A hundred years ago, everyone was a reuser. When you bought things, you would usually take your own containers to haul them home, because you would often need to buy a container if you didn’t. In the rare occasion when you did buy something that came in a box or a sack, you would keep the container and use it for other things. Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores are named after the cracker barrels common in general stores that would serve as a table for a game of checkers, a seat, or a container for other things long after the crackers were gone. Even if a barrel wore out, it would at least serve its last minutes as firewood rather than being sent to the dump. Of course, there were no dumps back then, because people just didn’t have things to throw out. Materials were too valuable, And if something was no longer needed, it was traded or the materials used for something else.
This tradition of reusing continued up through the forties and fifties, and even into the sixties and seventies. When you went into a store for a Coke, you would give them an empty bottle that you’d had rolling around on the floor or in the trunk for a discount on the price. The bottles were then placed into crates and sent back to the bottling company to be washed and refilled over and over again. There was no need to remake a bottle – it could simply be washed and refilled. Very little energy and materials involved.
You would also reuse things like soap containers and spray bottles. You would buy the original, paying a premium. You would then buy a refill bottle that was two or three times as big for the same price of the original product and that was often in something like a cardboard or paper container that was very inexpensive to make compared to the dispenser container. You would continue refilling the dispenser container again and again until it wore out. This resulted in less packaging and lower costs for the consumer.
Somewhere along the way the plastic manufacturers convinced people who all containers should be used once and then be thrown away. Later, feeling the heat from environmentalists, they started to encourage recycling of containers, but because quality plastic can only be used once, recycling has relatively little effect environmentally and often costs cities and counties money, where aluminium recycling is a money-maker. Gone were the glass Coke bottles that felt so good in your hand, in were the plastic bottles that put a slight off-taste in the product and never felt cold. Originally the bottles were very solid and could be used repeatedly if desired, even though they were only used for a couple of minutes and then discarded. Over time the manufacturers found ways to use less material to make the bottles cheaper.
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Today we have only plastic drink bottles, plastic coffee containers that could be used repeatedly if refills were available, and the worst offender of all – the plastic bottle of water. Not only does all of this one-use plastic result in a lot of waste, it also results in a higher cost for the things we buy and a lot of wasted money. If you buy a bottled water each day from a restaurant for a dollar rather than getting a free cup of tap water, you’ll be spending an extra $300 per year on water. For a family of four this is $1200 – more than half of an educational IRA contribution.
There are times when the convenience is worth the extra cost. Once in a while you’re somewhere where it is much easier to throw away a container than to bring a reusable one and refill it. Do you really need to have plastic bottles of water in the refrigerator, however, when there is a sink and a cabinet full of glasses? Even at a quarter per bottle, you could be spending a couple of dollars per day on water that would be essentially free if you reused. Do you know that you can usually get a cup of coffee for less than a dollar at a gas station when you bring your own cup (or reuse one from a previous gas station), versus $1.70 or more when you get a new cup every time? Have you looked at the price of soap refills versus buying a whole new dispenser container each time and throwing it out when it is empty?
Simply reusing things rather than buying disposable containers all of the time can really add up. You pay for convenience and extra packaging. Look for ways to reuse and buy in bulk. Every little bit adds up when you’re building wealth.
Do you look for ways to reuse because you want to save money? What are some of your secrets?
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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.