The rule of three

If abandoning all single-use plastic is a step too far, have you considered the rule of three?

What’s that? Quite simply, it’s when you set a ‘rule’ to try and use any item of plastic a minimum of three times before you get rid of it. It’s not going quite as far as cutting out single-use items altogether, but I’m a huge fan of this concept and I’ll tell you why. But first I need to confess that this idea wasn’t mine.

How the rule came about

I was out food shopping the other day and caught one of the farm shop assistants eyeing up my stock of hessian and brown paper bags with curiosity. She asked if I was trying to cut out plastic and I told her “Yes, I’m really trying.”

Then she asked how I was managing to buy meat and dairy products. I explained that we had cut down on those goods, our reliance on our Tupperware and we exchanged tips on where to find this and that.

She told me she and her husband really wanted to cut down on plastic waste too, but they had found it too hard. With only the two of them in the house, buying in bulk wasn’t an option, so they tried to ensure that they used any plastic packaging three times before it was binned. What a great idea!

The power of three

Of course, I’m likely to be a fan of almost any initiative to reduce plastic waste. With the rule of three, you’re still going to be purchasing single-use plastic, but it’s a big step in the right direction. Bigger in fact than many people might think. And I think that anyone who gives it a go will likely become a much more thoughtful shopper, with far greater awareness of the waste they produce, which can only feed a desire to make positive change.

Why? Essentially, if you are going to have to use something repeatedly, you’ll think twice about what you’re buying and how you will be able to reuse it. This might mean choosing more sturdy containers, which can be used for storage, rather than your usual variety. Buying food in bulk so that you can re-use one plastic tray rather than several smaller items. And – ideally – finding and choosing non-plastic packaged goods in future.

When you pop something in the bin, it’s out of sight and out of mind. That’s not an option with the rule of three. This way, as the plastic builds up waiting for reuse, there’s no escaping the volume of waste that you’re creating as a household; the quantity of food trays, plastic bottles, crisp packets and more. And it’s hard then not to visualise the amount of plastic waste you are responsible for over a monthly or even annual basis.

Concern about adding to that pile is an extra incentive to minimise waste and to find non-plastic alternatives. And once you get into the swing of it, those solutions become easier to find.

A no-plastic backstop

Inspired by the lady I met, I’ve taken this rule on as my no-plastic backstop. If some plastic packaging makes its way into the house, rather than popping it guiltily into the recycling, I’m working to resist that urge and exploring how else we can use it.

The plastic covers around the magazines that I subscribe to for work purposes make great liners for our small bathroom bin. Large food trays can be the ideal shape and size for growing seeds, while yoghurt pots with lids are a versatile option for most store cupboard goods like flour, sugar, dried fruits and nuts.

Still, my creativity comes to a bit of a halt when it comes to re-using crisp or biscuit packets, many of which are non recyclable.

In short, the rule of three is not an easy option.  Ultimately – over the long-term at least – I’d hazard a guess that it could even be easier for most of us to avoid buying plastic-packaged goods and find alternative products than having to worry about re-using that waste. But it’s a great challenge – even if only for a week or month.

So why not give the rule of three a try?

Related posts: Taking it one step at a time and What do you really need to go plastic-free?

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