Make your mindset – ‘how can I reuse this?’

Reduce, reuse, recycle are the three key words to have in mind when adapting how we deal with waste in a way that minimises the impact we have on the environment. The three R’s are a simple and definitive set of rules that we should all adopt into our everyday lives to cut our waste, so that landfill sites can stop expanding, and to prevent our plastic and unwanted clothes from polluting countries the other side of the world.

Each component of reduce, reuse, recycle deserves its own blog post, but here I am going to focus on reusing. I wanted to concentrate on reusing because the current coronavirus pandemic and the persisting lockdowns have caused people to purchase more online and have goods delivered because many shops are closed. The ONS reported the proportion of online clothing and household goods sales doubled during the 2020 pandemic period.

With more bought online, more packaging (cardboard and paper in particular) is used for transporting the goods, yet often this gets put straight in recycling or worse, in the bin. The key stage of ‘reusing’ is therefore missed, and materials are going to waste when they could be put to use elsewhere.

Of course, this is a huge topic and there are numerous reusing tips and tricks, but the main question to ask yourself when finished with a product or its packaging is: how can I reuse this?

1. Take shopping bags with you to the supermarket and high-street stores.

There is absolutely no excuse to buy new ones at the till, no matter how nominal the price. If you do find yourself at the till, having forgotten your bags, ask staff if they have some spare cardboard boxes you can use to transport your shopping home.

Us using sustainably produced cotton EarthRights-branded bags!

2. Wrapping paper and gift bags can be re-used for other presents.

Collect used bits of wrapping paper, fold carefully to keep them in good condition, then store in a bag for reusing at a later date. Personally, by doing this, I have not needed to buy wrapping paper in over five years.

3. Reuse parcel bags or paper packaging.

Just cross out the old address and send the bag around the country.

This one has gone to and from Nottingham, then to and from London. Ready for its 5th use!

4. Paper and leaflets can be used for ‘to-do’ or shopping lists.

5. Refill old coffee and tea containers and condiment jars.

They make great containers for food from zero-waste stores. If you buy a kilo of food, for example raisins, you can keep re-filling the smaller jar for more convenient, everyday use.

Reused jars of our friend!

6. No other use? Well, get creative!

I ran a workshop at a festival once, which I named ‘Making Rubbish Funky’. The aim of the workshop was to show others how safe waste products could be used to create artwork and sculptures. We collected rubbish from around the festival and then used it to create pantomime masks and models. What’s great is that because the material used is always rubbish or waste, there is no preconception that the creation needs to look beautiful or be perfect, just that you have fun.

My model dragonfly made out of discarded wire, orange and garlic netting and baby bell wrappers.

It was really good fun, and many of the participants thought they could take it to schools and to workshops with children. During the coronavirus ‘lockdowns’, reusing rubbish and making funny art with it could be a great way to engage with children who are stuck at home and do not have the space or materials to get creative as they might in school. It also helps instil a behaviour of reusing waste.

Click here to tell EarthRights about your funky waste creations and other suggestions for how we can best reduce, reuse, recycle!

Melanie Désert

Melanie Désert

Co-founder and Co-producer