“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” Revisited
Of the three ingredients in the environmental movement’s “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra, “reduce” is most often overlooked. “Reuse” is celebrated by a culture of artists who transform would-be trash into sculptures, mosaics or birdhouses, and by a niche market of products that extend other goods’ lives (for example, a plastic bag drier and a toilet lid sink). “Recycle” is reinforced with public service announcements, bins, collection centers – even its own logo. But the idea of “reduce” in a capitalist, consumer goods-based economy struggles to find mainstream support.
Consumables – When Less is More
Consumables (or “soft goods”) are everywhere. You can’t avoid the inundation, but there are steps you can take to identify the best choices to reduce the impact of your shopping.
- Buying locally-produced goods whenever possible means less fuel and food preservatives are used in transportation and more local jobs are being sustained
- Buying in bulk means more goods for each dollar spent and less disposable packaging materials used
- Using a reusable shopping bag for your groceries means less plastic grocery bag waste floating on the breeze and washing up on beaches, and more control over your own waste footprint
Some companies like Pangea Organics offer 100% post-consumer recycled, biodegradable packaging. Buying from companies like this will immediately reduce your personal waste while encouraging the use of zero-waste packaging throughout the industry.
Non-Consumables – When More is Less
What about non-consumables (or “durable goods”), like that set of patio furniture you’d like for summer barbeques, new sheets for the kids’ beds or a new vacuum cleaner? The barrage of advertising we encounter almost every day often blurs the line between what we want and what we need, and can tempt us to buy things we didn’t even know existed just hours ago.
Part of this is human nature – in many cultures, a person’s possessions directly influence their social standing, whether those possessions are sports cars or chickens. It’s important, though sometimes difficult, to try to look at our personal consumption objectively and ask ourselves:
- Why do I want to purchase this item?
- How do I intend to use it to create welfare for myself or others?
- What do I plan to do with it once its utility is exhausted?
When it is time to make a purchase of larger, durable goods, oftentimes more is less. The old saying “you get what you pay for” usually holds true, especially for big ticket items. Manufacturers that adhere to stricter environmental standards or that have patented technologies and production methods generally have higher operating costs. When you buy from a company like this, you’re usually not paying a higher price for the name and reputation of the company. You’re paying for the responsible way their goods are produced, either because of environmental stewardship or because the item is well-made and will last you decades, not years. A little more money up front usually means less hassle, repairs, and waste in the future, and less stress on the planet.
So if you’re going to buy that set of patio furniture, is it really worth saving $150 on a cheaper plastic set that could begin cracking and breaking down after just a few years instead of going with a 100% recycled, 100% recyclable Poly-Wood or Forest Stewardship Council-certified set with higher quality standards and a longer warranty?
Everyone accumulates possessions over time and the longer you’re settled somewhere, the more stuff you acquire. It’s a product of human nature, and accelerated by the era and society we live in, and it’s usually not worried about until moving day takes much longer than expected because of all that stuff you forgot about!
Well, the Earth is certainly aware of what you’re accumulating because most goods eventually outlive their usefulness and must be discarded, and it’s what these goods are made of and how we choose to dispose of them that have the final say on their impact on the planet.
So remember to follow the three Rs, and remember what order they appear in:
- Reduce the amount of goods you bring into your home
- Reuse those goods whenever possible
- And when the time does come to get rid of things, recycle anything you can
And the next time you come across some of your unnecessary clutter, let it serve as a reminder to consider why we buy what we buy. If we begin screening our consumption habits by asking questions like “Why do I need this?”, “Where and how was it produced?” and “What happens when I no longer need it?” and answering honestly, the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra becomes easier than ever to integrate with our own lives.
Clean Your Plate
- A government study found that America wastes 27% of the food available for consumption
- An EPA study found that Americans generate 30 million tons of food waste each year and 98% is not composted
- Food and yard waste compose 23% of all U.S. waste and can easily be turned into compost
- Food waste that ends up in landfills is far more likely to be cut off from oxygen and produce methane, a greenhouse gas far more damaging than carbon dioxide
Source: New York Times