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Redefining the Three Rs

June 15, 2021

Reduce, reuse, recycle three steps to guide us as we try to make more resource and environmentally conscious decisions. We’ve all heard that slogan, and probably associate it with the “chasing arrows” symbol that has become synonymous with recycling. Too often, we forget about reducing and reusing and jump right to recycling. However, when we wait until it’s time to get rid of something to consider an item’s environmental impact, we’ve waited too long. It’s more effective to think of the three Rs as a hierarchy, with recycling being the last step for items that we can’t help but bring into our home.
Reduce
“Reduce” is often summarized as “reduce your trash,” but it might be better to rethink it as “reduce consumerism.” Producing new things takes many more behind-the-scenes resources, from mining raw materials to transporting components across oceans. What and how to reduce is going to look different for everyone, based on their own consumption habits. If you’re an impulse shopper, you can curb your impulse purchases by giving yourself a cool-off period to reflect on each potential purchase. Another way to reduce consumerism is to embrace the idea of a fix-it mindset. This can be learning the skill of clothes to get more wear time out of them or thinking ahead when you make purchases and buy items that are more durable or more easily repairable if or when they break.
Reuse 
You can reuse things by creatively repurpose common household items or make a point to use the reusable version of common single-use items. Reusing is a great way to shrink your resource footprint, and ultimately reduce overall consumption. There are many ways to put the ethos of “reuse” into practice: buy second-hand, refurbished or vintage items instead of buying new ones. Give a second life to whatever you can; even food scraps can be composted into rich soil and reused in your garden!
Recycle
Recycling, which is the reprocessing of materials by breaking them down and turning them into new products, is not a miraculously sustainable solution. With recycling, there is an upfront energy cost to break down and remanufacture products. Recycling can be difficult to do correctly because recycling guidelines can be different in different municipalities, and incorrect recycling can lead to recyclable materials being diverted to landfills. According to the EPA, in 2018, about 94 million tons of municipal solid waste were recycled or composted, meaning that those materials were diverted from the landfill and instead could be used as a material resource. Unfortunately, 94 million tons represent only a 32% recycling rate. Recycling is still an important part of the 3Rs. To help avoid contamination that results in recyclables being diverted to a landfill, it is important to only recycle items you know are recyclable in your area, and when in doubt, throw them out. A little bit of contamination - a greasy pizza box or a plastic bag - can divert an entire load of material to the landfill. Lucas County Solid Waste Management District has a new app to help you recycle correctly. Look for an app called “LC Recycles” if you think this would help you!