Today, the new green three
Rs—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—ring in our ears like a mantra for present times.
If we can reduce the amount of things we buy and energy we use, reuse the resources we already have, and recycle all of our paper, cardboard, plastics, and metals, we will make an incredible impact on our environment.
We can keep greenhouse gases from being produced and preserve more of our natural resources, including trees, so they will continue absorbing carbon dioxide from
Although the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is familiar to most people, many may not realize that these actions are listed in priority order.
Recycling should be the last resort. Disposable plastic water bottles are a good example. Many people do not realize that almost all plastics are made from petroleum, so it’s a good rule to buy and use as few plastics as possible.
The Container Recycling Institute tells us that it takes more than 1.5 million barrels of oil a year (enough fuel for 100,000 cars for a year) to make enough water bottles just for people in the United States alone.
Transporting and disposing of them add to the environmental strain water bottles cause. We can reduce the number of water bottles we buy simply by drinking tap water and by refilling sturdier, reusable water containers.
If we all did this, think of the millions of barrels of oil we’d save!
The “reduce” principle goes for all disposable items. Opt for quality rather than throw-away items for purchases like cameras, plates, and razors. Use commuter mugs for your coffee and reusable shopping bags rather than plastic bags. Plastic bags do not biodegrade and often end up in our oceans and waterways.
If you must buy disposables, go for the recyclable products with the least amount of packaging. Supporting businesses that are practicing the “reuse” principle by using
recycled containers and packaging encourages other companies to join the trend.
One company setting a great example is Recycline—they create toothbrushes, razors, and plastic tableware from 100 percent recycled plastic, including recycled Stonyfield Farm yogurt cups.
In 2004, Starbucks announced it would use partially recycled paper coffee cups and began offering a 10 percent discount for BYOM (bring your own
[coffee] mug) customers. They also offer complimentary five-pound bags of coffee grounds, “Ground for Your Garden,” to customers who want to use them for mulch.
While more companies are using recycled materials in their products than ever
before, the majority have yet to catch on. If your cereal box or milk bottle is made from 100 percent recycled paper board or glass, then you reward, support, and grow the recycled products industry simply by buying that particular
If the label isn’t clear on whether the product or package is made from recycled materials, ask your merchant or call the manufacturer to find out.
Remember, as a paying consumer you wield a lot of power! After a certain number of customer calls, any smart company will investigate switching to recycled packaging.
It’s important to understand that even recycled products may not be as green as they could be if they aren’t readily reusable and recyclable again (and again).
For example, specialty jackets made from recycled plastic bottles cannot be recycled further. They cannot be recycled back into plastic milk jugs or into new jackets. They are, despite being made from recycled materials, destined for the landfill after the jacket wears out.
Pioneering green architect and product designer William McDonough refers to this limited recyclability as “downcycling.” He posits that true recycling involves a plastic jug, cereal box,
or razor blade being made into those same things over and over and over again.
Even better is “upcycling”—taking something disposable or recycled and turning it into something of greater, greener, more lasting value. For example, home design supply companies like EnviroGlas and Vetrazzo use recycled glass
to make gorgeous colorful countertops and floors.
In terms of recycling, many of us recycle with our eyes closed these days, having formed the habit during past decades. Our city, county, or private trash
haulers often supply us with bins for convenient curbside recycling, making it easy for us. Waste Management, America’s largest solid waste company, was the first to focus on residential single-stream recycling, which allows customers to mix recyclable paper, plastic, and glass in one bin. They found that residential
single-stream programs have greatly increased recycling rates, recovering as much as three times the amount of recyclable waste.
However, half of U.S. households still do not have curbside recycling, which
may account for some of the 3,633 million pounds of recyclable water bottles in
the U.S. that ended up in the landfill in 2004. In some locations, you can pay
extra to have bins for recycling and for biowaste (garden and food waste). Where
this isn’t an option, you can deliver your recyclables to a nearby recycling
facility (we know this is inconvenient, but your great grandchildren will be glad
you did), or you can e-mail your legislators about increasing curbside recycling
and adding more recycling centers.
Visit the National Recycling Coalition website for the 10 most important
items to recycle and the top 10 reasons to recycle. One reason is that decomposing waste in landfills releases carbon dioxide and methane gas into the air.
In 2000, by recycling solid waste, Americans prevented the release of 32.9 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (the unit of measure for greenhouse gases) into the air.
Looking back several decades, we have progressed by leaps and bounds in the amount of trash we recycle. Let us continue this momentum to
gain our victory over global warming!