Reduce, reuse, recycle – in that order.

I alluded to this in my previous post but I’ve been thinking lately about practical ways to reduce the amount of rubbish we send to landfill. Of course, this is primarily about plastic but I recently learnt (probably the last in the world to know) that the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle should be actioned in that order. Which makes total sense to me now that I’ve been prompted to think it over but ashamedly, I never really had before. Recycling and reusing are both important and great but the first and most important step is to reduce. Reduce the amount of waste you produce and there is less to be reused and recycled which means a much lower impact on the environment and papatuanuku. I’m guessing you and yours have all heard the horrific statistic that if our plastic use continues as it is there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050. If that doesn’t hit you like a punch in the guts then I don’t know what will.

As a whānau, we stopped getting plastic bags at the supermarket ages ago and have a good selection of reusable shopping bags that have been serving us well for three years +. BUT. But. As a vegan whānau, we buy and eat a lot of fresh produce, which seems to come, more often than not, in separate plastic packaging. We have just been given a bundle of reusable produce bags and I invested in a few more so here’s hoping we can bring home our beans and carrots in mesh bags, transfer to the fridge and tick another thing off that reduce list. Same deal for our bulk goods. Usually we buy our nuts and seeds from the bulk foods section at the supermarket and put everything into those little plastic resealable bags and I justified this because we reuse those bags for everything from kids lunches to electronic storage. We use and wash and use and wash those little bags until they come to pieces at which point we put them in the rubbish bin. In order to end this little cycle of reuse, reuse, reuse and then trash I picked up some cotton bulk food bags. I think I’ll need to invest in a few more over the next few weeks but I wanted to try a few bags for ease of use and how well they hold ingredients like flour or small seeds before I buy more.

So far I’m really enjoying taking my own bags out, I feel a bit smug at the supermarket bulk bins when I fill my cotton bag with almonds and I’m more than a little bit proud when I can walk out with a reusable shopping bag full of kai stashed in more reusable shopping bags. When I get home I empty everything out into leftover jam or tahini jars and because I’m a person who loves to get rid of things we don’t have a collection or\f jars and lids to use so I’m having to save them from the recycling bin so I can reuse them which is pretty cool. My efforts to REDUCE have directly led to a way to REUSE things rather than RECYCLE which is worth celebrating.

At this current count, that’s two new ways we can significantly reduce our waste, rather than focusing on recycling and reusing. A shift of priorities for sure, but for me, an important one. When it comes to reusing and recycling, we have pretty good habits. We recycle as much as possible, including collecting our soft plastics to drop off at the special bin at the supermarket and feeding as many food scraps as possible to our worms living in the backyard worm farm. We also buy second hand wherever possible and lots of our clothes and homewares are new-to-us but living their second or third life in our home. This is all good stuff, but it really was such a lightbulb moment to understand the intention behind the order behind the three R’s. Maybe I’m the last to figure this out, maybe I’m the only one to be excited about such things but I’m not embarrassed. If I’m the last then better late than never and if I’m the only one well, I’m okay with that too.

My efforts over the next few weeks will include making as much from scratch as possible (baking, knitting, sewing) to avoid unnecessary waste and trying to grow a few veggies in our tiny backyard which is currently home to strawberry plants, broad beans and lettuces. I hope to add peas, beans and zucchinis to that list this spring and summer as they’ve always proved to provide a good harvest and are veggies we eat constantly.

I’m sure this will lose it’s novelty and perhaps I’ll sigh when I get home with my bag full of bags with goods that need to be transferred to jars but for now I’m into it. Despite my comment about smugness above, one day I’ll take some time to put my currently incoherent thoughts around resources (physical, mental, emotional, financial) and energy for these kinds of choices, i.e. don’t go judging those who don’t bring a reusable bag or 14 to the supermarket because you don’t know what they have going on (or not going on) and we all come at things from different places. For now though, I’m just going to try and hold on to my current commitments and hope that my energy for this stays put.

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