step if going zero-waste is one broad goal. Many of the products we use regularly weren’t intended to be harmful. But most of them are. In today’s world, we produce about 300 million tons of plastic waste every year. Changing how we think about reusable products could significantly affect our environment.
Reusing involves the basic knowledge of what is worth saving and what’s not. Ultimately, the payoff, in the long run, is worth it. Consistent reusable efforts could decrease pollution rates, minimize garbage in landfills, decrease CO2 emissions, and reduce the amount of ocean waste.
How can you make the process doable, practical, and simple? Baby steps are best when changing habits. So start small and develop a routine. It may take practice and close attention. But, once the habit forms, you’re in the clear. We’ve compiled a list of some alternative items you can start with. You might be surprised that some of these are already in your home.
Use glass jars and other reusable containers
How about a new place to keep those detergents or liquid soaps? Well, glass jars do the trick. It’s common for most store-bought things to come packaged in plastic containers. One way around this? Buy liquids as-is using your reusable packaging. Depending on where you live, many stores worldwide — including in cities like London, Barcelona, and Berlin —participate in the zero-waste movement by providing liquid household items that can be bought in bulk. All you have to do is bring empty containers and fill them up. If you live in the U.S., here’s a helpful chart organized by individual states that can steer you in the right direction.
Use multi-use bags in place of plastic
Carrying loads of plastic bags from the grocery store is already a pain. Worse, when you arrive home and unload, the bags end up in the trash or the recycling bin. This is pretty good if you have a storage bin to collect them for future use. But if you’re going steady with the reuse revolution, you can take it a step further by buying cloth or reusable bags you bring when you shop. Some stores that participate in sustainable causes may even have some reward system. Some places worldwide encourage this by charging for plastic bags to reduce their use.
Replace disposable diapers and napkins with cotton or cloth
Have you got a baby on board? Well, you’ve probably got diapers on board, too. Babies do mean well, but disposable diaper use could harm the environment much more than we think. During their first two years of life, babies use about 6,000 diapers, resulting in 3.6 million tons of waste. And disposable diapers are estimated to take at least 500 years to decompose. To minimize this, you can buy bulk reusable cotton or cloth diapers. While this means a lot more laundry, it can save you money while reducing your environmental impact.
Also, paper napkins are standard in the average household. Replacing these with cloth alternatives might make your laundry loads a bit thicker, but it amounts to much less waste in the long run.
Use silicone straws instead of plastic
In recent years, silicone straws have made good strides as the new alternative to plastic straws. In many restaurants, silicone straws have even become the norm. This is an excellent thing, considering where most plastic straw waste ends up in the ocean. Plastic straws have been deemed one of the top 10 contributors to ocean debris build-up worldwide. And during a recent five-year period, billions of plastic straws were found along the world’s coastlines — significantly harming marine wildlife.
Next time you head out for dinner or a night out on the town, stick some silicone straws in a pocket and pull them out before you take a sip of your beverage. A little goes a long way.
Keep rechargeable batteries on-hand
Batteries make the world go round. Flashlights around the house in case of emergencies? How about your child’s toys that never seem to shut off? Cordless power tools. Remotes. Clocks. The list goes on. As humans, we depend on battery power. But this isn’t particularly good for the environment. When tossed in landfills, the toxic metals and elements in batteries are seeping back into the earth. Investing in rechargeable batteries is a great way to reduce the harmful effects of traditional battery waste. These days, there’s a rechargeable battery option for just about any size or battery voltage. Check your local electronic store or search for sustainable brands that may carry them.
Use old newspapers to clean windows
It’s an age-old adage, but our elders may have been right about reusing newspapers for cleaning purposes. Specifically: windows. What do you need? White vinegar and water. The theory holds that the solvents in the ink paired with the highly absorbent, dense fibers in the paper make them effective cleaners. When used to clean windows, it’s believed that the soy-based ink absorbs the liquid instead of just pushing it around, making it less likely to leave streaks or scratches. Aside from cleaning windows, the newspaper also makes a great wrapping paper alternative and is terrific for packing fragile dishware when moving or traveling.
Replace plastic water bottles with reusable, non-plastic
Water. We all need it. But our ecosystem could use a bit less of the plastic that it’s usually stored in. An estimated 80 percent of plastic water bottles end up in landfills. And it takes up to 1,000 years for each of these bottles to decompose. Not to mention, hormone-disrupting chemicals such as BPA can also be found in the plastic that water is packaged in. This can potentially lead to harmful hormonal imbalances. If you’re on board the “reuse” train, try buying BPA-free reusable bottles for drinking water and other non-plastic containers that can be used limitlessly.
Reuse dryer sheets for dust rags or basic cleaning
After a good laundry wash cycle, adding dryer sheets before you switch on the dryer is the cherry atop the sundae. But what happens to them when the load is done? Instead of tossing these in the trash, you can reuse them for cleaning up around the home. Remove water spots from your coffee table. Shine the chrome in your kitchen. Dust surfaces. Remove soap scum off the bathroom tile. This can all be done with old dryer sheets. They’re typically relatively thin, so you may have to double up. But they’re also sturdy and don’t rip easily.
Also, if you’re looking for a handy, sustainable, no-mess alternative to traditional laundry detergent, may we recommend our own SaltyLama eco-friendly laundry strips?