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Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling
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Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling

When I watch the news and see millions of gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the massive deforestation going on across the world, I sometimes wonder if my daily recycling of a couple soda cans and empty envelopes really matters. Part of the answer is that no matter how small my contribution is, it’s still the right thing to do, costs me only a few seconds of time, and I feel good about doing it. Of course the broader answer is that just like voting or volunteering, each individual’s contribution adds up to a whole that is millions of times more impactful.

We all know the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle trifecta, but in my experience only the last one—Recycle—gets much attention or conscious thought in our minds. What’s interesting is that the order they are listed in does matter.

While certainly important and worthwhile, recycling is the least effective and “last resort” solution for trash. Rather than sending something to a landfill, I can send it to be re-made into something new. It still needs to be hauled around though, and energy expended to recycle it, and its new form may end up in a landfill if the next owner is not as diligent.

Stepping up the ladder one rung, reusing items when possible is a significantly better choice. Now the item in question doesn’t need to leave my home at all, saving all that transportation and recycling energy. As an extra bonus, since it’s something I am now reusing, in some cases I’m also not spending money to buy a new one!

This leads us to the top of the ladder: reducing. Not buying (or accepting for free) an item in the first place not only means it doesn’t have to be sent away for recycling, it also means it doesn’t need to be manufactured in the first place—the ultimate in “green”.

My next three posts will address each of these options. I’ll be listing ways Kathie and I currently contribute to each “R”, and I hope you’ll leave some comments with other suggestions on how we can do more. We don’t claim to be an especially “green” household, but I think we do pretty well overall. If we can find a few incremental ways to improve, we’re looking forward to trying them out!

Landfill photo from


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