Reducing Instead of Reusing & Recycling

recycling at Burgerville – photo by MikZ

We’re used to recycling: paper, glass, aluminum, soda cans, plastic — we’ve even gotten used to the idea of composting (sometimes even at fast food restaurants). Reusing is easy — shopping at thrift stores isn’t a stretch, and we might even refill old yogurt containers with leftovers instead of using plastic wrap or a zip-top bag, or bring shopping bags to the grocery store to reuse again and again.

Some of us are more vigilant than others.

And most of us have forgotten the cardinal command of the 3 R’s: REDUCE. Sure, we reuse and recycle, but what about minimizing our need to do those things?

I'm giving away some recycled goodie packs for crafting goodness - see bottom of post for details

We’re Americans (I know not all of my readers are), and we do what we like to do and have been conditioned to do: consume! We buy things whenever we want them, usually with little regard to the waste generated by the simple process of unpackaging them, and without a thought to all the waste that went into making them and shipping them from factory to store.

So, reducing.

Pam at Gingerbreadsnowflakes has been saving her packaging for awhile. She is doing a series on making things out of trash, but she posted some photos of just how much she has saved and started a discussion on how much stuff we buy only to turn around and throw most of it (the packaging) away. Sure, we can reuse some of it, craft with some of it, but in all honesty, there’s more than we can reuse and we have to dispose of the rest.

Pam said it best:

And think about it – just how many oatmeal boxes, glass jars, tin cans, or plastic bottles can we realistically repurpose?

The answer seems to me to be – not very many and certainly not as many as pass through our hands in a years time.  Don’t misunderstand – I am all for repurposing!  But there is a limit to how many items even the most energetic among us can repurpose.

I’m not preaching to you because I’m as guilty as anyone. I have high intentions, but often my tiredness/laziness/need to just get it done outweighs my desire to be kind to the earth. Being idealistic doesn’t do anyone any good; action is what makes a difference.

There are a lot of things I do wrong. A lot of things I can change without much impact on my current lifestyle. And a few things I can do with a slight impact on my lifestyle. Not that I’m opposed to changing my lifestyle, but baby steps are usually more effective than making grand pronouncements that I have no chance of living up to immediately. You have to train before you can run a marathon.

Playset I made from recycled box

Things I currently do:

  • Recycling almost all packaging (cardboard, cans, plastic containers, glass)
  • Buy in bulk sometimes
  • Reuse some containers
  • Go out of my way to recycle plastic (it isn’t accepted in the recycling bins in our neighborhood)
  • Buy used if possible (no packaging)
  • Buy from local outlets (farmer’s markets, mostly)
  • Make crafts from recycled materials (sometimes)

Things I could do without even breaking a sweat:

  • Look in my recycling bin first before buying new (paper, cardboard, containers, or for craft supplies)
  • Design projects around recycled items instead of new
  • Buy less stuff (ask myself if I really need it – the answer will often be no)
  • Buy bulk more often
  • Cook from scratch with bulk items (instead of using readymade stuff: cookies, other baked goods)
  • Avoid buying overpackaged items or items with unrecyclable packaging
  • Reuse certain packaging I throw away (washing zip-top bags)
  • Buy toys and other items that are made from recycled materials

Thanks for your post, Pam, and for getting me thinking about reducing (instead of JUST reusing and recycling).

Fun ways to Reduce-Reuse-Recycle:

Thanks for sticking with me this far! I want to share some amazing scrap packs I got from SCRAP with two of my readers, so comment here with your favorite recycling crafty idea (with a link if you like) and I will choose a winner via on Tuesday.

The giveaway booty:

I super-love these packages the kind folks at SCRAP have put together with random goodies for your crafting pleasure (LOVE those recycled labels they used to close up the bags).

Cute ingredients label.

Once again, to win one of these goodie bags, comment here with your favorite recycling crafty idea (with a link if you like) and I will choose a winner via on Tuesday.

19 Responses

  1. georgia stewart Says:

    one thing i do is save all ribbon from anything i buy like victorias secret ect , and I use the ribbons as they are good quality grosgrain , to make designer bows for your hair , i love the juicy couture ribbon the best , and there were a few people saving it for me and i had a good supply but then every one got off the recycle thing except me i am still saving paper and ribbon , you can never have enough of it , i would so love to win a prize pack , i am already thinking up a idea , have a pink rainbow day

  2. Milena Says:

    My favorite thing to do with recycled materials is to cut old t-shirts and make yarn. Then use it to crochet different things. It gives a great texture to ones work and is grate for f.exp. Notebook covers since it is so strong.

  3. Linda Says:

    I love the bangles Heidi Borchers makes from the water bottles!

  4. Jody Says:

    I’ve saved all the old bedsheets I had from when I changed from a single to a double and then from a double to a king, a whole cupboard of fabric just ready to made bags, skirts, tops and any other fabric type craft I feel like doing.

  5. Jennifer Post Says:

    loooove the coffee bag idea! I am going to rummage thru my recycle bin right now to see what I can use to make one!!! also great message regarding the REDUCE part of “RRR”, thanks!

  6. Diane Says:

    We’ve made model rockets from used water bottles! I love to save paper gift and store bags to use to bring lunch with or use as project bags. Love the scrap packs!

  7. pam Says:

    Oh Heather! Do you have any idea how much it means to me that you have taken up the cause and supported the thoughts I expressed in my “reduce packaging” post! I love what you have said here – should have just hired you to write mine!!!!

    My favorite recycle projects are usually those that repurpose a container into duty as a more permanent container – without a lot of embellishment or by adding additional resources. The subject for my next post!

    But, as far as crafty ideas go, this is got to be one of the cutest I’ve seen in a while! Memory Game using tops from tin cans.

  8. Laura Cohen Says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. Instead of buying spice jars, I buy the spices in bulk and label old jam jars. I have also given away my jewelry box to the neighbor girls to play with and redesigned a dresser drawer to hold my jewelry. I uise old containers and the small boxes that jewelry came in. No more lost or tangled earrings!

    I love SCRAP and Knitten Kitten!


  9. Jenny Says:

    I’m a huge fan of recycling and up-cycling…but here’s a fave from my blog- Recycled Plastic Easter Eggs:

    Thanks for the chance to win, and make sure you surf over to for some of my giveaways this month! Happy National Craft Month!

  10. Angie @ The Country Chic Cottage Says:

    My fave recycling craft…

  11. Therese Says:

    I often just go to my local charity shops for when I want to craft. I’m helping charities this way and I only buy stuff I will need (because I’m tremendously broke). Of course, I always bring my reusable bag too so no waste on packaging there either!

  12. lyzzie Says:

    my favorite thing is to use the brown bag paper I get free at my work (it’s not able to be used for wrapping breakables and they would just toss it out – so I asked if I could have it and now they save it for me) and various other objects that would otherwise end up in the trash (varies by the day – but generally tp rolls, coffee/tea bag wrappers, receipts, ribbon, product labels – etc) and grab the art box and let the kids have at – they love to come up with new and interesting things and no two of their pieces are alike. As for me my youngest outgrew an adorable shirt from last halloween so I put the shirt in an embroidery hoop to make unique art to hang in their room. absolutely love the coffee label bag idea…will definitely be trying that.

  13. Sue at nobaddays Says:

    Just this past weekend, I made two scarves our of old t-shirts from this tutorial:
    For the second scarf, I used circles instead of squares for a totally different look. Sorry I don’t have pics to post yet, but the first one turned out just like the one in the tutorial photo.
    Thanks for the GREAT giveaway! LOVE it!

  14. Maria Says:

    I haven’t tried either of these ideas, but this post reminded me of a couple of recycling ideas I have seen in the past – both for recycling those plastic bags you get at so many stores these days. Now stores are getting those reusable totes. But, for those plastic bags you get when you forget your tote, you can make PLARN – a “yarn” you can crochet things with:

    Or you can make plastic “fabric” that you can actually sew with – though, this seems to take a lot of time. The dress at the link below is probably a bit much, but I do like the idea of a rain jacket or a blanket:

  15. Lora Says:

    My children enjoy making ornaments out of the silver lids of frozen juice containers (by punching holes with a nail, gluing fake jewels, other random items, photos, and hanging with ribbon or string).

  16. Susan Says:

    I love to recycle and upcycle! I keep every little scrap of everything.

  17. MikZ Says:

    Thanks for acknowledging me in the photo, and for being one of the Americans who recognise what a grossly wasteful society we live in. I’ve lived in a lot of parts of the world so I know it’s a problem everywhere, but especially here—articles like this will hopefully get more of us to at least think.


  18. Online Brokerages Says:

    The campaign for reducing and not wasting should start at school. Once people grown up and already addicted to shopping, it’s hard to change this behavior. I grew up poor, so saving everything comes naturally. Great article.

  19. Family Living Links – The All Things Family Carnival | Momsational Says:

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