Reuse, refill, and recharge: all three help to reduce the overwhelming amount of trash that is produced each year — trash that more often than not ends up in landfills or has other negative effects on the environment. In 2009, Americans generated about 243 million tons of trash and recycled and composted 82 million tons of this non-hazardous municipal solid waste material—items like food scraps, packaging, paper, computers, tires, and lawn clippings--which is equivalent to a 33.8 percent recycling rate.
The concept behind reuse, refill, and recharge is simple and can take a bite out of this waste. When you reuse a product rather than throw it away (e.g., a brown paper bag or gift box), for example, you keep it out of the landfills, reduce demand for a new one, and save money. Items can be reused for their original purpose (plastic bags brought back to the grocery for your next purchase) or another use (empty coffee cans used as flower pots).
Similarly, when you refill a container or use rechargeable batteries, you reduce waste by cutting down on the need for new containers or batteries, plus you save money.
I Did This!
In 15 minutes or less, you can make several reuse-refill-recharge changes that can make a positive difference for the environment. Here are a few ideas:
- Bring your own reusable mug to work, meetings, and conferences. If you work in an office that provides coffee to employees, encourage management to initiate a "bring-your-own-mug" policy.
- If you buy beverages while on the road, bring your own mug or container and/or patronize places that provide refillable containers.
- Encourage refills on a bigger scale: if you are involved with an event that involves dispensing beverages (e.g., a fair or block party), ask attendees to bring their own mugs or cups and offer them a small discount for bringing their own.
- Use reusable sponges and dishcloths rather than paper towels (sponges can be sanitized in a microwave or dishwasher).
- Reuse plastic containers (especially those typically difficult to recycle, such as #5) rather than plastic wrap or aluminum foil to store leftovers.
- When possible, choose items that are available in refillable containers (e.g., hand soap, disposable wipes, household cleaners). Even better, make your own natural household cleaners and put them into a reused dispenser or spray bottle.
- Reuse the clear plastic bags you use to bring home produce from the supermarket. At home, remove the produce and place the empty bags with your canvas bags for your next trip. Once the plastic bags get too old to reuse, recycle them.
- Reuse the net bags that onions are sold in. You can reuse the bags when you buy produce; or you can collect several, wind them into a tight ball, and use as a scouring pad.
- Reuse the plastic tabs from bread bags as picks for playing the guitar, counters for children learning how to count, or bingo chips.
- Reuse brown paper bags, plastic grocery bags, and twist ties. (Better yet, use canvas bags when you shop.)
- Reuse paper: cut it up and make scratch pads for home, the office, school, or groups; or let children use the backs of used paper to draw. Once paper has been used on both sides, reuse it again. If you shred it, it can be used as packing or compost material or as bedding for animals (local animal shelters may appreciate it). If you choose not to shred reused paper, recycle it.
- Use rechargeable batteries whenever possible.
- Reuse boxes, bubble wrap, and packing "peanuts" for shipping items.
- Reuse the large shipping envelopes from the post office and shipping companies by turning them inside out. Reuse kraft envelopes by placing blank address stickers over the old addresses.
- Reuse gift boxes, ribbons, and wrapping paper to wrap future gifts or for arts and crafts projects.
- Reuse scraps of lumber to make compost bins, bird houses, or other craft items. If you're not handy, offer them for reuse by schools, senior centers, or organizations that have arts and crafts programs. Lumber scraps can also be offered to people in your area on websites such as FreeSharing or Freecycle.
- If an appliance breaks, consider having it repaired rather than discarding it. If repair is not feasible, the appliance may be useful for parts. Most nonprofits will not accept broken items, but some people may want them for parts. You can offer them on FreeSharing or Freecycle.
- Rent, borrow, or share items that you use only occasionally. Family, friends, and neighbors, for example, can share items such as lawnmowers, party-size coffee pots, folding tables, and books.
- Reuse your newspaper and/or magazines: offer them to a neighbor, friend, or family member. Ask them to recycle the items when they are done.
- Refill or recharge your printer, copier, and/or fax machine cartridges at home and your office.
- Reuse large cardboard boxes as playhouses for children. When they are no longer useable, recycle.
For more tips on how to reuse, refill, and recharge, see The Consumer's Handbook for Reducing Solid Waste, provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and ideas for kids, offered by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.