(Today’s post is from Victoria Klein, author of the new book 48 Things to Know About Sustainable Living (Good Things to Know). She provides some great information on the 3 Rs that everyone knows about, plus ideas on an interested 4th R. Take it away, Victoria.)
1) Reduce: Less is more. The first of the three classic Rs is all about reducing: buying less, eating less, driving less, using less . . . less everything! Think quality over quantity. Reducing is an easy step when you go slowly, making subtle changes over time. Using reusable grocery bags, a washable water bottle, and an insulated lunch box saves waste from paper, plastic, and food, and (bonus) it was really simple to do. (Maybe you want to buy some of these as holiday gifts this year.) The key part of reducing is to simply eliminate waste (trash or recyclables) in the first place.
2) Reuse: Reusing things you already own or buying items that have been used before is the second of the three Rs. Brand new doesn’t mean the best. Used items have sentimental value, charm, unique style, character, and best of all, are usually more affordable. If you are in the market for something, whether it be printer paper, furniture, hangers, or, well, anything, try shopping your own house first. It may take a little imagination or even ingenuity, but you’ll save money and resources. Kids especially enjoy creating “something out of nothing,” like forts made from shipping boxes or plants grown in egg cartons. If you need to go out and buy something, try shopping the wonderful world of online secondhand listings. Three of the most popular sites for buying, selling, and trading online are Craigslist, eBay, and Freecycle. Additionally, a number of specialty sites buy, sell, and trade specific items, like books, movies, DVDs, video games, clothes, and more. Almost anything that you can buy brand new can be bought secondhand at a lower cost for you and the environment. Before buying anything new, think about (a) whether you already have an item that can be used for this purpose, (b) whether the item you are replacing just needs to be repaired, or (c) where you can get the item used.
3) Recycle: Recycling doesn’t just mean throwing items into your blue bin each week. Recycling is also related directly to the other two Rs, reducing and reusing. Items you no longer need or use can be reused and recycled by either donating or selling them to people who do need them. From cars and clothes to furniture and games, there’s a market or a nonprofit that will happily embrace your goods. Visit Earth911 for a plethora of information about recycling and locating recycling centers in your area. Last but not least, food can be recycled too. Composting is quickly becoming one of the most popular elements of sustainable living. Yes, there is the smell factor, but with a little knowledge about the basics of composting, you can avoid funky odors altogether (yes, it is 100 percent possible). Even if you aren’t a gardener, the compost is great for your lawn, and other gardeners will happily buy homemade compost from you. To learn more about the ancient art of composting, visit Composting 101.
4) Rethink: Before organic cotton and farmers’ markets, before composting and bicycling, before telecommuting and alternative energy, we must talk about our needs and wants – a new, 4th R to add to the classic “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra. The distinction between a “want” and a “need” has become ever hazier in our culture. In the end, we have more stuff, less money, and are none the happier for the experience. A need is something you must have in order to survive, i.e., food, water, and shelter. Today, we can add employment, transportation, basic clothing, and possibly health care. A want is entirely optional, something we may enjoy having, i.e., fancy clothing, sugar, electronics, jewelry, fast cars, a DVD collection, and video games (just to name a few). The key here is determining what you need first and making sure that it is provided for you in a sustainable way. The next time you think of buying something, ask yourself: Can I live without this? Will I physically die without this? Will I go into debt to buy this? Living with less = good; debt = bad. These are simple equations for healthy, eco-conscious living.
Adapted with permission from 48 Things to Know About Sustainable Living by Victoria Klein ©2010 by Victoria Klein.