All six of these “R’s” are significant, it's hard to eliminate any. We can recognize the problem all we want but without actionable change such as reducing, we're not going to get very far. Again, these actions may seem small but are, collectively, mighty. We don't need to morph into the people who fit a year worth of waste into a mason jar… I can’t even fit one taco bell order into a mason jar.
So clearly, we’ve got to get creative.
This can be viewed two ways, both are equally important as the other. First, recognize that we’re not perfect. It’s okay to use that luxurious night serum that’s in a plastic jar, just recycle it or repurpose it after. It’s fine to read a paperback book instead of a kindle, pass it along when you’re done or better yet get a library card. We need to recognize that we can have our cake and eat it too.
Second, recognize what’s going on around us. Recognize the world that we live in. We’re targeted every day by brands. Their ads are carefully curated to invoke feeling. And boom, they suck us right in. Every. Time.
“If I buy those shoes, people will be impressed”
“If I wear that makeup, I’ll be as pretty as that model”
“If I get those jeans, my butt will look like hers”
I’ve fallen into that rabbit hole a time or twenty. And it is not fun. And after the novelty and shininess wears off, it's back to square one. Shocking, right? But somehow I don’t feel like I’m alone in this.
I recently took an online class through Yale, their most popular class called The Science of Well Being. It’s free during quarantine through www.coursera.com, I’d highly suggest it. In the class, the idea of “miswanting” is discussed in depth. We want what we think will make us happy i.e. material things, money, jobs, different hair, a slimmer waist, etc. When in reality, these leave us unfulfilled in the long run. What really brings many of us joy is kindness, exercise, deep sleep, traveling, and social connection.
The moral of my story is that it takes work to recognize what’s important. And importance is so extremely subjective. So don’t discount what resonates with you. For me it's a day at Pine Point Beach, a long solo bike ride, Birkenstocks and a pair of Levi's, an evening lounging on my best friends couch, an in depth at home facial, or binge watching The Real Housewives. Maybe makeup is your thing? Great! Own it, but for yourself and no one else. Those shoes spark joy? Perfect, get them. You love the jeans, and the way your butt looks in them? Hell yes, but don’t give the jeans credit, keep doing your squats and honoring your body, sister. Things don't make us who we are. So empty that damn amazon cart.
This one is a doozy. The beauty industry has a lot of metaphorical closets with a metaphorical skeleton in each one. Imagine if cosmetic companies used those skeletons to brand their products. It might look something like this: “You’ll love this facial cleanser! It doesn’t burn your eyes, just ask Buddy our lab beagle!” or “This foundation will change your life! No really, the phthalates can cause reproductive abnormalities!” These words would be written in pretty script surrounded by florals, giving us the impression that they have strong morals and care what’s being absorbed into our skin.
Research doesn’t have to take hours. A quick google search and you can find out everything you need to know about a company. A really easy way of obtaining this info is through the Think Dirty app.
So, let's rebel
Do our due diligence. Stop fueling the fire of consumerism. Find what speaks to us. Use our money wisely, on our own terms. Research. Advocate. And use our voices (loudly).
I’ve said it once and dammit I’ll say it again. Stop buying sh*t you don’t need! The best way to not create waste is to not feed into the demand. This applies to all aspects of life. Food, clothes, personal care products, etc. Think of what resonates with you, or as Marie Kondo says, “what sparks joy.” It’s hard not to feed into the flashiness of consumerism; figure out what works for you and stick with it.
The more we reduce, the less we have to reuse or recycle, obviously. I also think of reusing as buying things used and donating/selling things instead of throwing them out. There are so many ways to buy second hand. I furnished 75% of my first apartment from Goodwill. I remember a few people questioning the sanity of dishes and utensils, but it's no different than eating off of plate at a restaurant. As soul sucking as social media can be, facebook marketplace is an MVP. Along with Poshmark, Craigslist, Mercari, ebay, Goodwill, and thrift shops, there are endless ways to buy, donate, and sell.
Every state is a little different when it comes to recycling. I've always thought that it was normal to have recycling collected in a separate bin on trash day, but I never really understood how lucky we are in Maine until I lived elsewhere. I lived in Texas and Oklahoma for about 9 months, and y'all let me tell you it was a struggle. My car tuned into a garbage truck. I would collect all of my recyclables and then make a weekly trek to a recycling facility. Bless my heart, right?
Here's the skinny for you Mainers:
Recyclable: plastics #1-7, bottles/cans, glass jars/bottles, newspapers
Not Recyclable: grocery bags, saran wrap or plastic baggies, plastic produce bags (i.e what bagged spinach comes in), styrofoam
For bigger and more questionable items (electronics, paint, batteries, etc.) check out two of the resources below.