Three “R’s”: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

April 4, 2017

You may have heard of the three “R’s” Reduce, Reuse, Recycle before, but have you thought about what they mean, and how they can make a positive change in your household?

All three refer to the importance of properly managing waste. Manufacturing, packaging and shipping goods consumes energy and other important resources. Energy usage contributes to global warming, while wasteful manufacturing practices contribute to pollution and the environmental damage of activities such as mineral extraction.

Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.
-Henry David Thoreau

You might say that population growth will inevitably cause environmental degradation, but even so this should not prevent us from making a change in our own lives that can reduce these impacts and improve the situation for everyone.

Reduce comes first in the triad because it means reducing our consumption which has the greatest impact of all:

Avoid over packaged goods.

Replace disposable products with re-useable products, such as cloth napkins, a re-useable coffee container.

Buy a used car instead of a new car (hopefully an efficient one).

Buy more durable, repairable appliances.

Try out electronic billing rather than paper billing.

Consider eating a more vegetarian diet, which can consume fewer resources.

Live in a smaller house, check out the small house movement – smaller homes generate less waste in construction and vastly reduce energy usage.

Learn about the energy consumed by flying rather than taking a bus or train.

Reuse comes ahead of Recycle when we think about preventing unnecessary damage to the environment – because if we can share an unwanted child’s toy or buy a used car rather than a new one, we eliminate the additional burden of waste due to the manufacturing and shipping process. And of course, we save money. Some ways to consider reuse:

Repair broken appliances, furniture and toys.

Take advantage of “free-cycling” – sharing used goods with others through local exchanges, or through services such as Craig’s List.

Donate used items to charities, and books to charities such as Waltham’s “More than Words.”

Donate a used car to your public radio station. It doesn’t need to be running, often such donations are stripped for parts. You may be eligible for a substantial tax benefit!

Have a Yard Sale.

Bring your own grocery bags to the store.

Learn about composting and growing your own vegetables.

Recycle is the last choice, but a very important one. We can reduce the impact of our consumer lifestyle simply by putting our trash in a separate bucket, and we can do this both at home and at work. So, even if you don’t want to live in the woods like Henry David Thoreau, you can make a positive change by recycling:

Buy products made from recycled material. Look for a recycled symbol on products in stores. Here at Mount Auburn we have switched to 100% recycled paper, but even so it is best to reduce printing as much as possible.

Check your local town’s website to see what they pick up curbside, and whether you need to sort your recyclables.

Check with your town to see when they host special events such as paper shredding, hazardous waste and electronics recycling. Local towns have events to recycle items such as car tires, batteries, paints and solvents. Some towns collect leaves and yard waste and provide mulch to homeowners.

Bring your discarded electronics to Mount Auburn’s Electronics Recycling event in January.

Many local towns provide recycling bins, composting containers and rain water collection bins.

Look for new products that are made from recycled materials.

It may only take a little change to make a big difference in how our lifestyles affect the environment. What is most important is to start learning about how our choices impact our environment and the natural world we hand down to our children.


Sources consulted are Missouri Department of Natural Resources. https://dnr.mo.gov/env/swmp/pubs-reports/threers.htm.

Also, you will find valuable information at the Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs website: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/recycle/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *