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Green Living: Time to live by the three Rs: reduce, re-use and recycle

Sharla Paino | Interrobang | Opinion | October 26th, 2009



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Since we were kids, we’ve been reminded again and again to reduce, reuse and recycle our waste. But, it occurred to me that many of us have likely not really thought about what these three little words actually mean. While we, as a society, tend to focus on “the recycle rule” - thinking that it is enough - in actuality, the first two directives are the most important, and in can be applied to other areas of your life that will be beneficial to both you and the earth.

So, what more can you do besides throwing your plastic containers into your recycling bin? Well, not using plastic containers in the first place helps as does re-using them for other materials. While making the effort to recycle is great, most recycled goods don’t get sorted unfortunately, and end up in landfills anyway. With this in mind, reducing is the best way to help the environment.

By eliminating unnecessary packaging (ie: grocery bags, the double-cup on your tea, the sleeve on your coffee etc.), you are cutting down on the amount of garbage that may or may not make its way into our disposal system. Better yet, I recommend taking on a get it “for here” (as opposed to “to go”) approach, while providing your own washable mug(s), when it comes to any food-fast type orders.

You can also reduce the energy and water consumed, within your home, by turning off lights, computers, and televisions, when you’re not using them. Making sure that you insulate your home well, so that you don’t need to rely upon your heater as early on in the season, along with turning off your heat when you’re out of the house are also advised reduction approaches. The same ideas can be applied to air-conditioning; open your windows, instead!

I also recommend using energy-saving light bulbs (including LED Christmas lights), making sure that your plumbing is up to par, so that you don’t have drippy taps or tubs uselessly leaking water throughout the day, taking shorter showers, as well as advocating the saying, “when it’s brown, flush it down, when it’s yellow, let it mellow” (a great way of saving water in your toilet... unless you’re expecting company).

Beyond reduction, re-using is another good strategy for cutting down the amount of waste you produce. When you re-use an item that would otherwise be thrown away, you are decreasing your garbage by half or more.

In terms of suggestions as to how you can implement more “re-using” into your lifestyle, I recommend bringing re-usable Tupperware containers for your take-out orders, carrying plastic spoons in your purse/pocket for store-bought/cafeteria foods, and bringing your vegetable/fruit bags back to the grocery store to use them again.

Instead of throwing out clothing that you’ve grown sick of, you can also consider hosting clothing exchange parties wherein you and your friends can obtain “new” and exciting wardrobe items, without having to buy anything, and without tossing anything into the trashcan. For those of you who are really keen on environmentalism, you can also take a page out of my mom’s book: she collects excess water from her shower and/or dishes to pour into the toilet to save from additional flushing. It really works!

When we put into practice all three of the Rs, we’re doing a huge part in helping conserve our resources, and prevent wastage. If you shift your focus onto the first two, you will find that you won’t have as much waste to practice the third.
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