Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
The 3Rs of recycling are meant to be more than just a tagline. They are the guiding principles for a more sustainable way of living. They suggest a progression of behaviors for achieving a lifestyle that is less focused on disposability. It encourages us to toss out the single use, throw away mentality for a progression of more sustainable behaviors.
REDUCE is a primary principle of living sustainably. Do you really need the latest iPhone or a new car? Can you not use your current model for a few years longer rather than embracing a mind set of constant upgrades or newer models? Our resources are finite. Our planet can no longer afford for us to squander them simply to be able to stay up with the neighbors. Consumption just for the sake of consumption means that our grandchildren and their children will have less because we used our finite resources indiscriminately. This is hard because we were brought up to lust after bigger, better and newer and is it what our economy is built on.
It is a difficult changeover and but it doesn’t have to happen all at once. You can adopt a few things in your mindset to make it easier. (1) Shop for quality when you do shop. Buy things that will last. They will be worth the extra $$. (2) Avoid shopping for the latest fad. It is not sustainable. The fad will soon be out of style and the item useless on your shelves. (3) Learn how to maintain that item that you do purchase so that a repair is less likely. Then repair it if it becomes necessary. (4) Buy green. If you do need to update that appliance because it is not energy efficient make sure that the new purchase is energy efficient. (5) Buy items made with recycled materials.
The REUSE part of the recycling triumvirate is a bit like returning to life early in the century before we adopted our throw away lifestyles. Before we toss something, we should look to see how it can be reused. How can we reuse a glass jar? Can we use it for food storage rather than use plastic? Or store other materials in it? Can we fix or repair an item rather than throwing it out? Can we donate it to someone or an organization who can find another use for it? Organizations like Good Will or the ReStore from Habitat for Humanity will provide a new home for any number of your good condition, no longer needed items. Can we sell it on Craig’s List or buy used on eBay? Do you Freecycle? These are also great possibilities. The point is that we don’t want to see our no longer needed, gently used items in a landfill. It’s that simple.
The third principle of the recycling mantra is RECYCLE and most communities in the country have some form of recycling program in operation. So we mostly all participate to some extent. However, it can be a bit challenging because there are no nationwide standards in place. Why can we recycle the #1 (PET or PETE) and #2 (HDPE) resin plastics, but not the #3 through #7s? (See the bottom of the package for the chasing arrow symbol and check that the number is enclosed.) What about plastic bottle caps? This is confusing and more work needs to be done to find markets for all types of plastics.
In Mercer County the curbside recycling program is managed by the Mercer County Improvement Authority. Check to see the list of acceptable materials (Downloadable PDF) that they maintain so that you can do your part.
Finally, remember that RECYCLING is the last behavior of the 3Rs. Trying to reduce your use of recyclable materials in combination with REDUCING and REUSING will serve our world best. Use these guiding principles to guide you on your participatory journey towards sustainability that will hopefully enable all of our grandchildren and their children to live in a world full of the options and opportunities that we have been privileged to enjoy.