I am sure you have heard the expression “reduce, reuse, recycle.” That is a short-hand expression used by the environmentally hip to indicate the order in which you can and should act in regard to material things in order to help the environment.
- Reduce means to reduce how much you contribute to the waste stream. For example, use cloth diapers instead of disposable ones, or use a reusable steel bottle instead of buying water in plastic bottles, or buy products in bulk instead of in wasteful packaging. It also means to buy less, period. Just think of disposable anything as unacceptable (with very few exceptions), and you have a guideline that will help you a lot.
- Reuse means to take an existing item and use it again, possibly for another purpose. For example, take an old ceramic whatsit and create a planter out of it, or cut up old sheets to make napkins or curtains.
- Recycle means to take an item, crush it or melt it or whatever, then make something new out of it. For example, a lot of plastic bottles and bags are recycled into a large number of things.
There is one excellent, free way to reuse things. It is called freecycling. Here is how it works. You sign up for your local freecycling group. Then, when you have something you no longer want, something that you can’t or don’t want to sell because it isn’t likely to sell or it is too much trouble to sell, you post it as an offer on the freecycling list. Members of the freecycling group who are interested send you email, and you give it away to whomever you want. (Thus, they are actually a freeusing group, since what they do is take existing items and reuse them, but I guess they thought freecycling sounds better.)
Or, let’s say you are looking for something–anything–and you don’t have money, and you think someone might have one they no longer want. You post your wish to the list and wait for the offers to roll in. Of course, you may not get it–I’ve seen some pretty gutsy requests, such as for high-ticket kitchen items (one person asked for a KitchenAid mixer AND a VitaMix blender AND something else expensive; another person asked for a car, and yet other people have asked for laptop computers), but hey–it’s worth a try, right?
There are more details, but that is basically it. Last year, I reorganized my DVD collection by removing all the disks from those bulky containers and placing them in a much more compact set of binders with sleeves. DItto for my CDs. I didn’t know what to do with the containers, though. I sure didn’t want to put them in the trash, but I was also pretty sure they couldn’t be recycled. I posted them on my freecycling list, and got an astonishing number of people interested in taking them off my hands. The lucky winner was the member of a band; they were making DVDs and CDs and were glad to get a lot of cases for free. And I was glad to see them stay out of the waste stream, at least for a little while longer.
Another time, someone wanted a pressure cooker. Turns out I had one I wasn’t using, and so she got it.
I’ve given away an expensive (but almost certainly unsellable) mattress topper, a broken teapot, an old VCR, an old DVD player (though unfortunately the person who picked up those latter two items inadvertently revealed that she and her husband had a handy little business selling every such item they got through the freecycle network), and a number of other items that have been kept out of the waste stream thanks to freecyclers. I haven’t needed to ask for anything yet, though I hope that if I do, I will have as much luck getting things as I have giving them away.
If you want to join, go to http://www.freecycle.org/ and find your local group. I suggest that you sign up to have the emails sent to you in digest form rather than individually, but you may wish to see them individually to get a faster crack at the freebies.