Back to the Basics – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

With the trend of eco-friendly solutions bombarding consumers with countless products of organic, naturally-made and environmentally-friendly origins, it’s no wonder why some people and communities are taking a step back to the basics in their lifestyle choices. As a child, many of us have grown up with the mantra of “reduce, reuse and recycle” ingrained into our heads and yet it all seems a little fuzzy in our everyday life. I am sure there is some commonly known song associated with the famous three R’s, though what it is is completely lost on me. The point is that some people have become so excited about purchasing the newest eco-friendly product that they could actually be causing further damage to our environment.

One of the most commonly exercised choices for helping the environment is re-usable shopping bags. They have become so trendy that gossip magazines have occasionally taken to developing photo-spreads of various famous people using their preferred brand of a designer eco-shopping bag. I’m all for fashion, but when it comes to buying a basic canvas bag for an inconceivable amount of money just to say “I heart the world” I tend to walk the other way. Personally, I am more partial to the incredibly affordable reusable shopping bags one can purchase at their local grocery store. Now these make sense in the world of being eco-friendly. However, they only make sense until one finds themselves stockpiling a collection of canvas grocery bags in their cupboards at home simply because they feel guilty using the competitor’s eco-bag when at a different grocery store. Either that, or every time groceries are bought, the bags happen to be forgotten at home, or maybe they’re eagerly waiting to be filled while still tucked in the boot of the car. We’ve all been there and my own personal collection of reusable shopping bags is not one I am particularly proud of.

And that’s the thing. Just because something has the stamp of being “eco-friendly” does not necessarily mean it is the best choice in any given situation. With regards to the eco-bags, sometimes it makes more sense to put your purchases in plastic bags than it does to buy yet another canvas bag. If it’s a matter of a couple plastic bags because the reusable ones were forgotten, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it might be the better choice using the occasional plastic bag as it then double as a rubbish bag, eliminating the need to then go and actually purchase rubbish bags for the bin. Money and the environment are saved from not buying a new package of rubbish bags or yet another canvas bag that uses CO2 emissions in their original production process. It’s all about that carbon footprint.

And that’s just the beginning. Companies have started creating a full range of products with the eco-friendly stamp on it. Things such as hygiene products and cleaning supplies are a blatant example. But is it really more eco-friendly to be constantly buying an assortment of cleaning products that are packaged in plastic containers? At the very least, I am hoping that those who choose to do this are then opting to recycle the container when finished using them. But there is another option all together. If people were to look back a couple of generations in our history of human existence, one would find that a vinegar and water solution works excellently as a multi-purpose cleaner and disinfectant. Dish soap is a natural degreaser and can be used to take stains out of clothes when washing them. Adding some baking soda to your wash can also make your whites white again, not to mention putting it in your fridge helps to eliminate unwanted food smells (think egg, garlic or fish). Washing windows and mirrors works fine if you use hot, soapy water and wipe it clean with newspaper (who needs to buy paper towel?). And what about beauty products? Things such as using cucumber slices to awaken tired eyes works wonders. Make a facial mask out of oatmeal to get rid of excess oils. Lemon juice mixed with water works miracles to clean skin of dirt, oil, makeup and doubles as giving skin a citrus smell.

There are hundreds of “back to the basics” solutions that are nothing new in the world today. Many third world countries are still using these methods in their everyday lives as it is what works and there is no need to seek some highly promoted product that costs heaps of money to purchase. For us in more westernized countries, it might be a matter of doing a bit of a Google search to see if there is an easier alternative to the current eco-products out there. Reducing the amount of products bought can not only help with the budget, but it also helps with the environment – sometimes even more so than the best eco-product out there.

Which brings me to another option. With a culture so wrapped up in consumerism, sometimes it is easy to forget the brilliance of being able to reuse something. Particularly something that someone else has already made use of. I’m talking about yard sales. Garage sales. Car boot sales. Clothing exchange events. Second-hand book, clothing and furniture stores. There are so many options out there to be able to buy things that have been used (sometimes barely at all) for an incredibly affordable price that it’s amazing that few have caught onto the idea that buying second hand can be one of the most environmentally-friendly things a person can do.

With consumerism so prominent in western societies today, the joy of finding a treasure amongst things another person no longer wants or needs can be lost. Just because it’s time to move out of the parent’s house, does not mean one needs to buy brand new furniture. Things such as bookshelves, bedside tables, kitchen tables, desks and other such things can be found at various second-hand sale locations. Things such as picture frames, jewellery, clothing accessories and art are a regular contender at local community sales and are usually unique pieces that can be vamped up with a new paint job (picture frames), or taken apart to be remade into your own style (jewellery). If a dinner party is on the calendar, why not buy some funky dishware at a secondhand store and walk away knowing a statement can be made without fretting over the kids breaking a plate or glass. There are so many ideas out there on how things can be reused again and again, usually making it a social occasion of going on the hunt for new (old) things. Oh – and options such like this are, again, completely affordable as things are usually a fraction of the price as what it would be in a regular shop.

Which brings me back to the final “R” of the group. Recycling. Sometimes it is more than simply putting all the cardboard, plastic, glass and aluminum in the appropriated place. Sometimes it means getting creative. The old couch whose springs are on the fritz? Instead of throwing it away, what about making it a project to reupholster it with an updated fabric and new internal gear? The egg cartons that regularly go in the recycling bin? What about saving them for a rainy day craft project for the kids? Old favorite t-shirts can be made into pillows or cut into squares to make a memory quilt. Broken necklaces or earrings missing its pair can be taken apart and then recycled into a brand new piece of original jewellery. Cut out stunning photographs from old magazines and frame them as new art for the walls. Not to mention rolled strips of magazines and/or newsprint can be glued together on a frame to make a funky art piece around a mirror. Use old soda bottles as plant pots for baby plants or redesign the bottle as a bird feeder. There are so many options on what can be done with things that have reached the end of their rope, and most projects are things great for a rainy day.

Through all of this I am not saying that one needs to boycott eco-friendly solutions in the consumer world. It is simply that just because the stamp on it says that it is a product worthy of helping the environment, it does not mean that we all should rush out and buy ten of them. Sometimes it is better to think outside of the box and get creative with what we have or with what we can get. As a child we start school learning the basics of life. Reading, writing and arithmetic. Reducing, reusing and recycling. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of such basics as it is through those basics of life that we can build a foundation of health. Health for ourselves. Health for the environment. Health for the world.

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