Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Beth Ricci of Red and Honey, while I take a little break from writing and publishing.
The Dutiful Recycler
My scrunchied-hair, neon-wearing self sat in the elementary-school classroom on a sunny afternoon in the early 90’s.
We watched a cartoon video that taught us all about things like recycling and picking up garbage to care for the environment.
The chant is firmly etched in my mind: “Reduce, Re-Use, and REEEE-cycle!” (heavy emphasis on the “recycle”!).
This value of eco-consciousness successfully stuck with me over the years, and as an adult I now dutifully recycle my glass, cardboard, and plastic in the weekly curbside pick-up.
I realized recently that unfortunately I had sort of missed the point.
The three-word mantra of eco-consciousness that children are taught from the tender early years is more than just a reminder to recycle. We are also instructed to reduce and re-use. In fact, the very order of the three words is intentional.
There is a reason that “reduce” comes first: because it is the number one priority!
The words are listed in order of efficiency and importance in caring for the environment. We cannot become good stewards of the earth if we continually perpetuate the consumer cycle by consuming mindlessly, and then throwing away or recycling large amounts of waste.
If we only ever recycle, and fail to place an emphasis on reducing our consumption, and re-using whatever we can before recycling it, then we have missed the point. We are just feeding the cycle of consumerism!
Photo by epsos.de
Getting Our Eco-Priorities Straight
“Reduce” is the first word.
We are called to reduce the amount of stuff we consume altogether. Practically speaking, this might look like:
- choosing to buy things that aren’t over-packaged
- only having stuff in your home that is intentional (things that are “useful or beautiful”)
- giving gifts that are consumable or experiential, like edible treats, itunes gift cards, etc.
- having a smaller, versatile wardrobe of classic mix & match items
- reducing your energy usage: turn lights off, use a clothesline instead of a dryer, etc.
- reduce waste by making sure to use up leftovers in the fridge and eating fresh things before they go bad (I’m not the only one that’s thrown out a whole head of rotting lettuce because she’s forgotten about it in the crisper, am I?)
- choose quality (when it matters) in order to avoid adding to landfills with cheap broken junk.
“Re-use” is the second word.
If you no longer find an item useful, your challenge is to turn it into something else that you can use! This might look like:
- re-purposing clothing (see this recent post here on SH for some great ideas!)
- using washed out food containers again and again (I culture my homemade yogurt in glass spaghetti sauce and pickle jars)
Photo by evelyngiggles
- turning worn-out clothes into rags for cleaning
- saving gift bags, tissue paper, and bows to use again
- reusable grocery bags instead of plastic
- using egg shells or egg cartons to start seeds for your garden
- buy second-hand when you can
- cloth diapers, mama cloth
- it can even be as simple as sharing a tea bag when sharing a cup of tea with someone. The little things all add up!
The final (and perhaps easiest?) word in our eco-conscious mantra is “recycle.”
I’m going to go ahead and throw “compost” in there too, because it is more or less the same thing: food waste gets “recycled” into rich, healthy earth that is great for your garden! If you can’t avoid buying it and you can’t reuse it, then you should try to recycle or compost it.
Things that you can recycle or compost include:
- aluminum cans
- cardboard & paper
- old cell phones
- soda can tabs
- plastic containers
- newspapers & magazines
- grass clippings and leaves
- food waste, wet napkins, kleenex, etc.
You can find out what is picked up at the curb, and what you can take to a depot. In my city garbage is only picked up bi-weekly, and recycling and compost are picked up weekly. You can also check out Simple Homemade’s super-helpful Q&A series on composting.
If we embrace the challenge of the Three R’s as it is given, we will leave a healthier and happier planet for our children. First reduce, then re-use, and as a last option – recycle!
How do you incorporate the Three R’s in your life?