Since it began gaining popularity in the 70s, the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has become a common saying used in households across the country. This term was developed in response to fears around increasing waste pollution, and the idea that it represents has helped our society reduce its waste a great deal. With all the good that this idea has done, there is something that has been lost on its audience through the years. Reduce Reuse Recycle is not just a list, but a hierarchy going from most impactful to least impactful in terms of eliminating waste.
Recycling is the most popular method of the three, and it has been made easy to use through curbside recycling services available in most areas. Although it is a big step in the right direction compared to the alternative of waste going straight to the landfill, there are more effective methods that require even less effort. In order to identify the best practices in the hierarchy of “Reduce Reuse Recycle,” the best way is to break it down.
This is the option with the highest impact on waste reduction, and can be the easiest method if done right. Everything we buy or use will eventually have one or more components that become waste once we are done with them. From clothing, to plastic water bottles, to single-use utensils, there comes a point in the lifespan of every product where it stops being useful to us and we will need to get rid of it. By being proactive, we can eliminate some of our waste before it even becomes a problem. When ordering take-out from a restaurant, you can ask them not to include the plastic utensils and opt to use your utensils at home instead. Similarly, if you get most of your water from single-use plastic bottles, consider switching to a refillable bottle in order to reduce the plastic going into the trash or recycling.
While we can try to reduce our consumption as much as possible to keep our waste down, there are always going to be things that we have to buy. In these situations, we have the opportunity to get creative in order to give new life to the things once considered spent. Opt for purchasing sturdier items that stand up to reuse and have a longer life. Food is a great example of this. Everyone needs to eat, and many foods come in plastic packaging for necessary food safety reasons. These plastic containers can be repurposed into containers for storing leftovers and lunches, reusing the containers that would have gone to the landfill or recycling while also reducing your need to purchase further plastic in the form of Tupperware. Clothing is another great material to Reuse. If you have children who are going through growth spurts regularly, consider handing down those clothes to a younger sibling or neighbor. Don’t have any younger kids who might need clothes in your life? Thrift stores accept clothing donations where they will become available to someone who may need them, and there are textile donation bins throughout Eagle County. In the case that clothing becomes unusable due to rips or stains, you can cut them up to use as cleaning rags around the home.
Recycling should act as the last line of defense against waste that would otherwise go to the landfill. There are some things that we can’t reduce out of our lives, and some of those things can’t be reused for one reason or another. When this happens, we can call upon the expertise of our local recycling providers to process items for resale, remanufacturing and reuse at a higher level. In order to do this, you can either enlist the help of a curbside recycling service, or bring your materials to one of the many free recycling drop sites in the Valley. Check the Eagle County Waste Wizard App for more information on these drop site and what goes in which bin.
By following this hierarchy, you can make sure that you are doing all that you can to reduce your landfill footprint. If we all incorporate the three elements of this hierarchy in the proper order, we can collectively reduce waste and cost to keep our community cleaner.
Malik Geraci is the Climate Action Collaborative Intern at Walking Mountains Sustainability.