Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
Every individual and every sector of our economy shares a responsibility to do everything possible to reduce the massive amount of waste that is moved into our landfills or disposed of in other unecological ways. Reducing toxic chemicals contaminating our ecosystem is an even more essential task for our economy.
The beautiful small catchphrase — Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle — says it all.
Reduce is #1 on the list for a good reason — the only requirement is to make conscious decisions about what we actually need to purchase. When you use a reusable towel to clean up after an event, keep paper towels out of the landfill and save a branch or two. Same when you only purchase clothes when you need them. The sheer tonnage of clothes Americans buy is phenomenally higher than in other nations. The same is true for many purchases we make. Here are several options that have made a positive impact on our environment:
- Use less paper and more electronic/digital forms of communication.
- Evaluate every purchase and seriously ask yourself these questions:
- Is this product really needed? Can something you already own meet your needs?
- Can you borrow this item from a friend or neighbor?
- Can I extend the life of a product I have? Do I really need this upgrade?
- Am I buying a durable product that I won’t need to replace ever or for a long time?
- Reduce or eliminate unnecessary packaging materials.
- Break or moderate bad habits when possible — smoking, overconsumption of alcohol.
- Simplify the energy required by cooking more food at home from scratch and buying from farm stands and farmer’s markets.
- Toxics: Make every effort to never buy a toxic product that can’t easily be disposed of or brought back into a healthy biosphere.
- Paint only when needed.
- Completely use a container of paint or other toxic products.
- Water: There are multiple ways to reduce water consumption–the easiest ways are with modern one-gallon flush toilets or, for organizations, waterless urinals.
- Energy: Do an inventory of your power needs and see where you reduce the energy you and your business use on a daily or annual basis.
When we Reuse the items in our personal or business lives, we also reduce what we purchase.
- Use dinnerware and reusable utensils at the office and for all events.
- Expand the length of time printers, copiers, phones, and other modern machines and devices are used. Upgrading and replacing new versions of products can be seductive and is often pushed by the various sales reps. It’s a balancing act, but make the decision with the consciousness of the water and energy required to build a single cell phone.
- When purchasing new vehicles, consider the steep environmental cost. A new, more energy-efficient vehicle often far exceeds the damage to our environment compared to the energy saved with better mileage. For example, improving your car mileage by 10 miles per gallon is a small improvement for the environment compared to the environmental costs of building a new car or truck.
- Most of us have closets filled with clothes and attics/basements packed with items we haven’t used for years and are not even heirlooms. Giving these clothing items and other objects to people who can use them is a terrific way to reuse the things we don’t use anymore.
- Make a practice of organizing items you can take to second-hand stores like Goodwill.
- Join a local Buy Nothing group. Quoting a member of one of these groups, “I feel that both rising costs and a shift in attitude about consumerism contributed to this movement’s popularity.” The founder of the Quincy South Buy Nothing group has witnessed a “buy, buy, buy” mentality supplanted by greater environmental consciousness. People are trying to waste less and share more.
Recycle is a key component of the process of the reduction of waste and toxic substances. The phenomenal strides made in the past twenty years in recycling have dramatically reduced landfill use and other forms of solid waste disposal. At the same time, the recycling industry is often overwhelmed by the volume of waste and the complicated nature of turning waste into usable products. This recycling process also comes at a very high level of energy expenditure. Reducing and Reusing are highly preferable to recycling.
- Most communities now have `single stream’ recycling procedures where metal, paper, glass, and most plastics are put in the same container.
- Set up two containers where you collect waste — one for landfills and one for recycling.
- Many communities now have systems for composting food waste. Set up a temporary storage location for food waste in a way that doesn’t attract bugs, varmints, or stinky smells.
- When doing remodeling and construction, work closely with the general contractor and all subs to ensure that all materials that can’t be reused are recycled safely and in ways that protect our precious earth.
Go Deeper! Read How Cleveland’s Circular Economy Programs Help Reduce Waste And Build Jobs.