Recycling and reusing are awesome, but reducing is the most important R by far. Reusing often ultimately ends up in recycling, and recycling takes energy and materials. Reducing however, gets the problem at the source-- the fish rots from the head, so I say cut off the head. And, hurray, it's not that hard!
One of the top ways to reduce waste is to think about what you're buying. Buy things with less packaging and buy in bulk, bringing your own containers, whenever possible. Places like Whole Foods and Food Co-Ops are very understanding of this. I often use yogurt containers and jars as containers, so I doubly reuse and reduce! Farmer's markets are also a great way to avoid excess packaging (and transport!). Further, farmer's market sellers are often willing to take back used packaging (like egg cartons).
Fast food isn't very good for you to begin with nor is it particularly sustainable, but the huge amount of trash produced by fast food restaurants is yet another reason to avoid them. Get a good sit-down meal, where you eat off of real dishes, or be prepared with your own (way cheaper and healthier) snacks and little meals.
Similarly, I am working on always carrying a mess kit with me. That way, if at a meeting or a picnic, there are only disposable options, I give myself a better one. One of the most important parts of this kit is a travel mug. Because, inevitably, you're going to want some coffee or tea or some such thing-- have a cup ready for it! I've been trying to encourage my behavior by just refusing to get a paper cup. I just won't. The pain from not getting my coffee when I want it is enough to make sure that I'll bring a cup with me.
I also bring my own grocery bags everywhere. I always have at least one in the car. It's not just for groceries-- it's for any store where you might get a bag. Yes, including the mall. If you really don't want to bring your own bag, you can also use one bag for purchases from multiple stores.
Buy less. Buy used. Both of these things reduce waste.
Don't buy a magic doggie bag dispenser thing. Use the plastic bags you're already bringing into your home. It's effectively free and cuts down on a huge amount of waste.
Stop using paper towels. This is something I'll be doing in the next few months. There are a few prongs to accomplishing this goal. First, get some cloths for cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom and such. I've heard good things about Trader Joe's Cleaning Cloths, so I plan to get some of these and try them out. Second, keep some absorbent rags around (old towels or tee shirts perhaps) for big spills. Finally, keep any plastic bags that were just going to be thrown out around to pick up gross stuff. Rags can be washed in the washing machine as usual-- possibly with some extra vinegar or borax to kill any germs.
Similarly, make your own adorable hankies and hankie-holding tub.
Bring your own towel or washcloth to the gym, if they don't already require it. Use that to wipe down machines rather than a disposable tissue.
You need to clean, of course, but how 'bout reusing all your handy cleaning gadgets, especially things like Swiffer mops? As an added bonus, it so darn cute!
Avoid all those little uses of paper. For directions, use a GPS if possible (a great excuse to get a new gadget) otherwise write down short directions on scrap paper. Use scrap paper or cereal boxes to write down grocery lists on rather than buying a special grocery list pad (or at least fully use each piece of paper by re-using it over many weeks). Ditto for little sticky pad notes and memos to yourself.
Buy chop sticks and straws that are re-usable to avoid that constant waste.
For $41, you can get rid of catalogs and junk mail for 5 years-- and about one-third of that fee is donated to environmental agencies. And that's $41 per household, not per person. Besides saving the environment and saving you time, this also cuts down on the potential for identity theft. Did I mention it's really easy to sign up?
Alright, boys, get ready to get over your squeamish sides. You were carried in a womb for roundabouts 9 months, so I'm allowed to talk about menstrual cycles if I want. You don't have to read about it, though. Ladies, I've recently tried the Diva Cup. Basically, it's a silicon cup that you put on up there and it collects all the blood and gunk. You empty it at least every 12 hours (I think they suggest more like every 6 hours), clean it up, and put it back up there. A lot of the EWWW ICKY factor, if you think about it, is probably similar to what you thought when someone first explained tampons to you. This is better, because it can stay in for 12 hours and is (I think) less likely to cause TSS because it holds the gunk inside the cup rather than up against your skin. Further, if inserted correctly, there shouldn't be any leaks. Admittedly, you have to be pretty comfortable with reaching around in there. However, once it was in, I couldn't feel it at all. Sadly, due to my attempts to balance my fear of not getting it in far enough and my fear of getting it stuck (which is actually pretty impossible-- it will gradually works its way out after about 12 hours or you can just squeeze the same muscles as if you're having a poo, and it works its way out), I didn't have it in quite right. Then I had to go tromping about urban streams for two days, so I opted to give up on it for that period. I was also told that, sadly, Castile soap can possibly damage the integrity of it... I found that out after I used Castile soap once, so hopefully that one time won't hurt it too much. Instead, I got some Soft Soap with Aloe Vera, which I was told would work-- the Diva Wash also seems good, but a bit expensive. On that note, to be warned, the Diva Cup is around $30. But I think they say you can use the same one for about 10 years, so it probably pays for itself eventually. Have you tried it? What did you think?
So that's the three basic R's. What's next??? Oh, there's plenty more out there. Don't you worry...
Previously, this was a blog mostly to harass my poor friends and family with the details of my life. Don't worry-- that will continue. However, I'm also going to use this as a terrible forum for dialogue about green tips and eco-revolutions. Hopefully it will be helpful and entertaining...