You’ve probably seen videos of the Great Pacific Garbage patch, or scrolled past photos of sea animals who’ve died from ingesting plastic. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of these distressing images, but reducing our waste doesn’t have to be daunting. Rather, it’s all about making small changes to lessen the amount of trash we produce.

The waste management hierarchy breaks this process down into four parts, also known as the Four R's: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Most people know them by heart as a slogan, but they're actually a hierarchy that starts with the first and most preferable option, and goes down the ladder. Don't recycle plastic, for example, when you can reuse it, or—even better—quit using it altogether in the first place.

After all, while a lot of materials can be recycled, breaking them down and turning them into new items still incurs environmental and financial costs. The more single-use plastics you refuse, the less items you'll have to reduce and reuse. After refusing, reducing, and reusing as much as possible, recycling is the last resort.

Refuse

You can cut down on your waste simply by refusing to buy individually packaged items and single-use plastics.

  • Start bringing metal straws and coffee tumblers for your drinks
  • Use eco-bags whenever you go shopping instead of using paper and plastic bags
  • Avoid buying individually packaged candy
  • Opt to receive your bills online instead of getting paper bills
  • Avoid using disposable plates, utensils, and cups

Reduce

Part of throwing away less is buying less, and being more mindful as a consumer. Before you purchase something, consider whether you really need it, and how many uses you’ll get out of it.

  • Instead of buying cheap clothes you’ll need to replace in a few months, invest in well-made items that will last you for years
  • Take good care of your clothes, shoes, and bags so they don’t wear out as quickly
  • Instead of using paper filters when you make your coffee, look for a coffee machine with a reusable filter, or switch to a French press.
  • Donate old clothes and any items that are still in good condition to charity, instead of tossing them out

Reuse

Before tossing out your trash, consider whether it can be repurposed as something else.

  • Use a chipped mug as a pen or toothbrush holder
  • Keep ribbons from Christmas gifts and use them to wrap your presents
  • Re-use old jars, pots, bottles, and plastic tupperware
  • Purchase rechargeable batteries
  • Compost coffee grounds and tea bags and use them as fertilizer
  • Turn single-use plastics into ecobricks

Recycle

As we've mentioned, after refusing, reducing, and reusing, recycling is the last resort in the waste management hierarchy. Make sure to properly sort and clean your items before bringing them to recycling centers. You can even make some extra cash by selling your stuff to junk shops. Papemelroti has compiled a nifty list of recycling centers around the Philippines, and a price guide for recyclable items.

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This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph.

* Minor edits have been made by the Femalenetwork.com editors.

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