Day 44: Reduce, reuse, and recycle! But especially, reduce and reuse.

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Bottle Racks near Braunschweig, Germany.  To find out more about this image, go here. Source: Yann Arthus-Bertrand. 

Reduce, reuse, recycle! That’s the mantra we’ve heard since grade school, and its fame has reason to be – most of what’s wrong with the world has to do with our waste and how we handle it. Producing and consuming less is part of saving the world, but how exactly do we do that? Here are some tips. 

Reduce

The first step in consuming and producing less is to actually consume and produce less. That means:

  •  Refraining from buying what you don’t need
  • When you do need to buy something, buy quality goods that will last longer so you’re less likely to throw them away (like glass tupperware instead of plastic, or a sturdy pair of jeans instead of a poorer-quality one)
  • Saying “no” to single-use disposable items such as styrofoam cups/packaging, disposable plates/silverware, plastic bags
  • Borrow books, CDs and DVDs from libraries, borrow tools from friends (but give them back!)
  • Eating at home to reduce waste, serving yourself only what you’re sure to eat, eating leftovers
  • Enjoying parks, museums, concerts and local attractions instead of traveling

Reuse

Reusing goods is just as important as reducing. The trick here is to not leave an impact, so before you set out on your quest to acquire a new item, you should jump at opportunities for someone else’s reused items, which are often free. This reduces both YOUR impact for not buying anything new, and THEIR impact for handling their non-used items effectively, so it’s a double win. This could include:

  • Hand-me-down clothes, purses and shoes from your mom, sister, cousin, neighbor, church friend. . .
  • Thrift store and Craigslist items
  • Extra materials that are lying around in classrooms (nearly all of the best teaching materials I have are stuff that no one needed anymore).
  • Extra items your friends and relatives don’t want anymore
  • Repairing broken items for a second use
  • Reutilizing broken/old items for a different use
  • Hemming pants, repairing clothes, making “patchwork” out of scraps

This does not mean you have to hoard items everytime they’re offered, or keep everything from being discarded! The trick is to take and use just what you need. If you don’t need it, find a good home for it and help someone else. That’s the secret for sustainability – taking just you need from what the Earth offers.

Recycle

Recycling should be the last option for your used items. Fortunately, it’s become mainstream and almost every town has a recycling disposal system. Unfortunately, it has become too mainstream and folks think that they’ve done their part if they just recycle. If you’re using recycling as an excuse to buy more plastic, cardboard, and paper goods, you’re doing a poor job at saving the world. Reducing the amount of “stuff” that you need and reusing them are more important than recycling; because they are more effective at cutting your carbon emissions, reducing waste, and reducing the amount of new goods being produced. If we want less trash and stuff to show up in our landscapes, we need to change our mentality to consume and produce less – and that outcome is going to be the result of our reducing and reusing attitudes.

But please do recycle – it’s important for our environment so that our trash can be transformed into something useful. Despite all the efforts cities have put into recycling, we’re still not recycling up to our potential. Changes can be made in schools, in workplaces, and even your home (are you really washing those yogurt containers before you recycle…?) Changes are possible everywhere. If everyone pulled all the weight they could with their own individual actions, we could see a positive change spreading around the world. That could start with YOU.

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