Conservation seems to be on everyone’s mind lately. How to save energy, save money, save resources, and most importantly, save the planet (which is the only one we have at the moment). Going Green is definitely the trend and the term reduce, reuse, recycle is used over and over by eco-friendly crowds. Lately a fourth “R” has emerged to join the ranks of planet-saving steps. This article will discuss what these four “R’s” mean and simple ways you can practice them at home, in the car and even at the workplace.
Reduce refers to reducing the amount of energy you use and the amount of waste you create. There are several simple ways to do this that don’t cause much inconvenience to the average person. Being conscious of the package on the items you buy is one easy way to reduce your consumption. Avoid products with layers of packaging when one would do and purchase refillable products and their refills whenever possible. Plan your meals ahead and avoid wasting food that has gone bad waiting for you to cook it. Store or freeze leftovers for another day. Consider signing up for a service that will reduce, if not eliminate, the amount of junk mail you receive (this is a win-win for you and the planet). You can find such services by typing “junk mail” into Google. Also avoid buying magazines and newspapers that waste thousands of trees each year. Get your news online or on the television. Finally, plug all your appliances and electronics into power strips which you can easily switch off at night and when you’re not using them to avoid “phantom drain” of your electricity. Not only will you reduce your energy use, you’ll reduce your energy bill.
There are many products that can be reused instead of thrown away. Unfortunately, most of us were brought up in a disposable society and think nothing of tossing products away when we feel they have served their purpose. For example, if you currently buy individual liquid hand soap dispensers for each sink in you house, you can buy one large bottle of hand soap and refill the smaller containers over and over again. Giving donations are another way of reusing items. You are giving something you no longer find useful to someone who can use it without them having to buy it new and use up all resources that go into creating a new consumer product. Reuse the back of your printer papers by flipping them over and printing on them again (just make sure they aren’t used for your kids homework, teachers find this annoying). If you grow a garden or would like to, you can use your old vegetable and fruit wastes for composting. Shredded paper, coffee grounds, eggshells and brown leaves can also be reused in this way. The resulting organic compost is like gold to gardeners so even if you don’t want to use it, you can probably find a beginning gardener to buy it from you.
Recycling is similar to reusing in that the same item is used again. However, with recycling, the item is broken down into a more basic substance and reformed into something entirely different. For example, a pile of plastic soda bottles can be reformed into a child’s sandbox. It’s important to know your community’s rules about recycling because every place is different. On plastic products, for example, you should find a number surrounded by the recycle logo (it looks like a triangle made out of arrows). Certain number plastics are more difficult (and more expensive) to recycle so many communities only accept the easier to process numbers. You should be able to find out you local laws either on your city’s website or by calling your local city hall. Aside from plastics, which can be tricky, you can usually recycle any cans made from metal, any containers made from glass, juice and milk cartons (with the tin cans and glass jars), newspapers, magazines, any printed paper, and food boxes (like the ones pasta comes in).
New to the recycling scene, repurposing is my favorite step of conservation. I love the idea of finding a new way to use something old. For example, my daughter and I made shell people by painted some old quahog (large clams) shells and hot gluing some googly eyes and raffia hair to them. Similarly, we use old mismatched socks for hand puppets. I used an old dry sink that was falling apart for a makeshift gardening center and an old hose for a homemade irrigation system for my garden. Currently I am braiding some strips made from plastic bags into placemats that are easy to keep clean and rather attractive to the green at heart. As you can see, there are endless ways to look at old things with new eyes.