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The Forth “R” – Refuse

October 7, 2010

We’ve all heard the mantra: “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” but there is one “R” more important (and potentially more impacting) than all the others:  “Refuse.” Al and I started taking special note of this one while watching the film No Impact Man.  This film is about a family who decided to live an entire year causing as little impact to the environment as they could manage.  They cut out nearly all of their carbon producing activities from riding elevators to their lights!  Al and I aren’t willing to turn off our power completely.  We’d rather look into ways of producing it sustainably and using it really efficiently–but that’s another story.  We’re talking about the forth “R”.


“Refuse” is a simple but powerful word.  You can lighten your carbon impact by simply refusing something that may produce waste to begin with.  The easiest example of this is using a reusable metal water bottle instead of a disposable plastic one.  But that’s just the beginning. Our consumer society is based on the idea of disposability–pretty much everything you buy comes with a package.   Also, many daily tasks involve using and disposing something.

Today’s EC challenge is to find ways you can “refuse” trash to begin with. Here’s some ideas from No Impact Man and a few of our own:

  • Buy in bulk (cereal, rice, beans, etc) and bring your own container to the store (Al and I are going to start doing this one!)
  • Always use your cloth bags when shopping (If you tend to forget them, put a note on your dashboard…it worked for us!)
  • If buying just a few items, or something on the bigger side just refuse to use a bag all together. (Believe us, the funny looks from the salespeople are worth the trouble!)
  • Bring a reusable plate, cup and silverware to work to use at the cafeteria or local restaurant instead of getting a plastic or Styrofoam carry out container  (I’ve been doing this one for a couple months now.  I can’t imagine all the waste I used to produce from my lunch alone; paper plates, tin foil, plastic zip-lock bags, paper napkins, and so on!)
  • Challenge yourself to create a no-waste lunch using a wrap-n-mat (or similar product) and/or some Tupperware instead of sandwich bags, foil, plastic wrap, etc.  Bonus points for packing your kids lunches waste-free as well! (I love my wrap-n-mat! click here to buy one and learn about tons of reusable Eco-products that help you reduce waste)
  • Another lunch tip: buy in bulk and separate into individual portions instead of buying smaller disposable containers like in yogurt, applesauce, etc.  (Al and I buy 15oz organic vanilla yogurt and organic frozen fruit. We put a little fruit on the bottom of a small Tupperware container and a portion of yogurt on top.  Then you can mix up the flavors and produce less trash, Yum!)
  • Bring back the cloth dinner napkin.  It’s classy and green at the same time!  (This is working out just fine. We’ve got a set of six. That’s enough to last a week for two people. I wash them each weekend with the regular wash.)
  • If possible buy items with no packaging.(e.g. produce and other goods at the farmer’s market.) (This works great at the farmer’s market but is a little more challenging at the grocery store. Do your best to find the items with most minimal packaging made from recyclable materials.)
  • Use rags (or fabric cleaning cloths)  instead of paper towel when cleaning.  (This is especially good for light messes…and you can throw those babies in the dish washer/washer machine when their dirty!)
  • Get your news online, refuse to get those free newspapers that just end up in the recycling bin.
  • Cancel your catalog subscriptions (click here for a site that walks you through the process in just a couple minutes)
  • Cancel your yearly phone book order and get your white page info online instead (click here to do this)
  • Use a sticky note program on your desktop instead of actual sticky notes. (click here for some great free sticky note programs)
  • Use cloth diapers (here’s the article about cloth diapers that changed my mind)
  • Use your own coffee cup at work or school.  It’s simple, green and keeps your coffee (or other hot beverage of choice) warmer anyway! (Al and I have been doing this one forever! It’s great!)
  • Bring your own hand towel to dry your hands in public restrooms.  (I think I’ll keep one at my desk at work.  I cringe at all the paper towels I’ve used to dry my hands!)
  • Resurrect the handkerchief.  (It worked for our grandparents, right?  Why not us?  Here’s a great article about making your own cloth wipes to cut out paper products. I’ve dusted off my sewing machine so watch for an article in the future about making your own.)
  • Forget the doggy-bag bring Tupperware! (We haven’t tried this one yet. We’ll let you know how it goes)
  • Think before you print.  Only print what is absolutely necessary and print double sided or on paper that already has one used side when you do.
  • Think before you buy.  Do you really need a new item or can you refurbish, rework, etc. something you already own or simply do without it?

The truth is every decision and every purchase you make can be made with your carbon impact in mind.  Take a moment and think it through before acting and you are bound to find a Eco-friendlier solution!

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