Challenge 1 – Less Refuse, More Reuse

Challenge 1 – Less Refuse, More Reuse

Published —
02.21.24
Writer —

Happy new year! From the red, green and golds of Christmas to the January blues – for some reason, the first month of a fresh year has gotten quite the reputation for sadness. Maybe it’s because the festive season is over, the only remnants of celebration left in the torn up shreds of wrapping paper stuffed in bin bags alongside the presents that Aunt Polly bought for us that we… uh… just don’t want.

Gone is the time for giving, and arrived has the season of ridding.

Every Christmas, 100 million bags of rubbish are sent to landfill. Many of those bin bags are stuffed like a turkey, full of the £42 million worth of unwanted presents that are thrown away in the UK – with only 1% of items still being used six months after Santa has shut up shop. What a huge waste.

That’s why, this year, we’re swapping from wasteful to mindful, from rubbish thinking to green thinking. We’re using the present to reuse our presents.

Of the 99% of items you’ll probably have forgotten about by summer – what you could save? What could you regift? What could you repurpose? What could you donate?

Regift that unicorn gin to your cousin. Donate those too-tight floral shirts to the small, exotic man who works at Oxfam. Repurpose that garish dolls house into a gothic bird feeder for your garden. All those things you’ve lovingly received can be spruced up, saved for later or shared with somebody who truly needs them.

The bin is overfed as it is, especially during Christmas. It’s time, now, to feed your desire for change.

With this in mind, here are 4 other green-stained changes you can try to make this month:

  1. Upcycle!

This does not mean cycling uphill – though making the world into a greener place certainly can feel like an uphill battle on a bike with no pedals, right? Thankfully, being green begins in the home, where many of our belongings are one car boot sale away from being binned.

Until now. Upcycling has entered the chat.

Defined as “the act of taking something no longer in use and giving it a second life and new function,” upcycling is a breed of resourceful magic. You take a thing and cast the spell to turn it into another thing, pumpkin-into-a-carriage style. But the magic here is made at your fingertips, infused with your intentions.

Think; old walking boots that now have lavender growing out of them. Think; old candle jar that you serve Angel Delight in. Think; mugs as pen pots, bean cans as plant pots, and an old TV cabinet that’s the perfect fit for your two kitties, HDMI-1 and HDMI-2.

Upcycling is a way of breathing new life into our existing things. It’s preservation, it’s creativity, it’s what being human is. The same way a drawer can be a bookshelf and an old barrel can become a coffee table – we’re never just one thing. We’re as versatile as the things we own.

We wear a collection of hats throughout our lifetime, and today’s hat is labelled “Upcycler”. Perhaps we’ll turn that hat into a birdhouse, yet.

Other ways you could upcycle this week include:

  1. Use old plastic bottles to create self-watering planters
  2. Turn an empty milk carton into a vase
  3. Take an old cardboard box and turn it into a storage box
  4. Make ornaments out of old perfume and aftershave bottles
  5. Have a Google and find yourself scrolling through an infinite array of upcycling crafts you can try today

2. Reuse water

Many people don’t even think about reusing water – our throats and our plugholes are too busy guzzling away every last drop of the 150 litres of water we use, per person, per day in the UK.

But reusing water has a greater impact on the planet than you might think. The more we reuse the less water we use, and the less we greedily consume, the longer it will last, the farther it will reach. There are more people than ever on this Earth – over 8 billion, in fact – yet our water supplies are dwindling. Reusing water means we can keep up with our quenched demands, plus, the energy used to treat and heat water will lower, whilst the health of the environment will rise.

Now don’t get us wrong. We don’t mean brushing your teeth with milk or showering beneath the colander as your partner drains the peas. This is about reduction, not restriction.

What we do mean, is this:

  1. Take shorter showers – lather, rinse – but don’t repeat. Shorter showers means less water wasted. How long do you really need to scrub your privates and your publics, anyway?
  2. Serve up your pasta water to your plants – that dinner for two could be a dinner for tree if instead of pouring away the penne water, you fed it to your foliage of friends.
  3. Turn off the tap whilst brushing your teeth – 20% of people in the UK leave it running whilst brushing their pearly whites, but if we offed the tap between spits, we’d save up to 6 litres per minute!
  4. Load the dishwasher and washing machine to full – the more we cram into the dishwasher, the less loads we end up doing. And the same goes for your clothes. Don’t just wash them one bat onesie at a time – ram as much in as you can!

We are made up of 60% water, and we’d never waste one drop of ourselves if we could help it, right? Well we can help it. By reusing it. Reusing water in these small yet mighty ways each and every day.

  1. Reusable bottles, cups, jars

 Bottles of water, takeaway coffees, bright orange Sainsbury’s bags and the cardboard or plastic packaging that almost everything seems to arrive in these days has left the world with an excess of stuff. Stuff that soon enough finds itself in landfills, or polluting rivers and seas.

Every minute of every day, a million bottles of water are purchased – worldwide. 900,000 of those aren’t even recyclable, instead holing up in the local landfill for a thousand year biodegradation vacation.

BUT, if just 1 in every 10 people in the UK swapped their bottle binges for a reusable, refillable one, then the UK would be using 340 million less plastic bottles a year. That’s less waste, better environmental impact.

And the same goes for a lot of our household items. We’ve all had a GU dessert packaged in a tiny glass ramekin, activating our British instincts, “ding ding ding ding! A small vessel that I must keep forever!” A jar that becomes the bowl for an assortment of nuts, or for your cat’s catnip, or filled with tequila at pre-drinks when you don’t have enough shot glasses. The reuses are endless, and the impacts are priceless.

So buy a reusable coffee cup and take it with you for your next coffee purchase. Already, you’ve prevented a takeaway cup from going to waste. Now imagine the effects we’d have on this Earth if everybody made tiny changes like these.

Perhaps we don’t need to imagine. If, today, we set our intentions into motion. 

  1. Use your hands – secondhand and hand-me-downs

 You’re the youngest child of 4. Your secondary school uniform has survived the hierarchies of high school three times already, having embarked upon its last cycle through, clung to you. The labels inside still say your eldest sister’s name.

You’re no stranger to hand-me-downs, which means you’ve been taking vast green steps for years already! Because there is no branch of “reusing” quite like a thing literally being handed down to you, to be used again.

Are there any ways you can continue that today? Bedding you can pinch from your parents? A desk your neighbour no longer needs? Or better yet, a quick trip to a charity shop, where you’ll find yourself slipping into a secondhand haven. Things previously loved, looking to be loved again. To find a new purpose, a new home – one far far away from landfill.

Buying used is being green. It’s reducing waste, it’s reducing pollution (did you know that the manufacture and distribution of fashion accounts for 10% of the collective carbon emissions of the entire globe?) and it’s rebuilding a greener Earth.

Get your hands dirty, get them green, by getting them on hand-me-down and secondhand items.

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