Why Should I REDUCE, REUSE, or RECYCLE?

Reducing waste, reusing materials and products, and recycling are some of the most powerful ways individuals, households, and businesses can protect the environment.

Here's why you should get involved:  

  • Saving natural resources:  Reusing discarded products and using recycled materials to make new products reduces the use of virgin materials, which often involves harvesting trees and mining the earth.  Even better, “source reducing” waste — or avoiding the generation of discards in the first place — saves the most resources of all.
  • Preventing environmental problems that come from landfills:  Few people want a landfill in their neighborhood.  Unfortunately, we will need landfills as long as we choose to dispose of waste.  Although landfills today are much safer than 20 years ago, they are still a poor use of land and a potential source of groundwater contamination and releases of methane and other gases.  
  • Saving energy:  Enormous amounts of energy are required to make products and materials worldwide.  Energy is saved by not using products and materials when at all possible, or by reusing products in their current form.  Tremendous energy savings come from using recycled instead of virgin materials in manufacturing.     
  • Preventing pollution:  Almost all manufacturing processes use water and release wastewater and air emissions into the environment. Reducing and reusing products cuts down on manufacturing pollution, just as the use of recycled instead of virgin materials prevents pollution in industrial processes. 
  • Saving money:  Households can save money by reusing materials and products and by practicing smart shopping habits that reduce waste.

REDUCE

Reducing the amount of waste you generate is a great step to take towards helping the environment.  There are several things that you 
can do:

  • Use tote bags or bins when shopping, say no to the plastic shopping bag.
  • Select packaging that does not have a lot of excess waste.
  • Use dinnerware that can be washed instead of paper plates and plastic ware. 
  • Only buy things that you will use in the immediate future.

REUSE

Many commonly discarded items — from single-sided paper to clothing to televisions — are readily reusable in their current form.  

Instead of tossing an item in the trash can or recycling bin, consider ways it might still be usable to you or someone else, or whether it can be repaired if needed.  

Give your discards a chance at a second life by holding a yard sale or donating items to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, or other charitable outlets.  Contact schools and nursery schools to find out different types of items they reuse for art projects.  Donate used books to the Library.  Several organizations take used cars and even boats. 

RECYCLE

The energy used to manufacture a product is a direct energy cost.  But there are indirect energy costs, too.  The energy used to obtain raw materials -- for transportation, distribution and even disposal of an item -- contributes to indirect energy costs.

Direct and indirect energy costs are referred to as embedded energy -- the total amount of energy a product used in its “life.”  Both direct and indirect energy cost can be reduced through recycling. 

Table Comparing Energy Cost of Manufacturing Products from Raw materials vs. Recycled materials:

MATERIALS
(per ton)
ENERGY COSTS
(NEW MATERIALS)
ENERGY COSTS
(RECYCLED MAT'LS) 
 NEWSPRINT 30 Million BTU 10 Million BTU
 PET PLASTIC 98 Million BTU 12 Million BTU
 HDPE PLASTIC 98 Million BTU 22 Million BTU
 GLASS 16 Million BTU 15 Million BTU
 METALS Aluminum from Ore
250 Million BTU
 Aluminum from Scrap
12.5 Million BTU

SOURCE:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures”

What can I recycle?  Many materials can be recycled.  Some of the most common are:

Newspaper                        Aluminum Cans
Cardboard                         Steel Cans    
Writing/Copy Paper            Plastic Bottles
Mixed Household Paper       Glass Bottles and Jars
Magazines                         End of Life Electronics

Recycling Facts

  • Americans represent only five percent of the world's population, but generate 30 percent of the world's garbage. 
  • Recycling one ton of old paper saves 17 trees; 2 barrels of oil (enough to run an average car for 1,260 miles); 4,100 kilowatts of energy (enough power for the average home for 6 months); 3.2 cubic yards of landfill space; 7,000 gallons of wate; and 60 pounds of air pollution. 
  • Every day, U.S. paper makers recycle enough paper to fill a train of boxcars 15 miles long. 
  • If we recycled all of the newspapers printed in the U.S. on a typical Sunday, we would save about 550,000 trees. 
  • Recycling the steel from six cars can provide enough steel framing for a 2000 square foot building. 
  • The energy saved each year by steel recycling is equal to the electrical power used by 18 million homes each year -- or enough energy to last Irondequoit residents eight hundred years!
  • The steel industry recycles almost 19 billion steel cans into new products each year – about 600 cans recycled every second. 
  • Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to power a television for three hours. 
  • Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial fleet of airplanes every 3 months. 
  • Aluminum cans produced in the United States can contain at least 50 percent recycled content. 
  • Recycling one glass bottle saves enough electricity to light a 60-watt bulb for four hours. 
  • If not recycled, one quart of used motor oil could pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water. 
  • Half of all polyester carpet made in the United States is made from recycled plastic (PT). 
  • Energy saved from recycling helps the environment by reducing energy-related air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Remember - Recycle Today for Tomorrow !

HELPFUL HINTS

  • Buy recycled products. If we want recycling to work, we must support manufacturers who use recycled materials in their products (post-consumer recycled content) -- whether in the products themselves or the packages they come in.  Favor products with a high recycled content, even if they cost a little more.  Look to buy more durable, less toxic and products with less packaging.  Also, buy only what you need and use what you buy.  
  • Consider packaging.  Buy products that use less unnecessary packaging or packaging that can be recycled.  If you really like or need a certain product with excess packaging contact the manufacturer and suggest that they use less packaging or recyclable packaging. 
  • Use Common Services: for example, using the library instead of buying books, or renting tools instead of buying them.

  • Buy to reduce waste.  Buy in bulk, buy items in recyclable packaging, and avoid disposable items. Use your own reusable canvas bag when you shop.

  • Make recycling an everyday activity. Encourage everyone you know to recycle. Share with others. Before throwing away unwanted, but still good, items, check with charitable organizations. Perhaps someone in need could be helped by what might have been trash.

  • Stop your junk mail.  Send your address and a request to be removed from all mailing list to ...

    Mail Preference Service
    Direct Marketing Association
    P.O. Box 9008
    Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008

    For other options to stop various unwanted solicitations, see:www.obviously.com/junk mail

More Resources

Environmental Protection Agency

The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard

The Water Education Collaborative