Closing the Loop: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

by Jennifer Kefer


Rather than simply recycling, it's important that we reduce the amount of waste that we generate in the first place. This can be done by purchasing durable, long-lasting goods and by consciously using less of them. Here are a few simple tips to reduce the amount of waste you produce:

  • Carry a non-disposable fork and spoon in your bag at all times.
  • Purchase ice cream in a cone, rather than a cup.
  • Purchase a "Nalgene" or other non-disposable water bottle.
  • Use a water filter, rather than purchasing individually wrapped bottles of water.
  • Buy in bulk and then pack individual meals in reusable containers. For instance, purchase a pint of yogurt and redistribute, rather than purchasing individual serving sizes.
  • Try to avoid using disposable products in your homes - use Tupperware food storage containers rather than plastic bags, use cloth napkins, and sponges.
  • Donate surplus building materials (e.g., flooring, cabinets, lumber, paint, trim, plumbing, and appliances) to Community Forklift, located in Prince Georges County. This nonprofit organization directs donated items toward the construction of affordable housing. To learn more, visit or call 301-985-5180.
  • Pack your child's lunch in a lunchbox or cloth bag, rather than a sandwich bag.
  • Print two pages per sheet of paper. Most computers have this capacity. If your printer will allow it, print double-sided as well.
  • Leave messages for family members on a reusable message board.
  • Avoid taking disposable items when shopping. Ask grocers not to double-bag your items - or better yet, decline a bag altogether.
  • When staying at a hotel, leave a note on the bed asking the housekeeping service not to change your linens during your stay.
  • Jointly purchase infrequently used products (such as lawn mowers, ladders, etc.) with your neighbors.
  • Try to eliminate your junk mail. For tips, visit: or write to: Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference Center, Post Office Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008. Include your full name and any variations along with your address.
  • Montgomery County libraries provide "grandparent's kits" with toys for visiting relatives. You can check out these all-inclusive packages when your grandchildren come to visit, rather than purchasing new toys that will not be used very often. The Grandparents Loan Closet lends grandparents high chairs, cribs, and strollers for visiting young ones (301-468-4448).
  • As a general rule, think before you purchase. Do you really need all of the things you buy? Try to purchase products that have the least amount of packaging possible.


Many of us have been duped into believing that things must be "new" and "improved" to be worthwhile. However, new isn't always better - it's more expensive and generally worse for the environment. Instead, look to purchase used items whenever possible and reuse the things you already own:

  • Shop at garage sales and flea markets. Alternatively, use "Craigslist" - an online garage sale: Craigslist is great for both purchasing and selling used items.
  • Give away items at
  • Donate your old clothing, furniture, and household items to charity. Many area charities provide free curbside pick-up. I particularly like Value Village (301-595-1827). Once you are on their roster, they will call periodically to tell you when they are in your neighborhood for pick-up. Donations are fully tax-deductible. Check out the new Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Gaithersburg (301-947-3304).
  • Donate your old computer equipment to local schools. ( Alternatively, call the Housing Opportunities Commission in Kensington, MD (301-929-5679) or Blair Connect to donate (301-649-2899).
  • Donate your eyeglasses to the Lions Club. (
  • Donate your cell phone to "Collective Good." ( ) . They can reprogram it so that it can be used to dial emergency service for those in need.
  • Borrow infrequently used tools from the Takoma Park Tool Library. To find out more, visit: Unfortunately, this wonderful resource is restricted to residents of the City of Takoma Park. If you are not a Takoma Park resident, set up an informal tool library in your own neighborhood by sharing large items (e.g., wheelbarrows, ladders) with your friends and neighbors.
  • Return your hangers to the drycleaners.
  • Use both sides of each piece of paper. Cut used paper into squares to take messages.
  • Convert an old windowpane into a picture frame - or a rotating gallery for your child's art work.
  • Rinse out disposable plastic bags.
  • Use the library and donate used books to the library as well. Wheaton Regional Library has a wonderful used bookstore. (
  • Purchase refurbished computers and electronics for less. PC-Retro is a good source for used computer s
  • Repair items to extend their useful life before disposing.

Montgomery County has compiled a directory with area retailers and charities that repair goods and accept donations. To request a copy, contact: 240-777-6400.


Regardless of how successful we are at reducing and reusing our waste, waste is unavoidable. The third 'R' ensures that we dispose of our waste as responsibly as possible.