Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Many people agree that our mindset on garbage needs to change.

Many mindful people do their part by recycling: paper, cardboard, aluminum, plastics — whatever their municipality will accept.

Many mindful people use reusable shopping bags instead of collecting tons of plastic bags.  Some who do use plastic shopping bags repurpose them for use in small trash cans.

Many mindful people use re-usable water bottles instead of buying bottled water.

These are the three most common “eco-friendly” actions that I’ve seen in general daily life.

These few actions include all three components of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mindset.

Unfortunately, except for economic reasons, most people practice a “recycle, reuse, reduce” lifestyle.

Reduce

The first R is reduce because the best thing you can do for the environment (and ultimately, for your pocketbook) is to reduce consumption, especially of one-use, disposable items. In addition to the space they take up once they’ve been discarded, they all take an enormous amount of energy and natural resources to create, from harvesting materials to creating the object to packaging the object (go back to the beginning of the cycle for all of the packaging!) to transporting the object.

Sure, if you buy a water bottle, that cycle is perpetuated for production of that bottle, but it is still much less than the alternative.  Using myself as an example, I bought a few Klean Kanteens three or four years ago. Let’s say three. I have no idea how much I paid for them, so I looked up current prices for the three bottles I have:

  • I have two of these (one with a loop cap and one with a sport cap, though the design is different from what they have now): $17.95 each
  • I have one of these: $25.95
  • Total: $61.85

I pack lunch for 186 school days. I take the big bottle (40 oz.) and one of the small ones (27 oz.), so that’s 67 oz. per day. Most bottled water comes in 16-oz. bottles, so rounding down, that’s four bottles of water per day. Four bottles times 186 days equals 744 bottles per year that I didn’t buy or throw away just from using reusable bottles. And that hasn’t even counted in all of the other times that I use them. And that’s only for one year.

A 24-pack of 16-oz. store-brand water bottles is on sale at a local grocery store this week for $2.77.  If I stocked up enough to use for the year, I’d spend $85.87.

So in one year, I’d save the earth from the production, transportation, and disposal of more than 744 plastic water bottles, as well as saving at least $24.02. The second year, since there would be no cost for water bottles, it’s all savings.

Similar exercises could be done with a myriad of products. Disposables are the most obvious choices (plates, silverware, napkins, paper towels, tissues, diapers, etc.). Other items to consider reducing the purchase of include clothing/shoes, accessories, and electronics. Also consider how your grocery items are purchased. Snack-sized or 100-calorie packs both use much more packaging and are more expensive per ounce than their more bulk-packaged counterparts. With reusable containers, it is easy to open a package of chips, cookies, etc., and divide it out into servings.

Reuse

The second-best way to conserve resources and money is to buy reusable items. Hard plastic, glass, and aluminum bottles and storage containers work well in the kitchen. One step further: buy foods in packages that will be reusable — most notably, jars.

Buying items second-hand not only saves money but also gives another life to items otherwise headed for a landfill. While there are a few items I don’t feel comfortable buying second-hand (underwear, bathing suit, furniture with pillows/cushions for examples), I have gotten many great deals on buying items second-hand, from books to clothes to a dining room set to a defibrillator for my training center. And, just like new items, there are brick-and-mortar stores as well as online stores where you can shop.

Selling or giving away instead of trashing (or recycling) is another way to help keep good objects in circulation and out of a dumpster. I have come to love Freecycle, where I have given away things I was pretty sure no one would want (and they did want!) and received things that other people were happy to get out of their house.

Having a compost bin/pile enables people to reuse peels, cores, and other parts of many foods instead of tossing them in the garbage.

Note: if you’re going to reuse plastic bottles, don’t reuse the ones that you buy water in. They’re not made for reuse and break down faster than those marketed for reuse. Of course, I prefer reusable bottles that aren’t plastic at all (and if you’re going with aluminum, make sure they’re not lined), but I understand that not everyone is concerned about such matters.

Recycle

The last of the three Rs is recycle. If you already have it and need to get rid of it but can’t sell it and can’t give it away, recycle it. There are recycling programs for all sorts of materials beyond your basic paper, plastic, aluminum. I’ve seen websites for a variety of electronics, running shoes, pens, books. I’m sure there is much more out there that I haven’t stumbled upon.

Make sure that any products you’re using at home that can be recycled actually get in a recycling bin.

What’s your take? Does any of this concern you, either environmentally or financially?

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