When it comes to eliminating plastic, waste and harmful products from our lives we should generally abide by these guidelines from Zero Waste Home: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order).

The Method

  • Refuse plastics, waste packaging and harmful products.
  • If you can’t refuse it, reduce your use.
  • If you can’t reduce your use, reuse it in other ways.
  • If you can’t reuse it, recycle it.
  • If you can’t recycle it, rot it.

Refuse It

Our first step should always be to just say no.

What can you say no to? 

  • Straws – easy to simply do without or you can carry your own stainless steel straws. Stainless is easy to clean, reusable and saves on a lot of plastic waste.
  • Plastic Bags – supermarket bags are one of the worst pollutants and we can easily remove this. Get a couple of reusable bags and keep them in your car (or on you) and you’re always ready for that shopping trip. Reusable cotton or canvas shopping bags can be a stylish way to protect our oceans.
  • Takeaway containers & coffee cups – Bring a travel mug – many places even give you a discount for not using one of their cups. Takeaway containers are a bit more full on but if you can, they will prevent a lot of plastic and styro from entering our ecosystem. Our reusable travel cutlery makes refusing plasticware even easier!
  • Choose Package-Free – Purchase from grocery stores and local markets that sell their cereals, grains, veggies, legumes, nuts etc loose and free of packaging.

Reduce Your Use

When you can’t refuse it, can you reduce your reliance on the product?

If you start to refuse plastic waste, excess packaging and even return the excess packaging to the manufacturers or store, they are forced to deal with the packaging and have even taken steps to reduce it themselves.

Can you reduce your use of bottled plastics? Buy the largest container you can find and use refillable products. If you’re buying laundry soap there’s a huge difference in plastic waste between 5 1L containers and 1 5L container. Also, can you eliminate certain plastic-packaged products entirely?

One example of a great “reduce” is tea bags. Tea bags come in a plastic wrapped package, plastic coated box, with a string, staple and bag. Instead, opt for one of our tea diffusers. Buy bulk loose tea and you’ll not only get the better taste of pure tea but the satisfaction of greatly reducing your waste footprint.

Reuse the Material

Waste isn’t waste if you keep it and use it. So you bought a 2L milk jug and now you wonder what’s next? Of course, you can keep going to the next stage: recycle, but is that the best? No, as we mentioned above, do these steps in this order only. Before you recycle, consider reusing the plastic. Recycling is costly, less effective than you’d imagine and involves transporting recyclable waste to be separated, cleaned (water waste) and eventually turned back into something new. Re-using the jug will definitely be more eco-friendly than that.

Can’t think of a way to use it? We’d bet someone already has! Go to Google, search “upcycle plastic” and click Image results. You’ll be shocked at all the ways people have creatively reused plastic waste. A plastic product that can’t be refused or reduced, such as a large soda bottle, can easily be reused in your garden, office or for kids art supplies.

Recycle

You tried to refuse it. You tried to reduce your reliance on this product. You even reused it where possible. Now what?

Recycling is the most common, and therefore abused, method of dealing with our waste other than just throwing it away. Recycling done right is a good step in the right direction. Often it’s not done properly by homeowners who simply don’t care and ends up adding cost, waste and time to the whole process.

A few tips for your recycling efforts that will go a long way:

  1. Know what you can & can’t recycle to save time & money. Some places accept plastic bags, others do not.
  2. Buy already-recycled material to support the industry’s efforts.
  3. Make recycling easy by having clean, accessible containers.
  4. Don’t add plastic bags – keep your materials loose as it’s harder to sort and may get trashed.
  5. Clean up a little – while your recyclables don’t have to be spotless, remove waste food & drain them.

Rot

Plastic waste won’t be in this particular category but other waste often falls through the process above. What can you do with food scraps, wood, and other biodegradable products? Rot it.

Compost is a useful byproduct of a cleaner environment.

There are a few things you need to learn before you start composting for the first time.

San Francisco mandates composting but some composting is illegal in LA. Knowing your local rules will keep you out of trouble.

So that’s it – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order).