Reduce, Reduce, Reduce

Vicki and I, like every other American from the so-called “X Generation,” grew up with the slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Maybe the government’s public awareness campaign should’ve started with this mantra: “reduce, reduce, reduce.” Once that sank in to the collective American consciousness, say after a decade or so, they could’ve amended it to say: “reduce, reduce, reuse.” Then another decade later, they could’ve introduced the one we’re all familiar with, and the overall effect would likely have been much more beneficial.

Instead, manufacturers capitalized on the opportunity and began making things they could stamp or print a recycling symbol on. With all the wonderfully well-executed marketing campaigns by huge corporations touting their “environmentally friendly” products and packaging, we found “green” products irresistible, and recycling became standard operating procedure in many American households. As recycled and recyclable products became more and more available, we gobbled them up. The first two, arguably more important parts of the slogan – reducing and reusing – got lost amid our exuberance to recycle our way to a better world.

Recycling is not the panacea advertisers would have us believe it is. Products and packaging made from recyclable materials still require energy and raw materials to manufacture. It also takes energy to recycle post-consumer materials and turn them into other things. While buying recycled and recyclable products is undoubtedly better than buying things manufactured from raw materials or non-renewable resources, it’s still not the answer. Even if it’s recyclable, made from renewable resources, or manufactured using recycled materials, how many fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions are required to produce it in the first place, and recycle it in the second place?

I came to this enlightened state of awareness while pondering my overflowing recycle bin after asking Vicki, “how did it get so full so fast?” The answer was obvious; we’re not reducing and reusing enough.

So we refill jars and reusable containers as often as possible. We buy un-packaged products or products with minimal packaging. We never buy bottled water, but instead take refillable bottles wherever we go. We’re slowly reducing what goes in our recycle bin without increasing our contributions to the landfill. It’s a process…

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  1. Have you seen this on the net yet?

    I’ve been following them for the past year and I saw them at the Mother Earth News Fair. Wouldn’t it be interesting to keep ALL of your trash for one year and see how big the pile was?


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