Refuse, Reduce, Reuse | Minimalism | Zero Waste

reading time: 5 min

The new year has just begun, and one of my resolutions for 2018 has been to take minimalism and zero waste more seriously. While I don't think it's realistic for me to go completely zero waste (mostly because organic produce is usually wrapped in plastic here in Germany), I do try to limit my waste where ever possible. The motto I follow is this:


As easy as this sounds, it can be quite a challenge to stick to these 3 simple Rs. Refuse what you do not need, reduce what you do need, and reuse what you consume. 

When it comes to reusing, I'm quite good at that already. As you can see in my pantry decluttering post I always use empty jam and pickle jars to store my dry goods. I also use them as water bottles, to hold my homemade smoothies, or my breakfast oatmeal when I'm on the go. Heck, I even use them as vases! I therefore don't buy any plastic bottles or other disposable containers. When I do buy something like a juice in a plastic bottle, I always make sure to reuse it as often as possible before throwing it away. Here are some other products I always reuse:

- plastic bags to transport moist or delicate produce such as fruit (I use them as trash bags for my residual waste – which by the way I also try to reduce by using a menstrual cup instead of tampons, or using washable handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues)
- grocery bags from my room mates (I use cloth bags instead) that I also reuse as trash bags
- wrapping paper that is still wrinkle free and good to use
- bakery paper bags – I mean, why would I throw that away only because it has some breadcrumbs in it?! I've reused my several times now!
- travel size containers that I refill instead of throwing them away and buying new ones for the next journey
- tea bag sleeves that can be reused for tampon disposal (yup)
- disposable cutlery on flights – I either bring my own disposable cutlery from another flight, and/or I reuse the cutlery on other occasions such as picnics, parties, train rides etc.
- pots! and other kitchen utensils – when ever I cook or bake I try to make the most of the utensils I've already used before cleaning them
- empty and cleaned tins that can be turned into planters, or used to hold pencils, cosmetic brushes, or kitchen tools
- old t-shirts, ripped sheets, ragged towels, stained tablecloths or ugly pillow cases that can be re-purpose as dust covers, cleaning rags, to wash the car or to dry off the dog
- empty and cleaned cosmetic containers that I reuse to store my homemade deodorants, lip balms, body scrubs etc

When you start reusing things, it will become easier to reduce things as well because you won't re-buy as much as you used to! For example, I don't buy cotton pads any more because I use reusable, washable cotton pads and facecloths. I also don't buy as many beauty products any more because I now make scrubs, deodorants, balms and even toothpaste myself. Coconut oil, for instance, is my favourite multi-purpose beauty product that works as a skin moisturiser, body butter, hair oil, make up remover, oil pulling substance, toothpaste base, butter substitute, lip balm, lubricant, shaving cream, massage oil, foot rub, and much, much more

Before making purchases, ask yourself if you really need this item. Cut down on your consumption of goods that contain excessive plastic packaging and parts. If it will leave behind plastic trash, don't buy it. Instead, find a more eco-friendly alternative, such as listed above!

Lastly, the most difficult step for me is to refuse. This is the most difficult because it often collides with our "take anything that's free" mentality. Whether it's a leaflet that you don't really need but take because you feel forced to do to, a free sample at a drug store, a hotel freebie, or even a straw in your drink at a restaurant – learn to say no! I was always one to take anything that's free just because it was for free. As a result, I accumulated way too many things that I didn't even need or want in the first place. Now, whenever I get offered something for free, such as a voucher for something I'm not really interested in, I ask myself: Do I really need this? Do I want this? Would I buy this if it wasn't for free? If the answer is no, I let it go. These freebies are usually low quality and cheap anyway!

Other things I don't use or buy any longer (but use multi-purpose or re-usable alternatives instead) are paper towels, cling film, tin foil, bottled water (use an at home water filter instead), muffin paper liners (simply grease your muffin tray), disposable razors (I use my old electric shaver & epilator)... Using eco-friendly, zero-waste options such as cotton towels, glass containers, stainless steel boxes, will not only help the environment but also save you a ton of money!

Also, try to resist the temptation to buy processed, oven-ready meals. Instead, make it a habit to cook at home with as many plastic free ingredients as possible. That way you will not only save money, but also know exactly what's in your meal! Same goes for party snacks, or travel snacks. Instead of buying more or less unhealthy and relatively expensive packaged food, make your own snacks such as granola bars, smoothies, brownies, energy balls, dips, pastries etc.

The moral of the story is: Don't buy (or accept) something unless you actually NEED it! And what you do buy or have, use to its full potential before getting rid of it (I don't support throwing away any disposable plastic items just to replace them with zero waste alternatives – that way you create so much unnecessary waste). Invest in durable, non-toxic straws, utensils, to-go containers, bottles, bags, and other everyday items. Choose glass, paper, stainless steel, wood, ceramic and bamboo over plastic. When ever you are about to purchase or accept something from now on, go through your 3 Rs and ask yourself whether you could refuse, reduce or reuse this object.

Recycle what you can't refuse, reduce or reuse. And if things break, repair them or have them instead of throwing them away and buying a new one.

Of course, nobody is perfect, and we don't have to be perfect! Just do your best, and try to encourage others to do the same :)