Back to Basics: Remembering the Three R’s

by Dawn Quirk

During these difficult economic times, many Americans have been forced to go “back to the basics.” Cook at home instead of go out to eat. Forgo those extra pair of jeans. Take a vacation in-state instead of around the world. While simplicity has become a useful way to save money, it is also a valuable environmental principle. With so many different scientific studies producing competing claims (CS Monitor “How green are trains, public transportation, and hybrid cars? It depends.”), so many supposedly eco-friendly products on the market (Slate Magazine “How Biodegradable are Biodegradable Plastics?”), and with many new technologies still too expensive or impractical (New York Times “Green Promise Seen in Switch to LED Lighting”), it is time to go back to the environmental lesson we all learned in elementary school: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.Although not as flashy or innovative as today’s green buzzwords, reducing your consumption, reusing your products, and recycling your waste is as cheap, simple, and effective as any effort to reduce your carbon footprint. Although our program focuses on recycling, the first two R’s are actually the most beneficial to the environment. Simply buying less stuff eliminates the need to reuse or recycle products. Despite Americans’ reputation as conspicuous consumers, the financial stress that many households are experiencing has meant that consumer spending has dropped off in recent months.

Whatever the motivation, purchasing fewer goods translates into energy savings in production and transportation and less waste in landfills. Reducing consumption involves asking questions such as “How necessary is this product for me?” or “Will I need to replace this product in the near future?” or “Can I purchase a product in bulk or with less packaging?” Out of the three R’s, reduction is the most effective way to be environmentally friendly.Reusing products is the other often forgotten step in the three R process. Complimentary to reduction, reuse keeps waste out of landfills and helps to eliminate the need to buy or use certain items. Common examples of reuse are the reusable grocery bags seen in checkout aisles across the country. The reuse of products can be accomplished through donating gently used items to local charities or resellers or using old products yourself for new purposes.

Reusing takes some creativity and time, but you don’t have to spend any money or worry about possibly complex recycling regulations. The reuse concept can also be applied to one-time use items, also known as throw-away items. Instead of wrapping your sandwich in aluminum foil, put it in reusable Tupperware. Instead of buying bottled water all the time, buy a water filter or pitcher and a reusable water bottle. However you decide to reuse, remember that it is preferred to recycling.While eco-trends may come and go and scientists debate the latest advancement or contradictory data, the three R’s remain a simple, cheap and effective way to reduce waste and be environmentally friendly.