The 5 Rs of Environmentalism: Refuse

For the final “R” in our blog series on The Five Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Replace, Refuse, we have focused this post on ways that you can refuse items to minimize your impact on the environment.

Do we really need all this stuff?

In the United States, we are bombarded with free stuff from a variety of sources, including service providers and while attending conferences and events. Often we like “free” stuff, since we initially feel like we’ve gotten a bargain, or are being cost-conscious by not having to buy the same items in a store. Often, however, we come to realize that those pens, pencils, stress balls, notepads, rulers, and t-shirts are essentially low-cost, low-quality “free” advertising for someone else.

It’s good practice to consider whether or not we really need or even want this stuff. Many of these “free” items are made of plastic, and that plastic will outlast you by several lifetimes.

Here are some ideas of items you can refuse to minimize waste and use of plastic:

  • The grab bag of toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss from your dentist: Unless you plan to use these items yourself or donate them, you can refuse these items.
  • Plastic cutlery packets when ordering takeout: If you know you are going straight home to eat, refuse the plastic ware and use regular silverware.
  • Junk mail: Enroll in paperless statements from banks and service provides, and opt out of credit card offers entirely. Companies that send catalogs can be contacted to request to be removed from mailing lists, and mailers that come to “Resident” usually also contain contact information to make a similar request.
  • Plastic straws: In the United States, we collectively use 500 million per day! If you are handed a paper-wrapped plastic straw, hand it back immediately. If you really like to use straws, purchase acrylic or stainless steel straws and keep one in your car. Hotels, bars, restaurants, and even entire cities and countries are banning the use (or at least the offer) of drinking straws as they are increasingly recognized as one of the largest sources of plastic pollution worldwide.

If you have other ideas of common items that you can refuse to minimize waste, please share in the comments.

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