Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reminder: A Walkthrough on Ways to Cut Down Waste
Odds are good that you’ve heard it before. Most likely you learned it as a kid while edutainment cartoons played and teachers walked you through the three green Rs of helping out the environment: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. You still know the words and you certainly know the meanings. The last one most of all; the most important one! Recycling! Just put the right material in the right bin. Easy.
But it’s never a wrong time for a refresher. Especially when the news seems so riddled with stories of pollution, waste, and ecological havoc. Today we’re brushing the dust off what we think we know about the three Rs, learning how we can enact them today, and seeing how we can go a step further and make changes to improve the world around us.
Why Do We Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle?
The short version: Because we only have one home. One Earth. It’s on us not to make it a mess.
The long version: Because right now, Earth is a bit of a mess, and it’s due to all the things we produce as waste or byproducts.
Plastics: Mega and Micro
If there’s one material that produces the most waste from our day-to-day activity, it’s plastic. Plastic bags, plastic boxes, plastic bottles, plastic jars, plastic, plastic, plastic. We’ve produced so much that we have entire garbage islands adrift in our seas. Yes, islands, plural. Maybe you’ve heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a whopping 1.6 million kilometers in its surface area, or twice the size of Texas—but it’s not alone. It’s just the only island with an impressive nickname. In total, there are five garbage islands spread out across the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean, and the bulk of all of them is various plastics. That includes one of our latest and most loathed words: microplastics. These are tiny granules of plastic that dissolve and pollute their surroundings as plastics break down. Recent research has shown that their reach has gone so far that we are ingesting themand risking serious damage to our health as a result.
Carbon and Chemicals Crowding the Air
‘Carbon footprint’ is the catchall term for the amount of carbon dioxide or other gaseous compounds given off by use of fossil fuels. Cars, buses, trucks, farming and construction vehicles, ships, and planes all contribute to the ‘greenhouse effect,’ in which gases polluting the atmosphere contribute to global warming and overall climate change. In addition, a vast number of factories are responsible for emitting chemical vapor, smoke, and assorted industrial wastes that pollute surrounding land and water supplies. Whether it’s for the shipping of items or the mass production of items, there’s a lot of huffing and puffing of dangerous pollutants to consider.
Landfills (That Should Fill Up a Lot Less)
Depending on how the wind’s blowing, there’s a chance you can smell the nearest landfill before you ever see it. Landfills are areas where trash is taken to be discarded. This is done by compacting the garbage into extremely compressed blocks, then burying them in specially-lined cells in the ground to hinder contamination of groundwater, and covering them over with soil. Here’s a fun fact: about 75% of trash we produce is recyclable, but on average, folks only recycle about 30%. That leftover 45% is heaped up every day in landfills when it could be put to use elsewhere.
Meaning: Cutting down the amount of waste we produce.
The best way to reduce damage to the environment is to reduce waste. That means addressing the ways we can make changes that cut down how much garbage and chemical mess we put out.
- Reusable tote bags aren’t just a fashion choice, but a huge help in reducing the amount of plastic made in factories and ultimately tossed in the trash. Even on those shopping trips that require a cart for the full load, bring your reusable totes along! It’s still one less plastic bag to use. Also, look into mesh produce bags for your fruits and veggies.
- Check out the packaging of products you buy and see if they have an ecolabel. Ecolabels are special marks for items and online catalogs that show what kind of environmentally-friendly practices were involved to move or make the product. Things like the Energy Star © label, for energy-efficient appliances, the Safer Choice label for food products that take extra measures to ensure it’s made with safer chemical ingredients while minimizing damaging environmental effects, and the SmartWay © label for items that are shipped in a way that focuses on decreasing harmful emissions during shipping are all good ones to keep an eye out for.
- Rather than get boxes and bottles of things that you find yourself constantly replacing, see if there are refillable options you can use instead. A thermos or water bottle for drinks, refillable soap dispensers, et cetera.
- Cut down emissions and toxic chemicals by being frugal about long road trips and being mindful about your choices of fertilizer and pesticides around the yard. Being careful about the former saves you gas and the air a little pollution, while the latter keeps the soil, groundwater, and beneficial insects free of dangerous chemicals.
Meaning: Finding new purpose for things that might otherwise be tossed out.
There’s no such thing as living a life in which you don’t need…well, things. Things to eat, things to wear, things to help you do and make and fix and all the other tasks that come with being a person. Stuff happens. Stuff gets used. But not all stuff has just one use before it gets chucked in the garbage.
- Keeping a good container when it comes around is one of the best and simplest habits to fall into. Whether it’s rigid plastic, glass, or cardboard, product packaging is always worth double-checking to see if it can be put to new use. Crates, boxes, baskets, tubs, jugs, and bottles are all new containers you might want to hold on to.* (*But only if you’re really using them! Collecting containers you never use just leads to hoarding a heap of junk.)
- Remember, just because you think you’ve gotten all the use you can out of an item, that doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be tossed. See if a friend could use the thing you’re planning to throw out. Is it something that could go in a garage sale or to a secondhand shop? If it’s in good condition, pass it on to someone who could enjoy it next!
- Get creative! Turn old towels into rags for washing with or knotted chew toys for the dog. Repurpose plastic bottles into bird feeders and use old toothbrushes for cleaning stubborn crevices and corners. Cardboard egg cartons make great planters for little seed gardens and a cleaned-out paint can is great for storing odds and ends in a workshop. Consider all the ways you can dress up or rework materials on hand into something worth keeping.
- Not all food waste has to be wasted if you make your own compost. Eggshells, used teabags, the peels and pits of produce, grains, coffee grounds, coffee filters, the shells of nuts, and even old newspaper and cardboard are all good options, especially if mixed in with fallen leaves and lawn clippings—which means you don’t have to bag and dump those either! But no meats or oils as they give off a rank odor and attract pests. Shred or crumble your composting material, deposit it in an outdoor bin, and mix until everything’s integrated. Be sure to turn the mixture regularly, making sure newer layers of material get tucked down to the warm interior at the bottom. This turning causes aeration, giving essential bacteria an easier time of decomposing everything. Keeping things a little damp helps too. Not drowned! Just moist enough to encourage everything to get good and mushy. Cover with a layer of dirt and a lid to prevent bug trouble and trap heat. Once everything’s decomposed down to a somewhat homogenous compost, you’ve got yourself a nutritious treat for a garden!
Meaning: Transforming something old and unusable into something new.
Here, at last, is the final R. Final, because this means you’ve hopefully reduced and reused as much as you can of your waste, and now all that’s left are things destined to be either dumped or made into new things.
- Things that can be recycled include: Glass, paper, cardboard, metal, and rigid plastic. In most cases you can check for an on-pack recycling label (OPRL) to see if it’s a recyclable item.
- Things that cannot be recycled include: Foam egg cartons, plastic and bubble wrap, packing peanuts, polystyrene or Styrofoam, hazardous chemicals, food or waste-tainted items like used paper plates, paper towels, and tissues, light bulbs, food and medical waste, wood, ceramics, and yard waste.
- If you don’t have a curbside pickup for recycling, always be sure to sort each type by material before taking them to be dropped off at your local recycling facility. It saves time for you and everyone else!
- Support recycling by buying what’s recycled. That’s another ecolabel to check for the next time you go shopping. Insulation, packaging, clothing, stationery, dishware, auto parts, steelworks, appliances, furniture, and innumerable other products can all be made via repurposing old material. You could recycle your plastic one day and find it coming back to you as part of a new chair or recycling your tin cans and walking past it as a new street sign.
It’s been said before. It deserves saying again. Earth is all we have. There’s no throwing it in the trash, no escaping to a new world to dodge the consequences made for us in the present and those waiting for the future. Every action we take to decrease the damage done to the world, every step towards adding something better to it, matters. Lacks Furniture has taken initiative to step up its measures to go green and recycle everything we can to help the environment. Home isn’t just the four walls we work to make uniquely yours with the right furniture. Home is shared by all of us, regardless of where we are in the world—because Earth is our home. And it deserves just as much love and effort as our own space.
For more information on how to reduce, reuse, recycle, and stay updated on news and ways to help the environment, check out the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) site here.
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