Reusables vs. Single-Use Products

It’s a new year! We’re going to be focusing a bit more on the other R’s this year beyond Recycle even though Recycle is a big area we can always improve on.

There are at least 7 Other Rs according to Treehugger:

  • Reduce: Just use less.
  • Return: Producers should take back what they sell.
  • Reuse: Almost boring, but we throw too much stuff out too soon.
  • Repair: Fix and mend things rather than replacing them.
  • Refill: In Ontario Canada, 88% of beer bottles are returned to the beer store, washed and refilled; just south of the border in the USA, the number drops to under 5%.
  • Rot: Compost what is left over, turning it into valuable nutrients.
  • Refuse: Simply refuse to accept this crap from the manufacturers any more.

Today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite Rs: Reuse. There are many choices we can make to utilize reusable items in lieu of single-use items. Yes there are single-use items made from recycled-content, but most single-use items are made from virgin materials. Yes, many of the single-use items can be recycled or composted, a lot cannot. So if we make the investment in a quality, long-term reusable item (recycled content if possible), that will save us money, probably save space (like in closets, pantries, storerooms), and definitely save landfill space.

Reuse can also be thinking of new and/or different ways to use items before they go to the landfill. I usually think of this type of reuse as Repurpose. There are so many DIY, Pinterest, etc. ideas out there on how to Repurpose items. Please share with us what you are repurposing! Pictures are always helpful and inspiring!

For this post, we’re going to think of Reuse as reusable items. Please share if you want to see something added or came up with a clever idea/reuse!

I have more information to share on many of these topics, such as statistics and recommendations, which will be in the in-depth posts, but I want to at least get the list out there so you can start thinking about it and how you may be able to reuse (repurpose) something you have already or begin reviewing options for something you intend to acquire.

Below are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Sturdy plastic, metal or glass water bottle vs. single-use plastic water bottles
    • Single-use plastic water bottles can be recycled in the blue carts.
    • If you destroy your metal water bottle it can be recycled at the Scrap Metal station at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center.
    • Glass is not allowed in City of Austin (or most) parks or in aquatic facilities.
  • Canvas, vinyl, or another sturdy material bags vs. single-use plastic bags or limited-use (because they split, crack, etc.) plastic/polyester bags
T-shirt bag example courtesy of Marilyn Briles
  • Glass, metal, or bamboo straw vs. plastic or paper straws.
    Consider how many bags of straws you will save with one glass or metal straw.
    • Paper and bamboo (if untreated) straws can be composted.
    • Plastic straws go in the trash or a TerraCycle box.
  • Metal or wood (usually bamboo) utensils vs. plastic or compostable utensils. I have a little utensil kit I keep in my bag that has a fork, spoon, knife and cotton napkin. This way I don’t need a single-use utensil when I’m out and about.
    • I made my kit but more and more stores are selling utensil kits that are more compact (and lightweight if that matters to you), so check out your options and what will work best for you.
    • My kit is made of metal utensils abandoned at work. I’m sure you’ve all seen the utensil drawer of random silverware left by decades of office workers. Check with your office manager first, but if they say it’s okay this is a great place to start. Otherwise thrift stores are a super cheap way to make these little kits. You could also grab some fabric while you’re there to make napkins or a bag for the kit!
    • Plastic single-use utensils go in the trash. They’re too small and fall through the single-stream sorting machines. You may also recycle them in a TerraCycle All-In-One Zero Waste Box.
    • Compostable utensils may go in the compost carts.
  • Cloth towels, napkins and handkerchiefs vs. paper towels, paper napkins, tissues
    • I have a whole drawer of different types and sizes of washcloths and towels we use in the kitchen in lieu of paper towels and paper napkins.
    • We have adult and child sized cotton napkins. My son is only 2.5 and he is great at using his cloth napkin and the smaller size helps him control it. His napkin is about 1/4 the size of an adult cloth napkin. I was gifted all these (at my request), I cannot sew a hem, but you could easily make your own napkins.
    • We use handkerchiefs and flannel squares to blow our noses. We carry extra when we’re going out so as not to gross people out even though this is how people blew their noses for centuries before facial tissues. If someone is visiting, they get to use toilet paper if they didn’t bring anything with them.
    • Paper towels, paper napkins and facial tissues without blood may be composted. Food on them is okay. No human blood tissues are allowed in the compost carts.
  • Containers and real cups vs. plastic containers, paper or foam plateware
    • We are the king and queen of mason jars and Pyrex/Anchor in this house. This is what we use to drink out of and store food.
    • We drink out of, make cold-brew coffee in, and carry food to work in our mason jars.
    • Yes, we “lug” glass Pyrex or Anchor to the office or in the car for leftovers or the hot bar food. It’s not that heavy, they’re easy to clean, I can tare the weight on them, and we all need more strength training anyway right?
    • My 2.5 year old son can confidently handle his 1 cup glass bowls and his pint mason jar, but we do have small 4 oz stainless steel cups we prefer he use and they’re great. The slight texture is actually a little easier for him to grip especially with sticky fingers.
    • Plastic storage containers may go in the recycling carts.
    • Clean and dry plastic zippered bags may go to a store plastic bag drop-off station or the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center.
    • Paper plateware and cupware that is not temperature controlled or for coffee may be composted. If there’s a plastic-feeling or the cups are labeled for coffee they’re plastic coated paper and go in the trash.
    • Foam plateware and cupware may be rinsed, dry and taken to the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center for recycling at the Styrofoam station.
    • Mason jars are super for bulk purchases enabling you to save money and not have to deal with packaging, even if it can be recycled. No packaging is even better than recyclable packaging.
    • See RETHINK: Food Storage
  • Cotton face clothes, makeup rounds, etc. vs. single-use facial wipes, disposable makeup rounds, etc.
    • Single use cosmetic items are usually made of polyester and/or have chemicals so they should be trashed and not composted.
    • Reusable cotton pads, rounds, etc. are easily made or purchased.
    • Coconut oil (and most natural oil) is supposed to be excellent at removing eye makeup and will wash out in the laundry. I don’t wear eye makeup but this is commonly mentioned on green blogs so it’s worth a try.
    • Once these cloths/textils are worn out beyond use they can be recycled at the Textiles station at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center.
  • Fabric menstrual pads, menstrual cups, period panties vs. single use items
    • None of the single-use items are compostable in the City of Austin, the contractor for composting prohibits human blood.
    • I’ll be writing a separate post on this topic so keep an eye out.
  • Silicone “cotton” swab vs. cotton swab
    • This is one of the hot items right now. A reusable/washable silicone tipped “cotton” swab vs. the single-use cotton swabs.
    • Check the packaging information to try and find the most zero waste option. A lot of these come in plastic wrap.
    • I’ll be writing a separate post on this topic so keep an eye out.
    • Cotton swabs on a cotton stick may be composted.
    • Cotton tips on a plastic stick should go in the trash.
  • Coffee and tea reusables vs. single-use at home or to-go
    • For coffee see RETHINK: Coffee: Zero Waste Style
    • For tea see RETHINK: Tea: Zero Waste Style
    • A lot of coffee shops claim you can bring your own cup. This works great for straight coffee. If you like fancy coffee, most of the time I see them fix it in a disposable cup and pour it into my cup. Watch the barista and always hold the establishment accountable. If they’re using metal pitchers and stirrers, they can use a reusable metal something to mix your coffee in to pour into your cup if they’re uncomfortable using your cup to mix.
  • Mechanical pencils, refillable pens vs regular pencils and single-use pens
    • I’ll be writing more about these options again in the future.
    • See also Back to School and Office Supplies
    • Pet Peeve Alert: If you use pens that have refills, please order the refills instead of more new pens. Please encourage your office manager to do the same.
      • In similar vein, I’m sure you all are aware of pen hoarders in your office. Encourage everyone to empty out their desks and return the surplus to the supply cabinet/drawer/etc. I kept one of each color I needed in my desk and that was it. Walking to the refill is good for you!
      • The same concept applies for binder clips, paper clips and rubber bands. Empty out the desks and return these to the supply cabinet/drawer for everyone to use and the office to save money on ordering new/virgin materials.

These are some of the more common, easier to transition items you can begin working on to be a little more zero waste.

If I think of any more really common, daily items I’ll update the list.

Always do a Search on to see if I’ve addressed a topic/item yet.
If you want to read about something, have a topic or item addressed, please let me know.

Thank you and here’s to a newer, greener you this year!

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