by Lynn Gamwell
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The mantra of the environmental movement is to “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” One can think of these categories as naturally flowing from one to the next, from the macro to the micro level. The big picture and most important need is for humans to reduce consumption. After that we should find ways to reuse or repurpose. Finally, we make the effort to recycle as much as possible of what is left over.
In our previous Earth Day blog post we focused on “reduce. “ On the macro level humans need to reduce their dependence on materials and energy that deplete the planet and contribute to pollution of the air, water, and soil. To reduce the amount of stuff we have or need is an important shift in mindset, which can have far reaching consequences. The less we buy, the less materials need to be mined, harvested, extracted, and transported. The less energy we use to make unnecessary products, the fewer harmful emissions are released into the atmosphere causing “the greenhouse effect”. (1) The rise in temperature that results from extraction, manufacturing, and disposal can destroy habitats for plants and animals as well as destroying human communities that depend on their natural environments. Hence there is critical need for reducing our energy consumption. See our previous Earth Day blog for specifics suggestions on ways to reduce including our reusable shopping bags and stainless steel and reusable lunch containers.
Reuse and Recycle
We shift to thinking about “reuse” and “recycle” with products that are already here, and which have outgrown their usefulness. This can be because they have lost some function, aesthetic appeal, or are just out of fashion. “Reuse” and “recycle” are two sides of the same coin. They each describe a way that an item can be repurposed. If an item can be used in it’s entirety it may be possible to find a new use for it either for oneself or by passing it on to someone else who can use it. Recycling generally involves some degree of taking a product apart or reconfiguring it for its materials or parts.
Simple Strategies to Reuse
- Donate your used furniture, and household appliances to to a charity organization that resells them at low cost. Habitat for Humanity is a great example of a charity which takes all kinds of household items from building materials and old appliances, to furniture and vehicles which can be sold or taken apart and sold as parts. Look for your local Habitat Restore here.
- Used clothing can be resold at consignment stores allowing it to be reused and make you money at the same time! Check your local consignment store for policies, but you can often get at least 40% of the resale price back. This is especially great when kids are small and changing sizes frequently. Rarely do they wear out their clothing before they are ready for the next size. I clothed my daughter almost exclusively in fun yet inexpensive clothes from a children’s consignment store in my area when she was little. What a bargain!
- Have a yard sale! Clear out your clutter, make some spending money, and give items a new lease on life! By keeping stuff out of the landfill you will be reducing harmful emissions released into the atmosphere. Your junk is another person’s treasure!
- Apply a little effort and many things such as plastic sandwich bags can be washed and used again. Reuse plastic salad and take out containers for leftovers or as storage containers for kid’s art supplies and small toys. I save plastic as a way to transport food to friends in need without having to retrieve the dish. Or I pack leftovers in them for family members after a party. Hopefully they find another way to reuse it after that!
- Use rechargeable batteries instead of disposable ones. Rechargeable will cost a bit more to buy but on average they last about 800 times the disposable kind.(2) Now that is effective reuse!
- Old furniture, lamps, and decorations can find new uses in our own homes with a little care. Rather than purchase a new item consider painting or reupholstering to get a great new, decorator look!
- Most communities have some form of recycling program whether it is curbside pick up or taking it to a central collection facility. Find out what your community offers and make your voice heard for easier and more complete recycling programs if needed.
- Explain the recycling rules to your household and try to make it as easy as possible for all to comply. Have your recycling bin as accessible as the trash and they won’t have any reason not to throw it away in the right spot!
- Electronics are easily recycled these days. Many dumps have electronics areas for drop off. Electronics stores often recycle regardless of where the item was purchased. Staples accepts all electronics donations for free!
- Some of the most commonly thrown away items can actually be recycled. Did you know that pens, razor blades, tires, and aluminum can all be recycled?
- Pay attention to packaging and purchase items with less excess material. One way to do this is to buy items in bulk and cut down on individually wrapped products.
- Purchase products with recycled content. Money is power. If more people choose products that are made with recycled materials, from companies with environmentally conscious standards( like Peaceful Planet ) the more businesses will strive to fulfill the demand. Your purchase is your vote for cleaner, greener choices!
Go Green for Earth Day and Beyond!
It may seem like each of our choices are small and insignificant. But small green choices add up to a greener, healthier planet. That means a healthier place for us to live and for our children to grow up. Take the Earth Day challenge and get creative with ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle in your home and community. We all can contribute to keeping the planet peaceful, prosperous, and protected!
- Boston Museum of Science (Household Energy Section)