Of the three Rs of waste management — reduce, reuse, recycle — recycling is the one that people most actively deploy. And why not? It’s easy to see the appeal. Keep purchasing the things you always have and sort what’s left over after your use into one kind of bin instead of another.
The problem is that of those three tactics, recycling is the most resource intensive. From your residence, your recyclables are picked up by trucks, driven to be sorted, possibly sent elsewhere for material-specific processing to prepare them to be made into new goods or packaging, and then sent off for manufacture.
If we can increase the other two tactics, reduction and reuse of materials, we can extend the life of our purchases before they are recycled at the true end of their usefulness, instead of spending the resources necessary to recycle materials on items that can still serve some purpose.
Here are some ideas for how to reuse some common items you may bring into your home.
Whether plastic or glass, jars are one of the simplest items to reuse. You can use them for the same reason you likely brought them into your home: storage! Use jars to store dry pantry goods like beans and rice, leftover food in your refrigerator, or as spare drinking vessels for a crowd. The only thing to be careful of here is that you don’t use plastic jars in a situation where they may be heated (in the microwave, for example), as they could leach harmful chemicals into whatever you’re storing in them.
Steel and aluminum cans can be used for open storage. I’ve been known to purchase a particular can of tomatoes for the pretty label to later store office supplies in. Also consider keeping a set of clean ones around as biscuit or cookie cutters. Between tomato paste and larger cans of vegetables, you could easily collect a variety of sizes!
If you subscribe to newspapers, you’ve got an incredibly useful resource at your fingertips. Lay newspapers out in your garden as weed suppression when planting a new plot. And if you’re moving soon, know someone who is, or you ship a lot of breakable goods, newspapers are great for wrapping plates and stuffing in glasses (gently!) or balling up as filler to serve the same purpose as hard-to-recycle bubble wrap or packing peanuts.
Toilet Paper Rolls, Paper Towel Rolls, and (Paper) Egg Cartons
For those with an interest in gardening, paper rolls and egg cartons can be used as decomposable pots for seed starting. You can use this method from The Spruce for the paper rolls that, once sprouted, you can plant straight in the ground. Likewise, for a paper egg carton, you can plant seeds in each of the cups, snip them apart right before planting, and put them straight in the soil.
Many boxes and mailers can be reused in the same way they came to your home. Just make sure you cover any old addressing or postal labels to avoid confusion, and be sure to add the correct postage yourself!
The more use you can get out of your paper before you recycle it, the better. If you’ve got any spare paper without sensitive information on it that still has room on the back or the bottom, rescue those bits for use as scratch paper for the list makers in your life or for those who might need some space for calculations or doodles.
There are endless ways to get more use out of the materials we bring into our homes — it only takes a little creative thinking. It’s time we reframe the items we bring into our homes as a resource, rather than waste to be disposed of.