Living off the grid … The 3 Rs

Published 4:42 pm Friday, August 21, 2020

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Jo Weaver

Master Naturalist

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle … easier said than done … and how far do we really want to take this idea anyway? Shortly after moving off the grid we replaced our household paper products with paper made from recycled material (at least 50% post-consumer). We started out with facial tissues, toilet paper, paper towels and napkins; and quickly dispensed with the napkins to begin using folded paper towels when we weren’t using cloth ones. The paper towels are brown in color as their manufacture dispensed with the bleaching process. We buy the items by the case now and the challenge has been how to store them. A lovely old wardrobe from a local auction did the trick.

Additionally, we have always relied fairly heavily on cloth products. We have used cloth napkins for most occasions for decades (my mother made terry cloth napkins she used every day) and use dishtowels in many places where we would have used paper towels in the distant past. We rely on them heavily in food preparation and kitchen clean up. When I am in the grocery store, I have cloth bags and a cooler for transporting frozen foods in the summer.

Perhaps the most challenging way to address disposable products was to take containers for leftovers when we went out to eat. While initially perhaps feeling a bit odd pulling out the containers at the end of the meal, it did decrease the amount of Styrofoam coming into our home. I now cut it up and use it for packing, which addresses the Styrofoam that comes with packaged food, particularly meat, from the store (all of which needs to be washed and sometimes things are so infused with grease or liquids that they have to be thrown out).

Packing material from shipments coming into the household; paper, peanuts, bubble wrap, and “air pillows” are all set aside/stored for future use. Fortunately, I know some people who must pack things as part of their jobs.

It is very clear that “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” can be quite messy and it has been a challenge to move solidly into the Reuse column from Recycle. The Reduce (as in taking containers for leftovers) continues to be the overall goal. As I have learned that recycling has become increasingly problematic with companies putting a portion of items saved for recycling into the trash, Reduce and Reuse have become increasingly important.