We are consumers by nature. We cannot produce our own food through photosynthesis, carry our houses on our backs like a snail, or lick ourselves clean like cats (at least I personally choose not to…). Instead we depend on creating and using materials for these tasks, and inevitably produce waste in the process. When confronted with these waste products we have a few choices in what to do with them. Ideally the landfill would be the last option, so here is an overview of the basics, the three R’s:
The first of the three R’s, it is possibly the most important. We do not have to worry about reusing or recycling if we do not have leftover waste to begin with. Not only can we use smaller amounts of things in order to make them last longer and thereby decrease the amount of associated waste, but we can also find alternatives that have less packaging, are more efficient, or are more sustainably produced in order to cut down on the byproducts. It will also tie into the idea that living sustainably does not have to be more expensive as reducing our purchases, consumption, and waste will lead to saving money.
When reduction is not an option and we must use something that produces a waste product, finding a way to reuse this waste is our next best option. The second R, reuse, focuses on ways to use our waste in new and meaningful ways in order to avoid sending it to the landfill or, preferably, the recycling center. This may include donating certain items, repairing things to make them useful again, or repurposing them into something different.
When all else fails, we end up with leftovers that need to be disposed of. Much of that, thankfully, can be recycled and made into something else. Unfortunately not everything can be recycled and the specifics often depend on location. I hope to delve into some of the intricacies of the recycling rules and processes in an attempt to demystify what happens to our waste once it is picked up from the curb.