I realize Talk Like a Pirate Day is over for 2012, but there’s a certain piraty expression that’s good all year round: Arrr! According to the official website, it means “variously, ‘yes,’ ‘I agree,’ ‘I’m happy,’ ‘I’m enjoying this beer,’ ‘My team is going to win it all,’ ‘I saw that television show, it sucked!’ and ‘That was a clever remark you or I just made.'” But that definition fails to mention that Arrr! also sounds like “R,” the first letter of a string of very important words… words with which the Reuse Alliance would like us to become intimate and in particular, the “R” that comes before “Recycle”: Reuse.
What is the Reuse Alliance?
“Reuse” encompasses a whole lot more “R”s, which I plan to have fun with in this post. But first, I have to tell you why when I found out the Reuse Alliance was organizing a conference in Portland, Oregon, this month (the ReUseConex from October 18 – 20) with inspiring speakers from around the country, I wrote them and begged to be a presenter. (They added me as a panelist for the morning keynote on October 18 at 9:45 and invited me to come and table and bring Plastic-Free books!) I wanted to be a part of this event because “Reuse”–and all the other “R” words it includes–is one of my main methods for avoiding new plastic. Rather than focusing on recycling, which is very energy intensive and involves grinding plastic down to remake into an entirely new product, reuse is about making the things we already have last as long as possible. It comes before recycling. According to the Reuse Alliance’s FAQ:
In contrast to reuse, recycling (or down-cycling) is the breaking down of the used item into raw materials which are used to make new items (e.g. turning bug-damaged wood into sawdust or mulch)….
By taking useful products and exchanging them, without reprocessing, reuse help us save time, money, energy and resources. In broader economic terms, reuse offers quality products to people and organizations with limited means, while generating jobs and business activity that contribute to the economy.
The mission of the organization is to not only promote and bring awareness to the idea of reuse, but also to connect people and organizations and provide training through its Master Reuser Certificate program. And the website is a great resource and directory for figuring out ways to reuse.
A Roundup of Arrrs
So, I’ll be speaking and signing books at the ReuseConex on Thursday, October 18. And while I’m there, I’ll actually be doing a lot of reusing. For example, if you want me to sign your book, I’ll do it with my refillable fountain pen instead of a disposable plastic one.
REFILL is one of the Rs. We often think of it in terms of refillable glass milk bottles or refillable printer cartridges. In fact, I discussed the pros and cons of refilling vs. recycling print cartridges a while back. My pen is special. Michael RESCUED it from the sidewalk one day and brought it home. Unfortunately, it was not made to be refilled from a bottle of ink but instead a disposable plastic cartridge. But I found a workaround! By REPURPOSING an old plastic syringe we got from the vet for giving our cats medicine, I can refill the cartridge indefinitely. The only new plastic involved is the cap on the glass bottle of ink, which should last for years as long as I only use the pen for special uses like signing books or documents and stick to pencils for everyday writing. (That’s the first of the original 3 R’s: REDUCE.)
REPURPOSE is an important R. When I decided I wasn’t going to drink out of plastic anymore, I repurposed some old plastic sports bottles to hold the baking soda and vinegar solutions we use to wash our hair in the shower. And we repurpose glass jars all the time as food containers in the cupboard, refrigerator, and even freezer. At the ReUseConex, I’ll be bringing a table display that I built a few years ago from one side of an old hollow core door with secondhand hinges from a salvage company. (Here it is at last month’s Coastal Cleanup Day.)
I even put a little sign on the display board pointing out the door knob hole and explaining how it was made.
On the board, I will post information about ways to reduce plastic consumption through Reuse. Here are a few I’ll mention:
RENT: Why do we each need to own one of everything in the world? I’ve written before about the many ways we have to lend, share and borrow out here in the Bay Area, from tool lending libraries and car shares to simply asking friends. While writing my book, I discovered that almost anything you can imagine can be rented somewhere — even camping and sports equipment.
REFURBISH: Several years ago, we wanted Smartstrip power strips to help us save electricity. But I didn’t want to buy new plastic. Fortunately, the company offered refurbished units… strips that had been returned to the company to be reconditioned and resold. I bought a refurbished mobile phone a while back too. Refurbished options are not always obvious. But it’s always a good idea to ask.
REPAIR: One aspect of refurbishment is repair. And since starting this project, I have successfully repaired a gazillion different things. A broken hair dryer, rice cooker, umbrella, pillow, laundry basket, headphone earpads, and even my washing machine! I plan to bring a pair of broken earbuds to the ReuseConex and see if anyone there can help me figure out how to connect the tiny wires back together (I already tried unsuccessfully soldering them) after Soots chewed through them thinking they were delicious worms to eat.
Do you know how to separate and reconnect teeny tiny earbud wires? Let me know. But if it involves soldering, I really think I need an in-person demo because I can’t figure it out… even with all the available videos on Youtube these days.
RE-SELL: I don’t have a better “R” word for the idea of buying things we need secondhand from thrift stores, yard sales, salvage companies, etc. instead of buying new. That’s how I got the materials for my display. And it’s how I bought my current computer, cat litter boxes and cat carriers, crock pot, and the few other plastic items that I feel like I really do need. I include gift and swap sites like Freecycle in this category too.
More Helpful Arrrs
Here are a few other R words that are necessary if this Reuse idea is to succeed.
REMEMBER: While trying to live plastic-free, it often helps to try to remember, or ask people who can remember, what products were used in the days before plastic. And then, we can look for those items secondhand. Like, for instance, the canvas and wood army cot I blogged about a few days ago. Or the manual steel food mill and food grinder I just picked up from a yard sale last week. (Will write more about them in a future post.)
REACH OUT: We can’t figure everything out by ourselves… how to fix things or where to find secondhand products. So it’s important for us to reach out and connect with one another, and that’s what’s great about directories provided by organizations like the Reuse Alliance or services like Google and Craigslist that can help us find other people who can help or show us how to do things.
REPORT: It helps if those people who know how to do something or have the knowledge of where to find things post what they know online. That’s why I blog every time I figure out how to fix something. I’m not just bragging (okay, I am a little bit) but hoping that the information can be helpful to others with the same problem. In fact, I regularly get comments on my old washing machine repair post from grateful people who had the same issue and had no idea what to do. Those are not people who were necessarily looking for ways to reduce plastic, but hopefully once they found my site, they stayed a while to read more.
What are your favorite Arrrs or ways to reuse instead of simply recycling or throwing things away? If you’re in the Portland area, please consider joining me at the ReuseConex to talk like pirates. After all, one infamous pirate did repurpose a hook as a hand. Arrr!