It’s not 3 Rs, it’s 9!!!

We all know them. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. For years you’ve probably been doing your part by recycling your empty plastic bottles. What if you weren’t doing as much good as you thought?

First notice that recycle is the 3rd word in the group. This is because in many cases it is the least effective. Many of the items we recycle are ‘down cycled’ meaning they can’t be re-used for their original purpose but are used in a down stream product. This means limited time before this material can no longer be recycled. On top of that, there has to be a market for the materials and not all materials can be recycled. [Learn more – I want you to stop recycling video]

Turns out there are lot of things we can be doing that are effective, and don’t require you to change your whole life. Also turns out there are a lot more R’s to the equation. During my research I came across a book called “Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Wabbit and How You Can Too” by Beth Terry. She points out 9 areas we can help make a difference.

1: Refuse

By opting out of plastic drinking straws in our cups at restaurants we can refuse to add more plastic to our growing landfills. Plastic that will never breakdown. The US alone uses 500 million drinking straws a DAY!

2: Reduce

Look for ways to reduce your consumption of plastics. An easy way to start is bringing your own bag to the grocery store. Did you know that a large part of the reason sea turtles are in danger is because of ingestion of plastic bags? Many of these end up in our oceans and wildlife.

3: Reuse

Avoid single use products. Next time you empty a container, look for ways you can clean it out and re-use it for something else around your house. A good example is glass spaghetti sauce jars. These can be re-used as left-over containers for sauces, soups and grease.

4: Recycle

This is what Beth calls an “important last resort” due the many problems with recycling plastics. This doesn’t mean to stop recycling, but hopefully by applying the first 3 Rs you will have reduced the amount of items you have that need recycled.

5: Replace

Try substituting non-plastic or single use products with different options. One option for this is to purchase re-usable produce bags instead of grabbing the single use ones in the produce section of the grocery store.

6: Repair

This is much easier if you buy quality products to begin with. I remember a time when it was cheaper to buy a new printer from Wal-mart than to buy replacement ink. I, like many others, contributed to our growing landfills by tossing my printer when it needed new ink. Next time something breaks, consider repairing it instead. Maybe it will cost more than just buying a new one, but there are other costs to consider.

ATTRIBUTION: “King of the Trash Hill” by Alan Levine, Alan Levine

7: Report

Awareness is a huge part of change. This website is my way of reporting. Look for ways you can help others become aware by sharing articles or photos with your friends and family.

8: Rally

Change can be hard and it can seem very big and sometimes seem an impossible hill to climb. History has shown us many times how large groups of people coming together for a cause can influence big change. In a documentary I watched they talked about how Wal-mart influenced farmers to stop using rbGh in milk. This was driven by consumers at Wal-mart choosing milk products labelled ‘rbGH-free’. Wal-mart adjusts its inventory and purchasing based on what its consumers are buying.
Click here for an article discussing this in more details.

9: Realize

It is hard to make a lasting commitment to care if you don’t mindfully and conscientiously take notice of your consumption. It’s too easy to walk out the door and forget your shopping back or reusable water bottle in the hurry that is our lives. Try leaving yourself small reminders, like a sticky note by your keys.

I have used plastic in most of my examples, to make it easy to understand, but these same principles can be applied all of our consumables.

I hope you will follow along with me each week as I dig into each of these areas more deeply and apply them to my life while travelling full time on the road. I encourage you to find 1 way you can make a change today!

Click here for the next article in the series.

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