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Dear Eartha, I try hard to recycle, but I still feel like I throw a lot of things away. Do you have any advice that can help me throw away less stuff? 

Most of us are well-acquainted with the three Rs of Recycling: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. In March, I shared that recycling should be the last resort on our waste-reduction journeys, and we took a deep-dive into refusing things we don’t need. Today, we’re going to further explore what reuse can mean in our lives.

Consuming resources to make stuff we use is often permanent—think of a paper coffee cup with a plastic lid made from petroleum, a resource that won’t come back when it’s gone. And even though we use things like plastic lids only once and think of them as disposable, they must go somewhere after they’re thrown away. Plastic lids can’t be recycled, so they instead get sent to the landfill as garbage where they’ll remain for at least a hundred years (and often much longer).

The point is that many things we use every day might be labeled as “disposable” but have a much longer-term impact on our environment. Many items, from plastic bags to travel mugs, often have a much longer life than we give them, which begs the question, “why not try to give our stuff a long life?” That’s where Reusing comes in; habitually reusing things instead of throwing them away so soon benefits the environment by reducing the need to harvest new resources for new things, saves energy associated with making new things, and reduces the amount of waste that will need to be recycled or sent to the landfill.

Durables: made to be reused

Reusing single-use things like plastic bags to clean up after our pups or carry dirty laundry is good, but the larger environmental benefit comes from adjusting our lifestyles so we reuse more than we dispose. Luckily, we have tools to help called “durables.” For example, these have the same job as single-use cups, plastic or paper shopping bags, or paper plates but are meant to be reused repeatedly. And they’re often well-made out of tough stuff because they’re meant to have a long life. Many of us may carry around a travel mug for our morning coffee already, but what about getting coffee when we’re on vacation and don’t have that travel mug? Ask for a for-here mug and drink the coffee at the cafe if you’re not in a hurry.

Repair to Reuse

What if the thing I’m using wears out? Should I get a new thing when that happens? Not necessarily! The usefulness of something doesn’t have to end when it breaks. Fixing broken things might sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of resources available for repairing things on your own, like iFixit, a website that not only offers clear step-by-step how-to instructions but also the tools required to fix many common electronics, household appliances, apparel, and more. In fact, Apple partnered with iFixit in 2022 to support at-home maintenance. And if you are worried about not having the skills necessary to fix something on your own, like your outdoor gear or apparel, then others may do it for you. Tear a hole in your Patagonia jacket? Clean it, then send it out to be resewn! Have some camping gear that could use some refreshing? Mountainside Gear & Rental in Golden will repair and clean it!

Repairing our clothes, gear, and gadgets extends the useful life of our belongings, and we consume less as a result. And the less we consume, the more we prevent the creation of waste. Studies show that if you repair and reuse an article of clothing rather than throw it away, you “reduce [its] combined water, waste, and carbon footprint by up to 30 percent!”

All things come from somewhere and have an environmental cost. Just remember, reusing has many benefits: it saves natural resources from being harvested to make something new, and prevents you from making waste because you keep using the stuff you have. But also think about how much money you’ll save by extending the life of your gear and gadgets! Who knows, you may be surprised by how long your stuff will last.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at