refuse

The 5 R’s

Back in the day, it was just the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.

3 r's

I know this because I did a science project about it in 6th grade and decorated it with puffy paint.

But since then, 2 new R’s have been added to the spectrum: refuse and rot.

There are other R’s that people add such as repair and repurpose, but I kinda lump those under reuse, so I am going to leave those out for now.

The best way to visualize the 5’s is in an inverted pyramid, with our biggest, most common actions on top, leading down to what we should be doing the least at the very bottom.

So at the top of this inverted pyramid, we have our number one way to avoid waste and that is Refuse. Saying no is the number one way to keep stuff out of the landfill. I talked about this recently in my 10 Most Overlooked Ways to Reduce Waste post. Saying no keeps those items from entering our lives in the first place, be they straws, food packaged in plastic, or freebies. Collectively saying no, and therefore decreasing demand, also can spur change.

After we have refused all the bad stuff (excessive packaging, food that’s grown far away, etc.) it is time to focus on what we do have and use, and then Reduce it. Don’t go out to eat for lunch every day or cut back on buying new clothes.

Now we have a curated list of items that we own and use. Sometimes those items will break, need some fixing or their original purpose becomes unnecessary. This is where Reuse (and repair and repurpose) comes it. Turn that old dresser into a jazzed up TV stand. Unleash your inner DIY goddess.

Now we get into the last resort part of the pyramid. If we cannot Refuse, Reduce, or Reduce something, then the next place it should head is into your compost bin to Rot.

Who knew that many years after middle school I actually would be composting!

Pictures

But plastic is not compostable, so any milk jugs and glass bottles (that you have not already refused and reused) should then be Recycled. Notice that recycling is pretty far down the list.

It definitely is not as far as the very last option of the Landfill, the place where your trash goes on to live forever. I love when trash cans are labeled with “landfill.” It helps you think before you toss that your gum wrapper is going to head to a giant hole in the ground and not to this fantasy land of “away.”

 

What is in a landfill?

Not sure this information is accurate anymore…

 

And that’s the 5 R’s (+ Landfill)! Here is an example of one piece, say a magazine, going through each step of the pyramid.

  • Refuse: You are offered a free magazine subscription that you politely decline
  • Reduce: You still love reading physical magazines (and if you do, that is great! You do you!) so you cut back on how many you subscribe to and get the rest online.
  • Reuse: After reading the magazine, you cut out the pages to decoupage a DIY project or use the pages as padding material for your Christmas ornaments.
  • Rot: When your done with your DIY projects, you add it to your compost pile or bucket
  • Recycle: If you don’t have access to composting, you toss the magazine in the recycling bin.
  • Landfill: If you don’t do any of the above things…

 

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Take Those Wire Hangers Back

Does your closet ever look like this after a while?

 

dry cleaner hangers

Or more realistically, does it look like this?

 

dry cleaner hangers1

Anyway, I pretty much don’t get any of my clothes dry cleaned, but K gets a lot of his shirts pressed, so we end up with a mess of wire hangers every couple months.

These hangers cannot be recycled, and if you can’t think of anything else to do with them, they can get quite annoying.

Did you know you can just take them back to the dry cleaners?

I have brought a bag to the closest dry cleaner (one that K does not even use) a number of times and have never had a problem. They always accept them!

You can avoid the wire hanger overflow by following a number of steps:

  • Don’t purchase “Dry Clean Only” clothes
  • Refuse the hangers from the dry cleaner
  • If you do take them, reuse them!
  • If you cannot, bring them back!

 

 

C3 Week 4: Waste

Obviously, I was very interested in this class topic since it covered waste and the point of this blog is to not be so wasteful!

First of all, why should we care about waste?

  • it does not go “away”
  • litter is ugly
  • sanitation
  • water quality is diminished
  • climate change due to more methane from landfills
  • these are just a few reasons!

waste pyramid

We have all learned about the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but there are more important steps that need to be included as well. The conversation we usually have starts with recycle, when we really should be starting at the top with refuse. If we refuse something, it cannot become waste in the first place. Zero-wasters are very familiar with this part of the pyramid! So refuse those plastic bags and straws, for they will never go away!

Chicago throws away 7.3 million tons of trash annually.

In 2009, the city conducted a waste characterization study, where our trash was sorted into 81 different categories.

The top three items by weight were:

  1. Paper (29.5%)
  2. Organics (29%)
  3. Plastic (12.5%)

All of these things can be recycled or composted, not sent to a landfill!

We have a big issue with recycling in this city if you have not noticed from my posts on my experience of trying to get a recycling cart.

The biggest issues we discussed in class are access, expense, contamination, and education.

Access

As I discussed here, residential buildings with 4 units or less have access to the city recycling service. Larger, multi-unit buildings, on the other hand, use a private hauler. So depending on what type of building you live in, your recycling rules may be different.

Expense

We do not pay to recycle our materials, unlike the tipping fee required to dump one ton of trash into a landfill. So the City is actually saving money when every ton of recyclables does not go into a landfill. Last year, the City saved $4.5 million.

In Illinois, It is cheap to dump into a landfill compared to other states. New York, for instance, is running out of landfill space and thus charges much more per ton.

Contamination

In addition to the list of what should be recycled, there are also a lot of items that do not belong in our blue carts. Here is where you can recycle common things that are not allowed:

Education

There are different messages for different audiences, especially if they use city recycling or not. Language is also an issue, but for the most part, there is a lack of staff to help implement. Maybe they need to hire someone like me!

Additional Recycling Resources:

 

 

Just Say No…To the Free Goodies at the Dentist

I went to the dentist yesterday and as I was making my way there, I kept thinking about the plastic bag of “goodies” they give out to all their patients. Usually this involves a toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, and special floss for those with permanent retainers, all in a nice plastic bag. There may even be some coupons in there.

toothbrush

So after my cleaning, the dental hygienist started to pack up my “goodie bag,” and I quickly stopped her with some combination of the following arguments:

  • No, I do not need another toothbrush. We have approximately 5,000 in our bathroom cabinet from you guys already. Also my mom shops at Costco, and I am going to invest in a bamboo toothbrush anyway.
  • Toothbrushes are extremely difficult to recycle. Every single toothbrush I have ever used is sitting in a landfill! If I replaced my toothbrush every 3 months like the dentist recommends, that means I would have tossed 104 toothbrushes into the trash in my lifetime.
  • No, I don’t want tiny toothpaste. As with the toothbrushes, we have approximately 5,000 of them already.
  • I only want the floss if it is the good kind. If it is not, put it back in the drawer.
  • I also do not need your dentist-themed plastic bag, I will just toss my floss in my purse and I am good to go.

To accumulate less stuff, we have to learn the art of refusal and saying no to things we do not want pretty much anywhere we go.

***Cover photo credit: Greenpeace