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Don’t Refuse to Reuse

September 13, 2009

Austin looks at me with a puzzled look on his face, “What the heck are you doing?”

“I’m washing it out, what does it look like?” I reply.

“But Janie…that’s a to-go container.”

Ok, so it’s a to-go container, but it’s still reusable isn’t it?  It seemed like such a waste to throw away a perfectly reusable container just because it was meant to be disposable.  But don’t you think it’s ironic that most disposable to-go containers are made from the infamous, indestructible Styrofoam (a product of Styrene)?  Infamous because of its well-documented health effects.  Indestructible because it will probably outlive us on this earth.

My particular to-go container, on the other hand, was a plastic one from Noodles and Company.  Don’t be fooled by its non-Styrofoam-ness* though: plastic containers, made from petroleum, are also known to carry various health risks, especially when heated to high temperatures.

Yet the impacts don’t stop there: containers and packaging comprise of the largest portion of waste produced at a staggering 31%.  That’s 78.4 millions tons!  If you need a visual, that’s 26 million elephants worth of Styrofoam and plastic.

What was most intriguing to me was his genuine surprise at reusing something clearly not meant to be reused.  In the past couple of months I have convinced him to switch over to the two icons of recyclables: grocery bags and water bottles.  They seem to be everywhere, multiplying almost as quickly as their plastic counterparts.  However, why is it we’re stuck on these two reusable behemoths?  Why can’t we think outside the bag…or bottle?

So I walked around the house thinking about other reusables when it hit me.  The smell of dirty dish rags.  Memories of many evenings arguing with my dad about his archaic cleaning methods with cloth rags and mops flooded my mind and I grimaced at the thought of a world without Swiffers and Bounty paper towels.

And then it hit me a second time.  Though my dad may not be updated in the latest cleaning technology, at least his old-school methods were reusable.  Though the dish rags stank, he simply threw them in the laundry to be cleaned and used again.  I never saw him buy a new mop and our dish rags turned into counter top rags which then turned into car cleaning rags.  I mean, when he did use paper towels, he even rinsed off and reused those. His refusal to buy into (literally) disposable cleaning supplies not only minimized his impact on the environment but his wallet as well. If you use a roll of paper towels a week, you’d be spending around $60 a year.  On the other hand, if you simply spent around $5 once a year for a pack of cloth rags, you’d be getting the same thing for less than a tenth of the price.  For an even cheaper option that really reuses, old t-shirts are completely free.

I never thought I’d say this, and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to for a long time, but…

Dad, you were right.

While disposable products at times make life more convenient, investing in reusable products can make a significant impact environmentally and economically.  How do you save by using reusables?


For another girl’s struggle with boyfriends and Styrofoam, check this blog out.

*Styrofoam-ness: having the essence of a soft, cushioned substance that makes an annoying screeching sound when scratched on

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. janiec52 permalink
    September 14, 2009 1:26 pm

    Update on “Reduce your socks, Reduce your footprint”:

    There’s nothing scarier than getting judged at Plato’s Closet. Austin and I finally brought our clothes to Plato’s Closet today in order to reduce the amount of apparel waste we generate and hopefully make a buck or two in the process. (I got him to lower his t-shirt count from 119 to 110!) Unfortunately, our clothes did not make the cut at Plato’s Closet and we were sent home with 9 unwanted shirts and $0.00. I hope those of you who sell clothes to Plato’s Closet have more success than we did. Our next stop? Goodwill.

  2. Jenny permalink
    October 13, 2009 4:20 pm

    Janie – so great to read your blog! Austin is officially a champ.

    We like to wash out & reuse our ziploc bags…something my folks did, and i swore i would never do! My guy has gotten into the nasty habit of using paper towels for napkins, purchasing some cotton napkins for everyday use is something i prefer doing though.
    Keep up the good work!

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