How often do people act on the first of the infamous 3 Rs?
“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”
Reducing means refusing to buy that thing in the first place and this list is a growing testimony to how possible it is to eliminate certain things from your everyday purchases, if you’re willing to try. Why do it? Often it saves us money. But many of these things are made of plastic or have plastics in them, so finding ways to reduce our consumption of them helps save the environment by reducing the amount of items headed to our landfills. Before you read the list, consider joining The Buy Nothing Project, a social movement sweeping the US and Canada. We’re local gift economies that enable neighbors to share with each other, offering up our bounty to be “consumed” by those nearby. Or, simply ask for what you want in your Buy Nothing group and you’ll be surprised to see that your neighbors are happy to give you exactly what you’re looking for.
Without further ado, here’s our quick list of items you could try to reduce or even refuse:
100) Dishwasher Rinse Agent: This stuff isn’t great for the environment and pure white distilled vinegar does the same thing. Read the article and see the results.
99) Toothpaste: You don’t have to be brave to try this one. It works and my children love it — homemade tooth paste from baking soda. (Oh, and there were no cavities at our last checkup.)
98) Deodorant: Make your own with, surprise, baking soda! No other ingredients required.
97) Shampoo: Try one of these 5 natural alternatives to shampoo.
96) Paper Clips: I never need to buy them. I find plenty of them on the ground. Honestly.
94) Garden Gloves: We, um, find these on the side of our roads, having fallen from landscaper’s trucks (the gloves, that is). I don’t believe this is only true of our area. Pay attention to the roadside the next time you’re in your car and I bet you’ll find a garden glove or 2. Workmen and women lose their gloves while working on roadsides and at construction sites. If you don’t believe me, read all about it here. And if you have a few odd gloves that don’t have a mate, send them to our Garden Glove Love project, a mating service for gloves that are then donated to rag pickers in Kathmandu to protect their hands from infection.
93) Crayons: If you’re really hard up, there are some restaurants that give out crayons to kids so you can have a quiet dining experience. Find those restaurants, find some kids, and you’ve got yourself some free crayons. You can also post a wanted on Freecycle for crayons and surely you’ll get a few hundred responses.
92) Ipad Covers: These are truly easy to make. Visit our Trash Backwards app for some good ipad cover ideas from stuff you have around your house.
91) Fairy Houses: Another item that the fairies would prefer you didn’t buy. Make one for them out of natural materials! Fairies are the original nature hackers out there. Again, our app has some great ideas to get your fairy juices flowing whether from nature’s materials or items you have in your trash bin.
90) Pacifiers: Just don’t buy one, then your child won’t be dependent upon it. Even a finger is better than a binky, in my opinion. I used mine for years. And plastics in an infant’s or toddler’s mouth has proven to be detrimental to their health.
89) Bird Feeders: Bird feeders can be made from so many things, especially items you’d typically throw away. For inspiration (and proof) check out the 25 bird feeders we have found made from everyday stuff:
88) Back Scratchers: Find a friend or a doornail.
87) Cardboard Boxes: In our community, cardboard boxes are passed on to neighbors each week through our Buy Nothing group. A lot of people are either moving to our island or are heading off. There’s no need to buy boxes here! Any liquor store or Rite Aid will be happy to give you their smaller boxes, too.
86) Hair Detangler: If you haven’t tried our secret hair detangler recipe, now’s your chance. It really works.
85) Valentines: These are an original hand-made art that has been usurped by Hallmark. Get out your scissors and some pretty paper and get creative! Or if you’re looking for something more original, visit our app for ideas:
84) Soap Dispensers: You can make your own soap dispenser from a mason jar.
83) Reusable Snack Containers: If you find those stainless steel reusable lunch containers too expensive, try making your own containers. We make ours from milk cartons. They’re easy, fun to make, and last a long time.
82) Bookmarks: Use a piece of scrap paper for crying out loud, or a bread clip, a pretty leaf, or a scrap of string. Impromptu bookmarks are always within reach. But if you’re hell-bent on making a proper one, try a few of these:
81) Advent Calendars: These days DIY advent calendars are a sign of your creativity.
80) Organizers: Organizers are an important part of any household. We have 53 organizer variations for you to peruse. Surely there’s one you could make from one of these great ideas.
79) Plastic Bag Dispensers: Any baby wipes container makes a great plastic bag dispenser.
78) Shrinky Dinks: All you need are #6 plastics. Those clear clamshell containers will do the trick and this shrinky dink tutorial will set you straight.
77) Ice Packs: Try using ice cubes in a Ziploc bag or here’s a great DIY ice pack that’s softer.
76) Tarps: In a pinch, you can sew together feed sacks to make a tarp.
75) Jump Ropes: Use an old rope or following one of these tutorials for making one from plastic bags or magic marker caps.
74) Dog Toys: Soft dog chew toys are so easy to make and not worth spending your money on. Make one of these soft dog chew toys from a T-shirt or socks.
73) Suet: I’m always bothered by the plastic suet containers that I can’t recycle. So, I make my own suet instead.
72) Jewelry Organizer: Like any organizer, a jewelry organizer can be made out of something surprising and even pretty. Here are 21 jewelry organizers upcycled from other items.
71) Plastic Easter Grass: There are some excellent natural alternatives to Easter grass.
70) Christmas Cards: You can save the trees and your money by shooting a digital image with your camera or iphone and then email the picture to your friends and families. Or, use Blue Mountain for a cool-looking e-card. Reusing last year’s cards in collages and cool ways is another way to create custom Christmas cards.
68) Plastic Plant Flower Pots: Please don’t ever buy these. There are so many people who would be very happy to give you theirs. Just ask (or post on your local Buy Nothing group.)
67) Coffee Mugs: These are another common item that people tend to have too many of. Just ask through your local free network like Freecycle.
66) Plastic Spoons, Forks, Knives: If you’re buying these, email me. I’ll send you what you need, as long as you’re okay with ones that have been used once and cleaned perfectly in my dishwasher. I’m amazed that people think of these plastics as throw-aways when they can be washed and reused over and over again.
65) Tupperware: As above, there’s plenty of Tupper or Gladware to go around. I’m partial to glass, and many others are switching over to glass so plastic-ware ain’t hard to find. If you need it, do let me know as we throw away hundreds of pounds of the stuff each year at our annual community Rotary Auction.
64) Bread Maker: Bread makers make an appearance on our Buy Nothing group at least once a month in our community.
63) Pencils: If you’re okay to use a short-ish one, just let your local public school know that you’ll be happy to take all their thrown-away pencils off their hands. Hundreds of pencils are thrown out each year by schools that still have a lot of life left in them! You’d be helping to reduce their solid waste bill by taking the pencils.
62) Magic Markers: Ditto as above. Although schools throw away magic markers that are supposedly dried out. If you revive them through our tried and true techniques, you’ll have more markers than you could ever hope for.
61) Air Packs (Packaging): Ask on Freecycle for air packs and people will be happy to provide you with their stockpiled plastic air pillows.
60) Fire Pits: Here are 10 DIY upcycled fire pits for you to choose from.
59) Book Shelves: Ladders, guitars, gutters, even bike tubes can make cool book shelves. If you can think outside the box-like-shelves this book shelf ideas page is for you.
58) Canned Beans: If you like canned beans but don’t want the bisphenol-A that goes with them, kick the can and get a bulk bag of dried beans instead. They’re so easy to cook up in a slow cooker.
57) Freezer Bags: No one needs to buy freezer bags if you have a lot of resealable bags hanging around. Freezer bags are just thicker plastic bags. Double up on your ziploc or other bags and you’ve got DIY freezer bags!
56) Seedling Starter Pots: There are many household items that can be used as seedling starter pots. Egg cartons, citrus rinds, and eggshells make excellent pots for seedlings just starting out. And you can plant them right into the garden, pot and all.
55) Handkerchiefs: Make a cloth hanky from a T-shirt.
54) Plastic Kiddie Pools: You should never have to buy a plastic kiddie pool. People have them for a brief time and are usually happy to pass them along. Check in your local Buy Nothing group for a free one.
53) Hooks: If you’re not too picky, there are some wonderful items you can reuse to make hooks!
52) Toddler Potties: This may sound strange but when our kids were at that stage in their development, we lived in Massachusetts and we found plenty to choose from at the end of people’s driveways as free give-aways. Perhaps your state has the same ethic.
51) Terrariums: Here are 5 items you can upcycle into terrariums.
50) Water: This one was submitted by one of our Facebook page friends. Let’s not ever buy water unless we absolutely have to. With a little forethought, there’s no need to buy water packaged in plastic.
49) Air: Another Facebook submission — Who buys air?
48) Note paper: Notes can be written down on any scrap paper. We write notes on the backside of letters that come in the mail, envelopes, anything with room for a few paragraphs.
47) Wrapping Paper: There are so very many wonderful alternatives to wrapping paper. You’ll find a few in our Trash Backwards app:
46) Fly Paper: We’ve started making our own very effective sweet fly paper and won’t ever consider buying the arsenic-laden strips again.
45) Pot Scrubbers: We’ve started using aluminum foil lately, of all things. But Rebecca has a great tutorial for converting a plastic mesh produce bag into a pot scrubber.
44) Planters: Almost anything can be converted into a planter — you just have to use your imagination. Come and get inspired at our app, there are some truly incredible planters there:
40) Window Washing Liquid: Vinegar and water works perfectly, along with newspaper instead of microfiber rags or paper towels.
39) Laundry Detergent: Try our DIY recipe and save some money.
38) Dish soap: Here’s a DIY Dish Soap recipe that’ll surprise you.
37) Salad Dressings: Remember simple balsamic and olive oil dressings? Just make your own delicious dressings in a jar. They get better with age and will give you no excuse for not eating your greens. Try our favorite recipes and you won’t be disappointed.
34) Saran Wrap: We never use plastic food wrap any more, now that we’ve found the ultimate reusable alternative.
33) Gift Tags: We’ve been known, come Christmas, to repurpose last year’s cards as gift tags. You can do the same with all the pretty cards you receive throughout the year — turn them into tags to add to your gifts.
31) Christmas Ornaments: Ornaments are one of the sweetest items to make, as they’re treasured year after year.
30) All-Purpose Cleaner: Orange peels and vinegar will style you with an all-purpose cleaner you’ll love.
29) Fruit Vinegar: Fruit scrap vinegar is one of the DIY recipes that’s really changed my buying habits. I make a better apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and blackberry vinegar than I can buy in the store.
28) Potatoes, Arugula: If you’re a gardener, you’ll understand this. When you inadvertently leave a potato or two in your garden, you end up with more next year. Same goes for arugula which always goes to seed in our garden. We never have to replant it. So we simply don’t buy it.
27) Garlic Crusher: In a pinch, use a wide knife to whack at your garlic cloves. Or, go caveman-style as I do and find a great stone for crushing.
25) Silica Gel: We get a lot of silica gel through products that are sent to my husband for his work and then post it on your Buy Nothing group. If you need it, just ask your Buy Nothing neighbors and you’ll likely find plenty.
24) Beach Toys: So many beach toys are washed up on our beaches, obviously left behind by others, I’d love to see people simply stop buying them. There are great alternatives to buying these redundant plastic items.
23) String: We rarely buy string anymore, because we aren’t ashamed to say we salvage it from all sorts of items, like our chicken feed sacks.
22) Doorstops: Get creative with your doorstops and you’ll find joy in refraining to buy one.
21) Easter Egg Dye: We discovered a great reuse for an Easter egg dye that we’ll definitely use again — magic markers! Whether they’re used up or not, soaking them in water for a while doesn’t hurt them one bit.
20) Paper Towels: Um, use cloth ones.
19) Hair Ties: Look in every parking lot and on any sidewalk and you’re bound to find a hair tie or 2.
18) Pens: As above, look in every parking lot and on the side walks. Pens are everywhere.
17) Ribbons: Simply look on every shoreline and ribbon can be found there.
Ribbon Found on Our Beaches (including the spool), Photo © Liesl Clark
16) Styrofoam Packing Peanuts or Bubble Wrap: (just ask on your Buy Nothing group)
15) Ziploc Bags: Wash them.
Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark
14) Plastic Children’s Toys: (just ask any parent for them, they’ll gladly give you a box or 3)
These Plastic Toys Were Being Thrown Away. We Salvaged ‘Em. Photo © Rebecca Rockefeller
Oh, and if the parents in your neighborhood want to hang on to all that plastic, just make your own toys. Here are a few (hundred) ideas for toys you can make from stuff in your home to get you started:
13) Books: Use your library!
12) Plastic Straws: Plastic straws are a scourge upon the land and water. Use your lips, or find a glass, bamboo, or metal alternative.
11) Cigarette Lighters: Plastic cigarette lighters replace matches way too often. We still collect cool looking matchbooks from bars and restaurants.
Lighters Recovered from Puget Sound Beaches
(For these last 10, be sure to visit our friends at Suburban Pioneers for their full post)
9) Plastic Funnels
8) Microwavable Neck Pillow
7) Pet Fur Remover (Brush or Stone)
6) Travel Toiletry Containers
5) Rubber Bands
4) Reusable Grocery Bags
3) Pet Poo Bags
2) Cleaning Rags
1) Plastic Leftovers Containers
What can you add to our list? The list is always growing.