Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Sometimes I forget about that 4th "R".
We all know about the 3 "R"s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle... but I always forget to point out the 4th "R": Refuse.
It's not that I forget to do it - quite the contrary, I refuse things all of the time... ok, I didn't refuse those plastic straws for our glasses a few nights ago, but I'm working on it... But in general, I can refuse free things now. I used to take free things, well, because they were free. You can always make use of something, right? I don't know anymore... I just think that a lot of the free stuff these days might be better off refused by all of us. That way, they might stop offering it if they know that people aren't interested in taking whatever it is (plastic pens, plastic frisbees, etc).

But what do you do if you can't refuse?

Well, this story is one that I don't know all of the details to so I'm going to keep it short. (This means that I don't know how we ended up with the free stuff).

Today, my partner was going to take us all to Lime Rock to see one of his artist/clients sing the national anthem at the opening ceremony for the car races. I really wasn't up for going - I wanted to go and show my support but I just wasn't into the idea of the hot, crowded race track experience. In the end I bailed and my partner took our 4 year old while I took my older 2 kids to a local swimming hole and then to a staff memorial day party (they met us there soon after the singing was done). Anyhow, I knew that they were going to be thirsty and hungry at the race track and I didn't want them to have to buy anything there so I packed them up a big bottle of cold water in my klean kanteen water bottle and filled 2 snack taxi bags with some popcorn and threw in an apple. Luckily it was just enough for their 3 hour adventure, but when I went to empty the bag out tonight when we all got home, there was some interesting stuff in that bag: some cardboard trash from a car that my 4 year old received from someone, and a big long sticker representing some kind of tire company. When I inquired about the sticker (the toy car I understood, plus it didn't really have any plastic packaging and they brought home the cardboard to recycle), it seemed like it could have easily been refused but it was busy and crowded and they just ended up with it.

What a perfect opportunity in the future to teach kids how to refuse free stuff. It's so easy to point out "but we don't need that" to a child and help show them how to choose not to take something that's free. It will filter over into their buying habits as adults - to choose not to buy something just because it's on sale is a powerful thing to have control over.

The free sticker is something that will be easier to avoid next time, but this time I was left with the challenge of what to do with it. I looked at it for a few minutes and realized that I could cut it up and offer some of it to my oldest son, who likes to decorate his school binder with stickers. At first I gave him the "YO" and then I noticed that his initials were there too "ES", so I gave him that as well. These were all of the letters that I was left with, which I found a nice home for on our compost bucket:

I still had the label trash from the sticker but I felt a little better cutting up the tire company sticker and reusing it.

The other thing that we all refused today as a family was the paper plates and plastic cups at the party that we went to. I simply packed our picnic basket with plates, bowls, utensils and cups so that we would have everything that we needed to avoid disposable products. My family was great to use what I brought and we successfully avoided adding to the waste, with the exception of a few recyclable cans of spritzers that were consumed. This was pretty easy and I highly suggest it. Maybe if we all showed up to picnics with our own plates and utensils, people would start being able to eliminate the paper plates and plastic utensils and even the disposable cups.

Wouldn't that be great?


  1. Great post. The turning down free promo materials concept is such an easy step to take in reducing waste, especially if you politely decline and tell them why. This brings up another related thought... At the birthday parties here, people give away complete junk in goody bags (also plastic) and while I try to be grateful for the thought, we usually dump everything in the trash or recycle bin. It's such a waste of money. I always feel like I'll offend the host if I don't take it. Next party we attend, I think I'm going to politely refuse or just leave the goody bag of junk. It will be a teaching and learning opportunity for our family.

    If one must give a party favor, I think consumables (e.g. homemade cookies or dried fruit in a reusable snack pouch) or something you really get a lot of mileage out of (a box of crayons, or sidewalk chalk) are so much better than the Made-in-China plastic penny toys that break on the way home, tiny containers of bubbles, tattoos, balloons and candy that we always throw out. All that stuff that comes from Oriental Trading Co. We gave out Hot Wheels cars at E's party last year and they were a huge hit. And they only cost 99 cents each!

  2. Good point Allie. We don't frequent birthday parties that give out party bags like that but we have definitely dealt with them now and then.

    If anyone is looking for some more ideas, here are some great things that we have gotten at birthday parties around here as party favors:

    - Home made play dough in glass jars (a tad ambitious for me, but great gift)
    - Nice sea shells
    - Plants (small ones in pots to take home and plant)
    - Home made party hats
    - winnie the pooh drinking glasses that they used to drink out of at the party
    - beeswax candles that were a craft
    - A nice stone

    The simple things are what are cherished later on I always notice. The junk ends up in the trash (or in the way).

    This might make a good post down the line, good thought - thanks!