Reduce, reuse and recycle is a battle cry for a new age of environmental awareness. Reversing the trend of accelerating garbage accumulation is essential to the planet’s future, and reducing, reusing and recycling offers a comprehensive answer to an increasingly perplexing problem.
What do the three Rs of waste management represent?
Waste management is different from waste disposal, and the reduce, reuse and recycle mantra reflects the complexity of the concept. While eliminating waste production entirely may be impossible, you can take gigantic steps toward that admirable target by embracing each of the three Rs with relish and gusto.
Here’s how to harness the transformative powers of the three Rs …
Step #1: Reduce your waste stream
Waste production is a choice rather than a necessity .
That is the message of the zero-waste movement, which has set the highest possible goals as its endpoint.
While literally producing no waste at all may be impossible, the millions of people who’ve endorsed the zero-waste option are rising to the challenge and reducing their personal waste production down to a fraction of what it was before.
Some popular strategies for reducing waste production include :
- Buying fresh food instead of packaged and processed food—or even better, starting your own garden to grow your own food.
- Changing all light bulbs to LED, which last far longer than other options.
- Buying certain food products in bulk (rice, dry beans, lentils, flour, sugar, etc.) and storing it in homemade containers.
- Using cloth instead of paper towels to clean up messes, and converting old cloth into cleaning rags and napkins.
- Composting organic matter to make soil (by weight, organic matter comprises 46 percent of the garbage the world produces, and much of it is suitable for composting) .
- Making homemade personal care and cleaning products, without using potentially toxic chemicals.
Fortunately for you, people who’ve adopted the zero-waste lifestyle are making their presence known as authors, bloggers, speakers and commenters, and finding good advice on how to cut your waste production has never been easier.
Step #2: Reuse your items
If you no longer want something, the chances are that someone else will, even if its broken or no longer pristine. Donating to—and shopping at—second-hand stores, either in-person or online, is an excellent way of keeping potentially useful items in circulation, as well as an excellent way to save money .
Another great way to reuse is to upcycle, which means repurposing or reshaping a used item to get more benefits from it .
Some examples of creative upcycling include :
- Using plastic or glass containers for storage, of food, coins, rubber bands, safety pins or dozens of other assorted small items.
- Turning old picture frames into serving trays.
- Taking used suitcases and mounting them on the wall for use as cabinets.
- Using paper towel or toilet paper rolls to organize cables or chords attached to computers, entertainment centers, etc.
- Cleaning out a computer tower for reuse as a mail box.
- Repurposing an old door as a tabletop for home, office or workshop.
- Converting bowls, bottles and mugs into light fixtures or candle holders.
- Rebuilding a minifridge for use as a TV stand plus storage cabinet.
- Salvaging pieces of cardboard, plastic bottles, egg cartons and wooden pallets for home craft or construction projects, which can be fun for the whole family.
Once you get into the habit of letting your imagination run wild, you will undoubtedly come up with endless ideas for how to reuse your old stuff. And each time you do, you’ll be saving yourself money on new purchases, while keeping useful materials in circulation.
Step #3: Recycle the rest
To make sure you develop the right mindset, and always remember to recycle anything that qualifies, you should set up your own recycling station at home, (preferably using repurposed recycling containers, which are easy and fun to create) .
Aluminum cans or foil, cardboard, plastic, rubber, glass, steel (food cans) newsprint and magazines can all be recycled, and if your city doesn’t collect recyclables you can take them to a local recycling center yourself. For larger items (old vehicles, appliances and so on) salvage companies will usually be glad to pick them up and take them off your hands, and possibly pay you for the privilege.
One of the keys to effective recycling is to shop with recycling in mind. Don’t purchase anything that is non-recyclable when better options are available.
To spread the good word, you should get together with friends, family members and neighbors to organize community recycling campaigns, which can focus on raising awareness and collecting materials simultaneously.
There is more: Six Rs you haven’t heard about
When it comes to saving the Earth, the letter R carries a certain magic.
In addition to the “Big Three,” if you endorse these other Rs it will confirm your bona fides as a champion for the environment …
There are smart and talented people everywhere who are capable of repairing just about any item that breaks. Even if you don’t know them, the chances are that a friend, family member or co-worker will.
So instead of throwing something away and replacing it the first time it malfunctions, why not give a boost to the local economy by paying someone who can fix it?
And if you can’t find anyone locally, you could always buy a how-to book or watch videos on YouTube, to learn how to fix it yourself.
You can think of this as your home version of recycling. Most materials, including wood, metal, plastics, cardboard, glass and so on can be reshaped, repurposed, remodeled or otherwise altered to regenerate their utility.
There are dozens of plans for remaking available online that are worthy of investigation , and once you get started thinking creatively you’ll be surprised and delighted by the ideas that suddenly pop into your head.
You should never be rude about it. But when a retail representative ask you if you’d like a plastic sack, straw or disposable spoon, just politely say ‘no, thank you.’
And if anyone should ask, don’t be shy about explaining why you’re refusing, and why you think its important for all of us to do so whenever possible.
You may have the best of intentions. But if you forget to bring your own water bottle or reusable shopping bags, you may have no choice but to purchase disposable items you don’t really need or want.
It’s mostly just a matter of habit, but at the start you can give yourself a memory boost by leaving notes reminding you to take your own supplies when you leave the house. Or you can put a storage shelf of box for such items near the door, so you’ll see them each time prepare to exit.
When it comes to living sustainably and preserving the planet, no action is small or insignificant.
When you make the decision to treat the Earth with respect, as a matter of principle, you’ll take the time to evaluate every action you take, to make sure it harmonizes with your beliefs and determination to practice what you preach.
Soon sustainable and respectful living will become a habit, and that is when you gain true power to change things for the better.
Our collective economic model is based on eternal growth and expansion, which leads to endless depletion of resources and the degradation of the natural environment. But if we choose the opposite strategy, we might end up richer than we’ve ever thought possible.
Instead of taking away from the Earth, as consumers, we can give start giving back, restoring the land, water and air to a cleaner, healthier state.
You could do it through direct action, which might include something as simple as planting trees, or cleaning up local parks or roadsides. Or, you could intentionally downsize your ecological footprint by moving into a tiny house .
Or you could install solar panels on your rooftop, knowing that your abandonment of fossil fuels will have a positive, restorative effect on the environment in multiple ways .
Again, it might not seem as if your individual actions are enough to make a big impact. But if other like-minded souls decide to join you, which they may if you set a good example, together you could start changing the world, one little corner of it at a time.
The power of your actions: Reducing, reusing and recycling facts to motivate you
Do you wonder how much you’re contributing to the betterment of the planet when you join the recycling movement?
Here are some answers :
- Recycling one ton of aluminum saves 14,000 kilowatt-hours of energy and 10 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Recycling one ton of plastic saves 5,774 kilowatt-hours of energy and 30 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Recycling one ton of office paper saves 4,100 kilowatt-hours of energy and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Recycling one ton of newsprint saves 601 kilowatt-hours of energy and 4.6 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Recycling one ton of glass saves 42 kilowatt-hours of energy and two cubic yards of landfill space.
- Recycling one ton of steel saves 642 kilowatt-hours of energy and four cubic yards of landfill space.
Of course, you won’t be recycling a ton of anything for quite some time, no matter how dedicated to the cause you might be. But when everyone around you is recycling, too, you’d be surprised at how quickly those tons can add up.
As good as recycling is, reducing and reusing are even more potent allies in the fight to protect and preserve the environment.
The Final R: Taking Responsibility
In 2012, the world’s municipalities produced 1.3 billion tons of solid waste annually, and that number will soar to 2.2 billion tons by the year 2025 .
This is alarming in any circumstance, but it is ridiculous when you consider that about 75 percent of everything we purchase and use is, in theory, recyclable .
At present, only four countries—Germany, Austria, South Korea and Wales—have passed the magic 50 percent recycling mark (the United States sits in the low 30s) . Despite their utility, reusing and reducing remain personal choices rather than nationwide priorities, which reveals how limited our collective dedication to sustainability really is.
Today’s waste is tomorrow’s headache, and future generations will suffer the consequences of our failure to reduce our contributions to landfills to acceptable levels.
But there is always hope for change, and the good news is that reducing, reusing and recycling can put you on track to a zero-waste lifestyle, and if enough people hop on board that train over the next few years the results could be revolutionary.