I have been a conscientious recycler for years, carrying home empty drink bottles from a meal out to ensure they get recycled (Qld’s 10c refund scheme has only encouraged this), but its not the be-all-and-end-all: refusing (refusing to purchase products with excessive and/or non-recyclable packaging), and reusing/repurposing should come first if at all possible. Recycling uses A LOT of water (for cardboard and paper products) and energy (for plastics and metals), so should be the last option.
I quite often refuse to buy things, vegies for instance, that are needlessly wrapped in clingwrap, or have several different layers of packaging ‘because it looks nice’. That’s just completely ridiculous in my opinion and very wasteful to put that plastic/Styrofoam around something that doesn’t need it, knowing full-well that it will immediately go in the bin the moment the purchaser gets home/decides to consume that item.
I have been carrying around with me at least a few reusable shopping bags for years now, well before the plastic bag ban was implemented in 2018. Yes, they’re still made from a petroleum product, but they are washable and reusable for as long as the ‘material’ and stitching last, which can preferably be repaired repeatedly until its beyond saving – it would be even better if they were then recyclable once they got to ‘end of life’, but I haven’t been able to find someone who does that yet; admittedly, I haven’t had one fail yet, and some of them are coming up to 10yrs old, which is far longer than the life of a standard grey plastic shopping bag, which used to rip during the first use and could only then be taken to a recycling bin at places like Coles. Thankfully, these are now banned in Qld, and more and more people are carrying their own reusable bags.
The ‘big two’ have been offering soft plastics recycling for a few years now, so remember to keep these aside too:
Not just grey shopping bags, but also bread bags, vegie bags, biscuit and lollie bags, and other soft plastics that would normally just find their way to landfill, which is definitely a step in the right direction.
For consumables that I do buy, I try to look for ones in glass jars, so I can reuse the jar afterwards for jams, lemon butter and chutneys, in plastic tubs that can be reused as storage containers, seedling pots or trays, in cardboard that can be given to my worm farm or compost bins, or in packaging that’s recyclable. Milk and juice cartons and bottles also make good seedling pots, as do cardboard egg cartons and toilet rolls for smaller seedlings/sprouts. You’re only limited by your imagination! Again, potential reusability should come before recyclability.
You’ve probably noted by now that this topic overlaps quite a lot with ‘mindful consumerism’ and this last comment (about composting cardboard) touches on ‘nutrient retention and cycling’ as well. This is what I meant at the end of “What is ‘Permaculture’?” when I mentioned the ‘interactions between all of these factors’.
Ok, back to topic …
I also love digging around at stores like Lifeline, Salvos, and other charity stores, but my favourites are salvage yards and tip shops. Admittedly, there aren’t a lot around Brisbane – too many people comb through them before I can get there (oh the woes of working fulltime in an office!) – but if you’re willing to drive a bit further afield some of the ones on the Sunny Coast are worth a visit, and the Toowoomba one is apparently worth a trip too.
I LOVE old, ‘pre-loved’ things, particularly tools, and just LOVE the romanticism associated with giving something a new life/use, even if it’s ‘just’ a daggy old bath tub with a chip in it (wormfarm ahoy! Or water-vegie garden. Or fish/frog pond. Or container/wicking bed. Or livestock watering trough (the traditional use). Or … :P).
All of the bricks used when constructing my chook run were ‘seconds’ from an Austral Bricks sale, the hardwood was from the local salvage yard, the windows were also from that same salvage yard, and the tin roof was salvaged from my parents’ place when they upgraded their patio roof to solarspan. Whatever could be repurposed, was, and it gives the whole structure a lovely ‘rustic’ look and a sense of having always been there (especially now that there is a huge passionfruit vine climbing all over it).
All of this could also be called ‘thrifty’ purchasing too.