Reuse It!

In Less is the new more I explained the downside of the excellent recycling program here in Seattle:

We all know the mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle. We have a great recycling program here in Seattle which gives us a false sense that just throwing it all in the recycle bin is enough. But when I thought about it, I realized that I most of what I was recycling is only being used once: like plastic bottles, plastic bags and paper bags. Recycling is important when it’s time for disposal, but we should be focusing on reducing and reusing, first and foremost.

In that post, I declared our household plastic bag free. What I didn’t mention, was my secret shame. You see, there was something I was using in the household that was just as wasteful as plastic bags AND has been shown to have detrimental health effects as well.

After the jump, my environmental secret shame. And finding ways to Reuse, Reuse, Reuse, because we have to get out of this single-use, disposable mindset.

Plastic Plastic Everywhere

The same day I posted Less is the new more, I noticed this water bottle sitting on the side of the tub. And that’s when I realized, it’s not the plastic shopping bags that were my problem.

See, despite the fact that I knew how wasteful and harmful plastic bottles were, I continued to use them. Why? Convenience, habit and a refusal to join the Nalgene movement. I know, right? It seems so silly now. I bought a metal water bottle at the beginning of December (to sidestep the whole BPA issue) and haven’t looked back. I used to go through a water bottle a week and always questioned the long term effects of drinking water that was constantly exposed to plastic.

Here's to you, Mother Earth.

Here's to you, Mother Earth!

Now, I have made a long-term, sustainable switch that will save money in the long run. And  can now sleep easier on an issue that caused me concern and can now move on to other things. As I’ve said before, we have to make crucial  changes in lifetime habits. This takes time and should be done in small steps, it’s the greatest chance to achieve lasting change.

Plastics have to go

Think about how many pieces of plastic you touch in a day. The toys, the storage, the food containers, the furniture, the list goes on and on. Now that I have learned about the plastic continent that is twice the size of Texas, all I see are plastics, plastics, plastics.

If you have not yet read about the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, I highly recommend you educate yourself. So much of the plastic we use is single serving or single use and we don’t even notice  it. (The Story of Stuff also gives a great explanation of why plastics must be phased out.) And all that plastic we’ve used over the years is still with us in various forms and beginning to work into the food chain. You can deny it all you want, but when they are finding toxins in the animals that live in our environment, you better believe it’s in us, too.

Plastic bag crusade

All of this has given me a renewed commitment to reduce and reuse. I have been using reusable grocery bags for years, but in a rather passive way. That is, I kept them in the trunk of the car and remembered to bring them in about half the time. I also couldn’t be bothered to go back out if I forgot them. Of course, once the kids came, running back to the car at check-out isn’t an option.

When I declared the house plastic bag free, I made a decision to use reusable bags all the time. That’s right, not just the grocery, all stores. That is, anytime someone tried to put my purchase in a plastic bag, I would say, “No thanks” and put it in whatever reusable bag I brought in.

How did I do it? Visual reminders are the only way for me – they have to be in line of vision or I will forget. So my reusable shopping bags are either on the front door handle or on the front seat of the car. Call it patching my personal suck, but it is working, I rarely forget the bags in the car anymore. And I am proud to say, we have GREATLY reduced the number plastic bags that accumulates under the sink.

Everything counts in large amounts

Now that I know the truth of plastics, I can not return to my innocence. I am now aware of every piece of plastic I touch and the consequences of choosing convenience and a low price over all else. The only way they will stop producing this crap is for us to stop demanding it. We have to disarm the machine from the inside, it will not stop itself.

These small steps will add up to long term meaningful changes. Don’t try to do it all at once, don’t feel bad for where you are at now. I have made some great progress, but don’t think I’m all that. We use tons of paper towels and napkins. As I said, baby steps, this is a war of attrition.

Related Posts by Bonita Applebum:

Return it!

Story of Stuff

Story of Stuff, Part Deux

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ted
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 23:06:11

    Hear Hear! Great article. You are so right about plastics being used in so many of our every day products. I too have pondered ideas on how to ‘cut back the plastic’. It really is a matter of discipline. It can be done. It’s just a matter of breaking a habit of convenience.

    Good luck and stay strong!


  2. Jessy
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 01:50:47

    I must say that as crazy as I can be about recycling, there’s one nagging thought I continuously have about it. In order for an item to be recyclable, it has to be free of food residue; in order for most items to be free of food residue, they must be washed/cleaned/rinsed. Does the increase in water usage outweigh or diminish the benefit of recycling said object in the first place?… ugh, questions, the questions.

    That being said, in my quest to make the house plastic bag free (even with roommates), I also keep and use all old tote bags in addition to reusable grocery-store branded bags because I find some of them rather flimsy. I just like the way a sturdier canvas can carry milk, glass vessels, heavy cans, etc.


  3. Trackback: Repair It! « Bonita Appleblog
  4. GiggleLoop
    Feb 02, 2010 @ 13:21:18

    I try to remember to take a canvas bag with my when I go to the grocery store, but sometimes I forget. The plastic bags I do have are used to line wastepaper basket in the bathroom.

    As for papertowels; I grew up thinking papertowels were some sacred object to be used on very rare occasions (my mom is foreign and grew up poor, so papertowels were not something she was familiar with when she moved to the States). If I have a mess or a spill, I use a dishtowel.


  5. B Dye
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 13:31:00

    Guilty! I can’t even count the Costco portions of plastic bottles we’ve added to this mess. We are officially done with those. Siggs and BPA Free Camelbak bottles accompany us now. Great lessons…as always, thanks for the brain food!


  6. Mandy
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 20:45:49

    I am *so* bad about using the store’s plastic bags. And then I get home and save them for…what, exactly? I have a couple of reusable shopping bags but not enough…I don’t know why I can’t make the leap and go all reusable (regardless of how many plastic bags Will brings home).

    What I am good about is taking my lunch in my Laptop Lunch box (love it!) and packing Kevin’s lunch in a little plate with a lid so we don’t take any Ziplocks at all. Also he drinks from a Klean Kanteen ss water bottle which will convert to a regular water bottle as soon as he outgrows the sippy lid. I joke that he will take it to college and use it as a flask.


  7. Gwendolyn
    Feb 17, 2010 @ 20:50:39

    Your neighbor and my dear sister Daphne gave me your blog info. I am right with you! Changing habits are hard and it seems like I find out daily something new to change, avoid, or be horrified about. Would love for you to visit my blog at


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