Friday, November 15, 2013

Going Green: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Today is National Recycling Day!  It may not be deemed Hallmark card-worthy, but this member of the Obscure Holiday Club is guaranteed to be on the radar of us environmentally-conscious nerds. 

When most of us think of recycling, an image of our large blue recycling bins parked curbside and filled to the brim with plastic, glass, cans, and paper will likely come to mind, luring us into the false sense of satisfaction that we are in fact, doing our part to protect the environment.  However, it is important to remember that recycling is not the only component of being a responsible consumer and environmental steward… we have to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Recycling is actually the “last resort” option, after the first two have been exhausted.  If grade school was the last time you heard this phrase or put it into practice… it’s time to review these three crucial steps to consuming responsibly:


On a daily basis, people in our society are bombarded with advertisements that try to convince us that the things we currently have are not up-to-date or good enough, or that we need more "stuff"... stuff we never knew we wanted or needed until we saw the advertisement for it.  The first step to becoming a responsible and environmentally-conscious consumer is to consume less:  reduce the amount of things you buy

The quality of our natural environment plummets as the amount of consumer purchases increases. Think about it... all products go through the same process in the journey from raw materials to the store shelves:
  1.  Raw materials have to be mined/extracted/grown, with resulting environmental collateral damage such as deforestation, pollution, and habitat destruction, among others
  2. The product must be manufactured and packaged, leading to further pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
  3. The product is shipped to the store for purchase, leading to even further greenhouse gas emissions
As you can see, the environmental damage adds up throughout the entire process. This is why it is so crucial that our society learns to equate consumerism and "stuff" with greater environmental destruction.  Do your best to reduce your own consumption: ignore the propaganda of "bigger, better, more" and instead choose to maximize the lifespan and utility of the items you currently own. Not only will the environment thank you, but your wallet will as well!

Is it worth doing this to our planet...

Open pit mine in China, where metals for cell phones are mined. get the latest and greatest one of these every year?

Do you have something in your house that you don’t need anymore, but that is still in good condition?  Instead of tossing that item in the trash, here are a few options to consider:

  •  Donate the item to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or a similar charitable organization.
  •  Sell it! Craigslist, garage sales, and classified ads are easy ways to make a few bucks on items that you no longer need, but which could be useful to someone else.
  • Repurpose it! This, along with “upcycling,” seems to be all the rage these days for the crafty, thrifty types.  Seriously… if you need some ideas, just go to Pinterest and type in “item name” and “repurpose” in the search field and behold the hundreds of possibilities.  Here, I have to salute my mother: she has been a great repurposing role model in my life. She repurposed old items and junk before it was even cool.  My sisters and I used to joke that she would turn anything into a flower planter. Like a barbeque. Seriously.
 Here are a few repurposing ideas found on Pinterest:

Another BBQ-turned-flower planter. Cute!

Crutches can become eye-catching shelves

Turn an old piano into a bookcase

Turn old t-shirts into a quilt full of memories!

  This one isn't from Pinterest, but is a braided rug that my great-grandmother made from old clothing:
Some of these examples might be practical, some might be a little silly... but the point is that the options for reusing your old items are limited only by your imagination!


And now we arrive at the last resort: recycling.  If you have an item that you don’t want anymore, can no longer use, and are unable to repurpose, then the next best thing is to recycle it.  We all know that paper, along with clean glass, aluminum, and most types of plastic, are recyclable in our curbside bins, but some recycling companies will also accept scrap metal (pots and pans, small appliances), bagged plastic grocery bags, and food waste (in designated bins). Check with your provider for guidelines on what items are acceptable. You can also check with the manufacturers of the products you're looking to recycle. Many companies, especially electronics companies, are increasingly implementing take-back programs for their old, outdated, or no-longer-functioning products.

There are certain items that need to be recycled cautiously, so do your homework before recycling these:

  • Electronics: if taken to less-scrupulous recycling facilities, your old electronics could end up being shipped overseas and dumped in developing countries for “recycling” (i.e., polluting the local environment and creating a dangerous health hazard as the items are burned to extract raw materials). For tips on proper electronics recycling, check out my Responsible Electronics Recycling article.
  • Fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, mattresses, etc. are just a few items that have special recycling requirements.  Check with your city or county for information on how to recycle these items, as local programs and requirements vary.

This National Recycling Day, make a commitment to not be just another part in the machine of our over-consuming, throwaway society.  Implement the practice of Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling in your everyday life and encourage others to do the same.  Our planet—and our own survival—depend on everyone's collective efforts.

Do you have creative ideas for reducing, reusing, and recycling? Please share in the comments below!

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