Most people, when asked this question, would say that this is the recycle symbol, but they would be only partly right. It means much more than that. It is the symbol of the Three R’s of the environment, Reduce, Re-Use and Recycle, of which Recycling is only one part, and the last resort at that.
People think the symbol means only recycling because Recycling is the only one of the three R’s from which industry can make any money. The meaning of the symbol has been reduced and attention drawn away from the other aspects of this triangle. Why? Industry can’t make as much money if you are reducing consumption and re-using their products and packaging. Industry can make money by your recycling. Have you noticed that some recycled products are actually more expensive than ones made from new materials? Pay attention to the other two R’s – Reduce and Re-Use. Americans alone throw away over 50 billion food and drink cans, 27 billion glass bottles and jars, and 65 million plastic and metal jar and can covers every year. 85% of it goes to a landfill. The amount of trash we throw away can be reduced by reducing consumption and by re-using materials as long as possible. The last resort, after reduction and re-use, is to recycle the materials.
Let’s look at each of the three R’s individually.
Reduce. Reduced consumption means reduced waste:
· Consider whether you even need a particular product.
· Buy products that don't have a lot of packaging.
· Buy products that have packaging that is re-usable, recyclable and did not require a lot of energy to produce.
· Borrow or rent instead of buying
· Share products with family and friends so each individual doesn’t have to have his/her own.
· Instead of buying magazines and newspapers, read the news online or at the library.
· Compost food waste and then use the decomposed materials to enhance the soil in your garden.
Reduced energy consumption helps keep our air cleaner:
· Walk or ride a bike when you can, instead of driving.
· Use public transportation where available.
· Turn off lights that you are not using and use energy saving light bulbs.
· Use energy-saving appliances.
· Use low-flow showers and toilets.
· Save energy on home heating by adding insulation to your house.
· Build a home with energy savings in mind.
By reducing consumption and waste you can do the most to help the environment stay cleaner and healthier.
Re-Use. Instead of throwing things away, use them again.
· Use your own cloth sacks when you go to the grocery store instead of the paper or plastic bags the stores provide.
· Store items in coffee cans, jars and other containers that usually get thrown away.
· Don’t throw away used clothing, toys or furniture. You can have a yard sale or donate them to thrift stores. For a list of possible thrift stores click here.
· Use both sides of paper.
· Store food in reusable containers
· Use silverware and dishes instead of paper plates and throwaway utensils.
· Use rags that can be washed instead of paper towels.
· Creatively re-use materials rather than trashing them.
By re-using materials you are saving money, being creative, and helping reduce waste at the same time.
Recycle. If you cannot re-use an item, see if the materials can be recycled.
· Try to purchase items that are recyclable. If they have the Three R’s symbol on them you can place them in your recycling bin or take them to a recycling center.
· Newspapers, cardboard, glass, and many kinds of plastic are recyclable. Don’t throw them in with your other trash.
· You can save up aluminum cans and actually get paid for them at an aluminum recycling facility.
Please consider the forgotten two "R’s" whenever you see the symbol. Don’t let the corporate world fool you into believing that it only means recycling. It’s very important to Reduce and Re-Use and once you've done that, then Recycle.