We’ve all heard the mantra Reduce, Reuse and Recycle too many times to count, and even the symbol on packaging has become so common we no longer acknowledge it. However, each of us can and will help the Earth if we occasionally remember the three Rs and take their meaning to heart in our everyday lives.
Today, in celebration of Earth Day, I’m focusing on the three Rs as they apply to our shopping habits.
I know people who still go to the grocery store empty-handed. They let the checker or bagger put their groceries in plastic bags and feel OK about it because they recycle the bags for garbage, cat litter, etc. Some of those same people have now switched to asking for paper bags, which can more easily be recycled and which breakdown in our landfills faster. Still, “reduce” is the first of the three Rs intentionally, and making the slight extra effort to bring your own bag saves:
– 380 million plastic bags used each year in the U.S. from ending up in our landfills and oceans and the 12 million barrels of oil needed to manufacture those bags.
– Approximately 14,000 million trees from being cut down each year for the manufacture of the more than 10 million paper bags we use in the U.S. every year.
Get into the habit of buying smarter and buying less
Reduce applies to our buying habits whether we are shopping for groceries, clothes, electronics or home furnishings. I’m the first to admit that I used to relish shopping for clothes for my kids. I loved to see them kitted out in the latest fashions, and let’s face it–everything looks cute in miniature. However, now I am hyper aware of how disposable we treat clothing and toys in the United States. As a result, I now buy much more carefully.
Unless you only wash clothes once a month, most kids only need 10 tops, 7-10 bottoms and a couple of sweaters or jackets. (Socks and underwear are a different story.) Pants that get holes in the knees can be made into ultra-cute shorts (and you avoid that ridiculous practice of kids’ clothing companies making shorts with super wide, even flared leg openings). If you have a sewing machine, you can hem them up in 10 minutes or pay a paltry sum to have someone else do it. When old T-shirts and sweatshirts are too stained or ripped to wear or hand down, they make excellent cleaning rags.
In your own shopping, avoid impulse buying and purchasing too many trendy pieces. The fashion experts agree, you can incorporate the best of a season or trend with just a couple of items. For example, jewel and neon brights have covered the pages of magazines and shown themselves in store windows for close to a year now. Instead of buying several bright sweaters, T-shirts and pants, consider a bright pink or orange belt or a brightly-colored pair of flats or scarf. Take “reduce” one step further and skip buying the bright clothing, keeping your classic colors and updating your look with bright orange lipstick or nail polish.
Try to reuse or recycle unwanted items
Most of us have friends who would love to receive hand-me-downs that are stain-free and in good condition. Before you throw those too-small items away, check around and see if someone you know might appreciate them. There also are numerous charities that want the items your friends and family don’t want. Many, such as Goodwill Industries in the U.S. also take DVDs, books and toys.
A year or so ago, I signed up for an on-line service (Catalog Choice) that helps people unsubscribe from catalogs. I must admit that I loved receiving catalogs in the mail. It seemed to me there was something therapeutic about flipping through the pages and seeing all the beautiful people sporting the fresh new fashions and seeing the endless possibilities of how I might decorate and redecorate my kids’ rooms, etc. I also became aware of my increased spending even though that awareness seemed to float in the subconscious for many years. In reality, most of us don’t think we need anything new until someone or something suggests it to us. I no longer subscribe to fashion magazines, I have stopped receiving nearly all the catalogs that were regularly sent to my home each week, and I am confident it’s made a positive difference.
I have friends who have downsized and decluttered their homes. Those same friends all appear to have a new lease on life. The centuries old Feng Shui principles warn us of the dangers of clutter, because too much stuff–in addition to making our homes look messy–can clutter our thinking and perspective on life.
So before your next trip to the store or mall, please take a minute to ask yourself: What do I really need? Am I buying just to buy, or am I buying for a special occasion? Do I have my reusable bags in hand (which aren’t just for groceries)?
The Earth will thank you for it.