Reduction Junction

The Three R's

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We've been hearing about the three R's for years. Did you know they're in order? Reduce first, THEN reuse, THEN recycle.

I think of REDUCE as a mindset. It's what causes me to think before I buy or accept items. How is the item packaged? How will I reuse/recycle/dispose of the item later? I've heard quite a few people talk about how their recycling bin is always more full than their trash bin. I used to think this was great too. But, it's better to avoid obtaining the materials in the first place. Think about all the energy, water, fuel, etc., that was used to produce those materials, and then think about all the energy, water, fuel, etc., that will be used to recycle or dispose of them.

Lately I've been working on reducing my consumption...avoiding obtaining materials that serve a limited purpose. For example, I noticed how much plastic I use on a daily basis. Take a look at the photo of my bathroom shelf. How did I get this way? How did we, as a society, get this way? Do I need all these products? I don't even wear makeup and look at all the products I use! I thought I was pretty low-maintenance. How could I possibly feel the need to use all this stuff? I'm not even mentioning the health implications of using all these products, but that's certainly another important issue. By the way, did you know that plastic is generally made of oil?

plastic toiletry containers

So, as I finish each product, I'm going to make my own and keep it in a reused container. I've been amassing all sorts of containers--glass jars, plastic gum bottles, empty lip balm tubes, to name a few--that I'm going to use. I'm excited to make my own products because I get satisfaction from making things and learning how to do something new, not to mention that they will be more natural, less expensive, and less wasteful! Of course, if you know me you know that I'm pretty organized, so I won't be running out of things too quickly as I generally have a backup before I run out of something I use often. It's looking like the first product I'm going to make is lip balm. The next few will probably be toothpaste, deodorant, face scrub, and face lotion.

Over the past few years, I've also implemented other new habits from time to time. I like this systematic way of doing it, and it's not overwhelming because I do one new thing at a time. For example, I use cloth napkins. I first got the idea when I pet-sat for a woman who used cloth napkins. She kept them in a basket on her kitchen table. (Side note: it's so interesting working/spending time/sleeping over in other people's homes because you realize that there are different ways of doing things, rather than how things were done in your childhood home. Some might be unappealing, but some are great and can really help open your mind.) So, I got 12 cloth napkins and wondered how comfortable I'd be using them. Would they get gross? Would I use them too fast and need to break out some paper napkins? Well, I don't remember exactly how long it took to get used to them, but it was somewhere between a week and a month. I haven't looked back AND I've never bought paper napkins again. I also never buy paper towels, although I did until a few years ago as well. I use dish towels for everything from washing/drying produce to cleaning up spills. I don't even have laundry machines in my apartment and this still works for me!

Another waste reduction habit I have formed fairly recently is using unpackaged soap. I'm talking about bar soap that I use in the shower. It's also made from natural ingredients and produced by "pedal power" (i.e., the energy is produced by bicycles)! I absolutely love buying soap that isn't double-wrapped in paper and plastic. It's definitely more expensive, but it's a priority of mine so it's worth it. The same company also makes (unpackaged) bar shampoo, which is the most recent addition to my repertoire. I felt really weird using it the first time, but it didn't take long to get used to after that.

I hope some of these ideas sound good to you. Let me know if you have any questions, want some advice, or have other great waste reduction ideas! Email me at

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