If you have read one of my very first articles, The First “R”, you will know that when I say third “R” I don’t mean Recycling. The third “R”, according to this blog, is Reusing, and you can find my article The First “R”, here. You probably learned about reusing in school at some point, and the focus was always on reducing and recycling instead. Reusing plays a very important role within our society but is sometimes the most forgotten tactic to reducing waste. 

We are part of a disposable, throw-away culture, where most of us have the option to choose convenience over sustainability. This is becoming an increasing problem, as over half of all plastic in existence has been created since the year 2000, 40% of which is single use. Recycling always seems to get the most attention, and although it is a great way to make new products from breaking down material that already exists, there are many other ways to take the load off of the production industry. Reusing is one of the many keys to zero waste, and can be done with all kinds of materials that we use, from plastics, to glass jars, aluminium cans, vehicles, and clothing. 

Why is Reusing so Important?

Reusing means that we are using something again, either for the same purpose or fulfilling a different function. By reusing materials, you help lower the demand for new things, which slows production down, lowers emissions, takes the pressure off of recycling, and limits landfill pollution. Take a plastic water bottle for example, which uses six times the amount of water to make the bottle then the amount of water actually in it. A water bottle containing 500ml of water, will use up 3000ml or 3 litres of water just to create it. If that isn’t a waste of resources, I don’t know what is! If you currently have a single-use plastic water bottle, by reusing or upcycling it first, you could cut down on the amount of water used to make the bottle itself. 

The best way to eliminate waste is obviously by not creating it in the first place. But, by reusing you can still cut down on the manufacturing of new things, and limit pollution by upcycling materials. 

Reusing wax at the bottom of many candle jars, to create one new candle.

How Do You Upcycle?

Upcycling refers to using an item again by changing its function. One of my biggest suggestions is to keep the containers from food items you buy. If you are anything like me, most of your recycling waste may come from food and drink containers like milk jugs, cans, jars, yogurt containers etc. Jars can have so many uses, which means you shouldn’t need to go buy new jars if you are already buying things like tomato sauce. Jars can be used for storing craft supplies, first aid materials in the car, kids toys, pantry items, shopping at the bulk barn, plant terrariums, and much more. Yogurt containers and metal pie plates can be used as paint and water holders at places like schools and daycare facilities, who often look for items like these. These are just a few examples that might get you started when thinking about reusing. Eventually these things may wear down and need to be recycled, but by reusing first, you are helping to slow down the production rate of these items, as well as the items that would typically have those other roles, like a plastic paint palette or craft bin. 

Reusing Textiles

Another great way to reuse is through textiles, such as clothing. About 10 million tons of clothing from North Americans enter the landfill every year, 95% of which could have been reused first. Thrift shopping or clothing swaps are great ways to add to your wardrobe without the wasteful water resources it takes to create and dye clothing, also contributing to water pollution.  If everyone purchased half of their clothing and textiles second hand, we would in turn cut half the amount of new textiles being produced, which on a large scale would be about 8 million tons per year. You can also use old textiles to create new things, like produce bags if you are handy with a sewing machine, cozy pillow cases from old sweaters, or jeans turned into a multitude of bags, rag rugs, or new clothing items. The options are literally endless and there are many great finds on DIY sources like pinterest for ideas of how to upcycle old clothing items. 

Now, if you are someone who likes buying new every once in a while, or likes to buy textiles for Christmas or Birthday gifts for examples, perhaps consider buying from an artist who is local and uses natural dye as a method of creating colour. Natural dye means that the colours used are created from plant/natural sources, such as barks, fruits, vegetable peels, or flowers. Although the process is more complicated and often takes longer than chemical dyes, natural dyes are created in smaller batches and don’t release chemicals into the Earth. They also can only be used (for the most part) on natural materials such as wool or cotton, and the artists who use them tend to be eco-friendly minded, being cautious of the amounts of water and energy used in the process. If you are interested in checking out a few amazing artists who use natural dye as a means to create colour, check out the work of Caroline Forde, Libby London, and Allie Davis. These amazing artists truly embrace natural means of creation, and are great examples of how even plant material can be reused before it is thrown out!

Libby London, naturally dyed textiles, @northerndyer

Remember that recycling should be a last resort, with the very important roles of refusing, reducing, and reusing coming before it. Together, we can all make a difference in the production of items and manufacturing of resources, which ultimately is better for the health of the planet. Reusing textiles, containers, thrift shopping, and composting are all great ways to make a smaller impact and less waste. 

Thank you for following, and be sure to check out my post next Sunday about repurposing jars ten different ways!


The Guardian. Our Plastic Footprint: Reuse to Take the Pressure off of Recycling,

United States EPA. Textiles: Material-Specific Data,

Waste Reduction Week,

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