‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’:
How to Reduce and Manage Your Waste

See also: Saving Energy and Natural Resources

An important element of sustainability is not using more than your fair share of resources. Obviously, that requires considering what you use, and whether you can reduce that. However, it also means thinking about what you don’t use: that is, what you throw away.

Managing waste is a huge issue across the developed world, and increasingly in the developing world as well. We send thousands of tonnes of waste to landfill sites every year. Recently, however, awareness has grown of the damage that we are doing by throwing so much away. Increasingly, around the world, people are trying to do more to ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’.

This page provides some ideas that you could use for this purpose.

10 Tips to Help You Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

There are three main ways to manage your rubbish: reduce the amount that you produce, reuse things (including ‘repurposing’ and ‘upcycling’, where you turn your waste into something new and better) and recycling more.

There is a certain amount of overlap between these options, especially ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’. For example, at what point does reusing carrier bags tip over into reducing waste by not using single-use bags?

This list provides some ideas for how you can reduce, reuse and recycle more.

1. Only buy what you actually need

Internet shopping has encouraged us all to buy a standard basket or trolley of food each week or even month. It’s quick and easy—but it’s also wasteful.

It is a much better idea to plan your meals for the week and buy what you are actually going to use.

Some people suggest that it may even be better to shop each day, or every few days rather than just once a week, as this ensures that you eat food at its best. However, for those who work or have a lot of commitments, this may be rather less practical.

2. Keep an eye on expiry dates on food—and use it before it goes off

It is a good idea to be generally aware of what’s in your fridge and cupboards, and use it before it goes off.

‘Using’ in this case can include freezing or using some other form of preserving—for example, stewing or making jam out of fruit.

Manufacturers use several different date indicators to tell you about a food’s shelf life. The only one you really need to worry about is the ‘use by’ date (see box).

‘Sell by’, ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates

There are some important distinctions between the different types of dates that food companies put on the products you buy.

  • ‘Sell by’ dates are for the benefit of the supermarkets. They are there to make sure that the food on the shelves is sold in roughly the ‘right’ order, so that newer, fresher stuff replaces older stuff. You don’t need to throw anything away just because it has reached its ‘sell-by’ date. Typically, around a third of the product’s ‘shelf-life’ remains after its ‘sell-by’ date.
  • ‘Use by’ dates are about safety, especially in the UK. Beyond that point, the product may not be safe to eat (and you often can’t tell by the taste or smell), so the advice from food standards’ bodies is not to eat anything past its ‘use by’ date. If something is close to its ‘use by’ date, it is a good idea to use it or freeze it. You can do this up to and including that date provided that you have followed the storage instructions on the product.
  • ‘Best before’ dates are about quality. After that date, the food may not be at its absolute best, although it will still be safe to consume.

3. Buy bigger containers, and use them to refill smaller ones

For products that don’t go off, it may be better to buy bigger containers, and refill smaller ones for everyday use.

For example, if you like a small bottle of washing-up liquid by the sink, keep a small bottle and refill it from a much larger one that you keep in the cupboard.

4. Take your own packaging to the shops with you

Most of us now take our own reusable carrier bags to the shops with us—especially now there is a charge for plastic bags in many countries. However, you can extend this principle further.

For example, you don’t actually need to put loose fruit in a plastic bag: you can just put it in your trolley, especially if you use a basket inside the trolley to prevent it from being bruised.

Making a point

Plenty of people suggest that you should remove the packaging from fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, and leave it at the till, to ‘make a point’.

After all, they say, fruit has its own skin, and is fully wrapped: it doesn’t need plastic.

This probably is a good way to make a point.

However, you can be fairly confident that it’s not a good way to ensure that the packaging is recycled properly.

5. Consider whether you can change what you use to reduce the amount of waste

It may be possible to change the products that you use and find a substitute that actually produces less waste.

For example, substituting soap for shower gel means that you no longer have to dispose of a single-use plastic bottle. Instead, you have a single waxed paper wrapper around four or even eight bars of soap: much less waste, and more easily recycled too.

6. Consider whether what you have ‘will do’

Do you really need to buy something new? Or could you manage with what you have?

Many people are embracing this approach with clothes and learning to love old favourites again. It is also possible to mend clothes—after all, our grandparents did so—and plenty of other goods too.

7. Try making something new from what you have

With clothes and other fabrics in particular, you can get creative and turn something that is a bit worn into something different, especially if you’re good at sewing.

For example, sheets and duvet covers can be turned into pillowcases, leaving out the worn bits. Double duvet covers can also be cut down to make single ones instead, giving them a new lease of life.

Plenty of other things can also be ‘upcycled’ with a bit of thought and imagination, and sites like Pinterest are full of ideas for this.

8. Consider whether other people could use what you don’t want

If you’re tired of something, or no longer use it, could someone else get some use out of it?

Auction websites like eBay have turned this into a business for many people, but you can also go the old-fashioned route, and simply donate things to your local charity (thrift) shop. Websites like Freecycle exist for things that charity shops don’t want.

TOP TIP! Fabric recycling

In many areas, charity shops can and will take rags, including old clothes that cannot be sold as clothes, such as socks with holes in them. They will get what is called ‘rag weight’ for them, so the charity will benefit.

Ask your local charity shop if they can take rags before you simply drop old socks into the general waste.

9. If your local council doesn’t recycle something, see if there is a specialist recycler

For example, there are a number of companies that recycle—which often means ‘refill and sell on’ old printer cartridges. This is worth looking into, as many will even send you a pre-paid envelope.

10. Start composting your green waste

Your local council may already collect food waste. However, if you have a garden or want to grow some of your own vegetables, it is worth considering a small composter or wormery. You can keep a wormery inside, and it won’t smell, but it will be a very good way to dispose of your vegetable peelings and make something useful.

Every Little Helps

It may be a cliché, but in the sustainability stakes, and especially when managing waste, every little really does help.

You may start small, but the chances are that as you get going, you will find more and more ways to reduce, reuse and recycle your waste. Maybe you could challenge yourself to produce less and less each week…?