Tenets of Sustainability: Reuse

This post is the third post in a multi part series on sustainability.  These posts are meant to be guidelines on how to make more sustainable choices in your day to day life.  Enjoy!  You can find  the series here

We all know about the scarcity of resources, and this blog even touches on it quite a bit.  You dont have the money do to all the things that you want, and if you did, you’d be Bill Gates, and then you’d run out of time to do all the things you wanted long before you ran out of money.  Not only does scarcity apply to time and money, but it applies to resources as well.  While the ways to get resources is constantly improving, therefore expanding the amount of resources available, the fact remains that there is a finite amount of resources available.  While we cant change the fact that we need to use resources, we can change how much we use over time.  There are of course multiple ways to do this, but today I’ll talk about just one: Reuse.
Once something is bought you cant take the materials used to put it together and put them back where they came from.  Once some iron has been melted down and turned into a steel beam for a building, you cant get the iron ore back.  At this point, you’ve got to work with what you have at the current time, not think about ways that you would have done things different if you were the builder – that could have been over 100 years ago.  When you go to upgrade the building however, you can reuse the steel for something else.  It’s not trash, it’s still a resource and it still has value – perhaps not as much value as it initially did, but there is still someone, somewhere who can reuse it.
Not only is this true for large scale products like steel beams, but it is true on a personal level as well.  For instance, when I moved into my own house and became responsible for fixing up things that broke, I needed tools to do some of the jobs.  Initially, I was thinking that I’d need a huge amount of cash to just get some basic supplies like a circular saw, a drill and a few other things.  Buying those new would have cost a lot of money, and would also have taken quite a few resources out of the ground to build the new tools.  Luckily, my dad had some old tools that he had replaced that still worked just fine, and asked me if I wanted them.  Of course I jumped at the chance to abate a huge cost, and stop some resources from coming out of the ground that didnt have to.  While I didnt get the newest equipment, what I did get works just fine and suits my needs perfectly.
Reuse doesnt just apply to durable goods – basically anything can be reused.  I’ve reused my old t-shirts, old backpack straps trying to fix the dogs camping pack (don’t ask) old jeans and just about anything I can think of.  You can reuse food scraps for stock of any type (Beef, Chicken, Vegetable, Turkey) or compost.  Many things in your daily life can be turned in to multi purpose tools – even after they are no longer usable for the project you bought them for – you just have to keep an open mind and think about what you actually need when working on a project.  Most materials dont need to be thrown away – if you cut them up or otherwise modify them, you can make something out of them if you’re thinking hard enough.
Even if you dont have a generous family member, there are plenty of ways that you can reuse items to save some money (usually a lot) and help out the planet.  Here are a few of my favorite ways:
  1. Look for your item on Craigslist. There are plenty of other people in your area (most likely) that look at the item you’re looking for a useless junk in their house – offer to take it off their hands.
  2. Put the word out to friends/family.  This can help as well for the same reason listed above, but your friend may just give it to you
  3. Garage Sales.  Though this could be tough and you may not find what you’re looking for, you can often find some real gems at garage sales.  Often times people are trying to clear out space and will get rid of some stuff that is oddly expensive (50 ft extension cords, for example) for a fraction of what they would cost you for a new one.
  4. Check the alleys/backroads.  This may not be for everyone, but I’ve been doing it lately.  I’ve been trying to find some borders for my raised garden beds and dont really want to waste new, good lumber on that (nor do I want to pay for it) so when I go driving around little used roads, I’ve been looking for scrap lumber that I can use.

While reusing wont always fit your situation (You may want the warranty that comes with the new item, you may want updated features, etc) often times it’s very overlooked – even by me.  Getting your items used is a great way to keep materials from being used needlessly and save quite a bit of money.

Readers: Do you buy used items or reuse things?  If so, what things do you reuse?

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About Jeff

Jeff is the founder of sustainable life blog and has been interested in sustainability for most of his life. After realizing in 2007 that his finances were a total wreck, he started reading financial blogs and quickly realized that what is best for your wallet is typically better for the earth, and is usually healthier. On sustainable life blog Jeff shares his journey to a more sustainable lifestyle. For updates, subscribe by email or like us on facebook.

Comments

  1. I love the idea to look for used lumber for a raised garden bed! I want a raised bed this year, but I vetoed it because building new was out of my budget with baby on the way. Surprisingly, I never thought of scouring the ‘hood for used lumber. Thanks — I might get my raised bed this year after all!

    • That is awesome! I was able to a used fence section for my raised garden bed this year. Just troll around your neighborhood and maybe tell some neighbors that you’re looking for scrap lumber.

  2. I am a homebrewer, so I reuse glass bottles. My roommate, also a homebrewer, collects used bottles from friends to use for homebrewing. Once the beer is ready, he gives some of the bottles back, though they are full of beer when they are returned.

  3. My family reuses so many things. Grocery bags, plastic bottles and containers, glass bottles and jars… I found a photo of an old dresser redesigned into a chicken coop that I would LOVE to try. Our produce scraps are given to our worms for composting. We always check second hand stores and craigslist before making purchases. Just found your blog today and am loving it. Keep up the great work!

    • that is awesome angela! thanks for stopping by and commenting! One thing that you do that i’m bad at is checking CL and used stores for what I need, but i’m trying to get better.

  4. I don’t know that I reuse with the same purpose that you do, Jeff. I do try to reuse as much as I possibly can though. I’m planning on giving composting a try this year, although, I still need to do a lot of the research on it. All the produce waste we create and throw away sure would make great soil for my fledgling garden.

    • composting is great BB, but it’s not easy, esp where we live – i’ve had my compost heap freeze a few times this winter (and the one before). I dont know how to stop it, but I do know that if it’s composting right the temp should be 120+ degrees, so it should never freeze.

  5. I work in construction, and it kills me to see all the scraps that get thrown into the dumpsters. I’d like to think if I had time and a passion for it, I’d offer to take the spare parts and set up a giant scrap shop.

    Being addicted to decluttering, it can be hard to find a useable purpose for every old thing – like crusty tupperware and frayed towels when I don’t need anymore rags. In these cases, I donate them to Goodwill and hope they don’t just chuck them.

    • Agreed – sometimes I rummage through construction dumpsters (after dark, of course) and just marvel at all the things that I could be doing with all that scrap. It’s difficult to strike a balance between what you can actually do something with and just adding to the junk.

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