REDUCE, Reuse, Recycle

Recycling is a wonderful thing. However, recycling uses resources in order to save them. To re-purpose your soda bottle into a “98% post-consumer recycled plastic” item, transportation and reconstruction are needed—both of which put a strain on the planet. Post-consumer recyclables are a commodity, often sold to China and other countries that produce most of the goods using the recycled materials. However, like a commodity, these recyclables are only valuable when there is high demand: Right now, the cost to produce new plastic is less than the cost to recycle, so sometimes there is not sufficient incentive for companies to use post-consumer materials.

With regard to the realities of recycling, this Atlantic article describes an “elaborate global system within which its plastic is sold, shipped, melted, resold, and shipped again… [a process made] possible because plastic is a stubborn substance, which resists decomposition.”

“With a presumed life span of over 500 years, it’s safe to say that every plastic bottle you have used exists somewhere on this planet, in some form or another.”

With this depressing news to think about as Earth Day approaches, it is good to remember that there are ways that each individual can cut down on the plastic that burdens our globe. See if any of these strategies may be right for you:


  1. First and foremost, buy less. Clothes, shoes, toys, electronics, and stuff have come to run our lives. De-cluttering is all the rage, but remember that the better process is to buy less in the first place, not to purge frequently.

According to Council for Textile Recycling,
On average each American throws away roughly 
70 pounds of clothing and other textiles per year.

While discarded items can certainly be donated or possibly recycled, the sheer volume of discarded textiles outweighs the possible second or third lives they may have. In fact, some African countries have considered banning the import of used clothing because their native industries cannot compete with the prices.

  1. If you must buy, choose re-usable and renewable versions whenever possible.

Toys, peanut butter containers, to-go containers, and many other goods have new packaging options every day. Just as you can “vote with your fork” for sustainable agriculture and organic farming, you can vote for sustainable packaging by supporting companies that use it. Not sure? Call the company and ask. Wish there were more options? Call and ask! Especially here at the co-op, member suggestions are taken very seriously.

Some specific suggestions?

  • The Co-op has compostable options at the prepared foods counters
  • We also sell wax paper baggies to avoid plastic ones, many re-usable containers, and phthalate-free plastic and beeswax wraps.
  • Everyone knows about re-usable shopping bags, water bottles and coffee cups… but are you using them? Think about strategies to remember re-usable options whenever possible.

The low-hanging fruit in consuming less plastic? STRAWS! They are not crucial to the consumption or convenience of anything. Must have them? Opt for the re-usable kind!

  1. Reduce waste from food:
  • Buy less processed food (good for your health and the environment). Bulk grains, nuts, and seeds, fruits, and vegetables utilize less packaging than chips, granola bars, etc. because they aren’t separated into small portions.
  • Buy larger quantities. Without over-buying—which may contribute to food waste—larger containers of things like yogurt, soap, chips, and ketchup are an earth-friendly option. Most often, this is also the economical way to buy. In order to reduce spoilage, parcel into smaller quantities using re-usable containers—old peanut butter jars are a favorite of mine! Freeze or store the extra.
  • Use what you buy.

Meal planning goes a long way towards reducing food waste. The following websites provide good tools for meal planning:

  • Utilize the last little bits

Freeze the ends of sauces and packages of chicken broth in ice cube trays to use later as an extra burst of flavor.

Keep an eye on the fridge: Familiarize yourself with the perishable food you’ve got on a daily basis to remember what you need to use quickly!


Buy better. Purchases are often made because they are cheap, a good deal, or on sale. This does not ensure the value of the product… Will you use it for a long time and will it add value to your life? Items that cost more may cause you to consider whether or not you really need them, which can be good for your wallet and the planet!

Not only can high quality goods last longer, but they can often be repaired, as well. Patagonia has this wonderful website dedicated to the concept of continued use. They also collect old Patagonia garments that are beyond repair to ensure they are recycled.

Sometimes a modest price increase for kitchen and home appliances, tools, and sporting goods means it can be repaired, rather than simply replaced. Warranties still exist! Take the step to save and track required documents so that you can take advantage of them if the time comes. Even if the repair isn’t free, it may be cheaper than buying new (for you, and the planet)!


what you do need to know about recycling:

Even recyclable plastic items are
difficult to process if they haven’t been cleaned properly—hence, the leaflets calling for us to “rinse our recyclables.” The cleaner a plastic bottle is, the easier it is to reincarnate it as something new.

Although there are some issues with recycling, continue with the effort! Plastic bottles of ANY kind (soda, laundry, milk- you name it) are some of the most easily recyclable items, yet Not enough used plastic bottles in the U.S. are making it into the recycling system.”. Reducing the number of items that need to be recycled is priority number one, but if waste is generated, proper handling is essential. 

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Guest Author

The Co-op News occasionally publishes posts from guest authors. Interested? Email comment at coopfoodstore dot com.