Making the commitment to living a more sustainable lifestyle can be daunting. The key is to start with small steps and gradually introduce these lifestyle changes so that you don’t become overwhelmed.
Keep reading to learn all about reducing, reusing, and recycling, and then get some tips on how to incorporate the 3 Rs into your daily life.
Most people began practicing environmental sustainability by recycling. For many, this is where mindfulness of waste begins and ends. We have found that there is more to being a good steward of the environment – and humanity – than simply recycling. Recycling is, in some ways, a reactive measure to waste that has already been created.
What if we were to ask some questions about how to avoid the “Do I recycle this or do I throw this in the garbage?” question that many of us may find ourselves asking? This is what reducing is all about – it is a preventive measure to cut off waste from being part of the cycle in the first place. Sometimes, though, we already have the stuff that we need/want to get rid of to simplify our lives, which is where the three of these Rs intersect.
Reducing can be manifested in the following ways:
- Buy only what you need – This is tricky, for sure, but can be done. Before you impulsively click through the automatic shopping cart online or throw that goody in your basket, assess whether you really need it or not. Try asking yourself the following questions before you make a purchase:
Will this improve my life?
Do I already have this or something like it?
Will this replace something I need that is old/worn-out?
Is this good quality & long lasting?
Is there space (and a purpose) for this in my living quarters?
- Refuse freebies – This one is even tougher than the first. We all know the temptation of free stuff. This can often fit in with a simple living/DIY lifestyle, as there’s lots of emphasis in acquiring thrifted or free goods. While this is definitely a great practice, it’s important to be sure we need something before we take it on – enter the 1st point.
- Declutter your living space – Decluttering your living space and reducing your belongings leads into reusing & recycling as well. One point we find pertinent to reducing here is that when you let go of belongings that are no longer serving you, you find the things that you really need. So decluttering can really lend itself to reducing waste in a number of ways.
There’s all kinds of goodies to buy these days. There’s even eco-friendly . . . EVERYTHING! In this way, as an environmentally conscious consumer, it can be easy to get distracted by labels and promises of green pastures & fresh air. The reality & bottom line is – buying that new shiny environmentally-friendly thing is not necessarily better than repurposing something of your own that could fill the same role.
Here are some examples of ways to reuse rather than be tempted to consume more (even if it is local & eco-friendly):
- Rather than succumbing to the desire to buy those awesome new Seventh Generation wipes that are the safer/healthier version of Clorox wipes, try turning old T-shirts into rags.
- “Compostable” plates & silverware are a great alternative to plastics, but try taking it a step further and have silverware on hand for when you eat on the go. You can just bring the silverware you have at home; it’s pretty sturdy.
- You know all those cute canning jars you have laying around? Or the variety of glass jars you’ve acquired from who knows where? Use them to fill up all your bulk goods from the grocery store – most places will welcome this form of storage (especially co-ops) if you know the tare weight.
Sometimes we find ourselves with stuff that we have to find a home for. We don’t see a viable use for this stuff, or maybe we just don’t have time or a vision for what to do with it. This is where recycling often comes in. Recycling is a form of someone else reusing your waste. Sometimes it is broken down into a million pieces and put back together into something else; other times it is used mostly as-is but with new love from a new owner. Often times, recycling is the best way to maintain hazardous waste and divert it.
There are oh-so-many things that can be recycled. Here are just a few of them:
- Cell phones
- Items containing mercury
Here are a few tips for recycling:
- Just do it! Start a recycling bin inside your house and put up cute little signs as a reminder to you and your family.
- Know what you can recycle & where. The list above are just a few things that can be recycled, some that are more “alternative.” Earth 911 is a great resource for finding locations near you that recycle items other than the common paper, plastic, glass, & metal.
- After you get into the flow of recycling, go the extra mile. If you are out somewhere and don’t see a recycling bin for a recyclable you’re in possession of, take it with you! Carry things with you for a bit until you find a place to recycle them.
- Assess your purchases (after you’ve answered the questions under the “Reduce” question) based on recyclability – i.e., is this packaging recyclable? Avoid plastic packaging, which often can’t be recycled. Sticking to bulk purchases reduces waste in the first place.
- Compost! This is a way of recycling your food waste into viable nutrients. Learn more here.
Why Do the 3 R’s Matter?
Practicing mindful consumption like reducing, reusing, & recycling prevents valuable materials from going to waste. When you turn that T-shirt into a rag, you’re saving money by not buying new rags or paper towels.
Conserves Energy & Natural Resources
There is some debate over whether recycling actually saves more resources and energy since it goes through its own process to be turned into something new. The truth is that using recycled materials in manufacture uses less energy than using completely raw materials. In reducing, reusing, and recycling, we are also conserving natural resources like trees, water, and mineral ores.
Here are some numbers:
- When one ton of steel is recycled, 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone are conserved
- Recycling a ton of paper saves 7,000 gallons of water
- In 2011, Americans recycled 61 billion aluminum cans, saving the energy equivalent of 17 million barrels of crude oil
Reduces Landfill Space
This is an easy one to get on board with. The more we reduce, reuse, and recycle our waste, the less trash we put into landfills, the less space we have to devote to landfills. Not only does this mean less of our land is dedicated to piles of garbage, but also . . .
Landfills are a major source of pollution. Toxic emissions from landfills leach into our air, water, and soil. This is one reason why it’s very important to recycle hazardous materials mindfully. Even “ordinary” waste produces large amounts of methane in landfills, which are 20-30 times more potent in its climate change effects than carbon dioxide.
When we begin to think about our consumption habits and what we do with our waste, we become more aware of our way of living in general. We are given an opportunity to assess the way we are living in a more mindful and less self-centered way.
Those are just a few reasons why the 3 Rs matter and some ways we can incorporate this practice into our lives.