Learning to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

If you’re like me, you do an okay job at recycling, but not a great one. Recently, a study was released that said we pretty much have 12 years to get it together or else the world is going to explode.  

(Okay, maybe that’s dramatic, but it’s not much better than that. You can read it for yourself here.)  

While the majority of the change needs to come from large companies and their factories, there are simple things that you and I can do to help, too. Every tiny contribution is something!  

Since moving to Asheville, I’ve gotten to encounter a lot of folks who absolutely crush the recycling game. Not only that, but they’ve found ways to lessen their environmental impact that have taught me so much! I felt a little daunted by this concept at first because I’m not someone who can, let’s say, live without central air (obviously I can, I’m being a brat) - but I’m dipping my toe into the pool and taking my transformation into Eco Girl one step at a time.

Many of you may be thinking, “Yeah, dumb dumb - we’ve been on this train for a long time. You’re not telling us anything new.” If you’re one of those people, I salute you. If you’re more like I am, here are some things I’ve recently been inspired (I polled Instagram, too - so many of your answers made it into this post!) by that have helped me feel like I’m helping, even if it seems small! 

1. Wildly reducing the paper products we use.  

Let’s be realistic: I have a 10-month-old and a dog. I can’t NOT have paper towels in the house. But I used to use them for everything. Are we sitting down for a meal? Tear off a paper towel to use as a napkin. Do I need something to stick my bagel on in the morning? Paper towel. Mac threw solid food all over the floor under his high chair? Paper towel. 

We have cloth dish towels that we use to dry our hands off, but we were under-utilizing them. I recently bought a pack of surgical-grade towels from Amazon that are coming in so handy with all of Mac’s spills and any kitchen messes. Now, I just toss a dirty towel in the laundry rather than throwing a paper towel away. It’s been a week since I started this effort and I’ve only used 4 (!!!) paper towels! That’s an enormous difference for our family. Hoping to get down to zero!

2. No straws, napkins, or cutlery at restaurants; using glass containers to store food or reusing plastic containers from takeout. 

This can be a tough one if you’re driving through because of a road trip or some other truly time-sensitive reason, but if not, it’s a great way to change your habits. I stopped using plastic straws this summer! It’s a really easy thing to refuse - I’ve started saying, “No straw, please!” And it’s as simple as that.  

There are great companies that make washable metal or silicon straws, and even cutlery packets that you can take with you and re-use if you’re going somewhere that would give you plastic silverware. Easy and great! Best part - the people with whom you’re dining will also be inspired! Someone on Instagram even suggested bringing your own takeout containers to a restaurant from which you know you’ll take home leftovers. It’s brilliant!

Another great food-related suggestion I got is to buy glass containers for food storage and/or put containers you already have to use. Pay attention to which restaurants deliver food with compostable or reusable containers, and patronize their business. We vote with our dollars. 

And, sadly, red meat consumption has been proven to be tough on the environment. As a non-meat-eater, this one isn’t tough for me (just another excuse not to eat tons of meat!), but it’s a great way to make a change that’s both healthy for you and the earth.  

3. Keeping the AC at a reasonable temp.  

It’s really tough to do this one for me because I am a SUPER WIMP about heat (that’s what growing up in Alabama will do to you. I have summer PTSD). However, I guesssssss the planet is more important than my comfort UGHGHHGHGH. 

We keep our AC set to 74, although some of my friends keep theirs as high as 78 and many of my Asheville buddies don’t even have/use their AC at all. MIND BLOWING. I’m not at that level, but I can avoid cooling my house to freezing temps.  

 4. Buy in bulk. 

This is one I haven’t started putting into practice yet, so I’m excited to try. I’m learning so much about what products are sold in “single-serving” packages that are totally unnecessary. Toothbrushes, for example. Why buy one, individually packaged toothbrush when you could buy a pack of 6 and save packaging waste? 

This goes for food, too - buying in bulk at places like Costco can often save waste and save money. Items that are great bulk purchases: cereal or oatmeal; peanut butter; granola or any kind of protein/power bar; snack food like raisins, cashews, almonds; coffee, the list goes on and on. It also just occurred to me while writing this that this concept totally applies to toiletries as well!

5. Checking into what is included in curbside recycling.  

Believe it or not, lots of things you’d think are recyclable aren’t actually accepted by curbside services. Plastic grocery store bags are one of those items for us! It took me many moons to realize that. I’d been putting them in the bin without knowing - now, I know that if I take them back to our local grocery store, they ensure the bags get taken to the proper facility.  

Plastic bags that come from the dry cleaners are another no-no. Who knew?  

6. Vote! 

This might be the biggest way that we can make systemic change. We are at a point in our global society where unfortunately, small, individual actions aren’t going to be enough to change the future of our planet. Enter: people who can make a big difference.

This is a great one because it isn’t even a partisan issue! It’s based in science and data, which is a refreshing black and white in the midst of what can seem like a sea of uncertain grey. Climate change is real, global warming is real, and we need to elect leaders who both accept those facts and are ready to do something to address it. Midterms are coming - look into which candidates support saving our planet and go vote for them!  

And if you need help, here is a list of folks currently serving in Congress who do not acknowledge climate change as being real. You know what to do, y’all - boot ‘em! The stakes are just too high not to.