Reduce, Reuse, Then Consider Recycle

by Benia Zouras
July 1, 2008

Ever since Native Suburbia was conceived, Don and I have become ever more aware of the need to help keep the balance of nature in check. We are always looking for ways to reverse the disturbing trends of pollution, climate change, species extinction, and resource shortages. The basic principle that has become almost second nature to us is to "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle" as much as possible. These three R's are key to minimizing pollution and landfill use, and hopefully to helping Earth survive the human invasion.


"Reduce" is about using less and minimizing waste and has the most impact on keeping the planet healthy. Analyze your usage of resources and products. If you find yourself discarding a product or resource, try adjusting the amount you take or buy. Strive to only take what you will use. This is especially important for resources like water, gas, electricity, and oil, as well as with perishables that "go bad" or expire if unused before too long, like foods and medicines. An added benefit to you will be a reduction in wasted dollars, since everything costs money. Think about anything you buy and reserve for yourself, but don't use to its full potential. There is not an unlimited supply of resources, especially today, in our overcrowded planet. We all have to share the same pool of stuff, so make it last. Don't reserve someone else's share just to be frittered away.

"Reuse" is about giving new life to old, used items, after exhausting or failing the "reduce" measure above. Don and I are constantly amazed at the durability of so-called "disposable" items being produced in the world today. After watching a documentary about Chinese factory workers who toil to produce Mardi Gras beads for New Orleans tourists to toss at strangers who usually left them for the trash by the next day, I felt ashamed to be an American. Our country is one of the most wasteful on the planet. Most people don't think anything of tossing beads into the street only to have them swept up and trucked away to a landfill for eternity. The amount of pollution and resources that went into those beads are huge, despite their low price tags, not to mention all the hard work done by the factory workers on the other side of the world with hardly anything to show for it. The next time you toss a plastic spoon into the trash just because it fell on the floor, think about what was required to create it and bring it to you...and where it will reside for the rest of your life.

"Recycle" is about making the most of materials that can be re-processed and made useful again, after exhausting or failing both the "reduce" and "reuse" measures above. When it becomes impractical or impossible to try to reuse an item (such as printed materials), recycling becomes a last ditch effort to give it another go. Rather than taking up space in the dump, allow someone with the proper facilities to transform your items into useful items once again. It's important to stress that recycling alone is simply not enough to help reduce the Earth's problems. Recycling is the last resort because the very process resembles creation of new products - the only difference is that some of the resources are not new. Anything getting thrown into the recycling box and left on the curb gets trucked away, sorted, prepped for processing, then used as an ingredient in new products. Energy and other resources are always used up during the recycling process (otherwise I would consider this the "reuse" measure).

Recycling is only better than completely trashing items because it saves landfill space and possible pollution, but production of new items almost always results in other types of pollution and use of valuable resources. If you truly care about saving the planet, you must strive to do all three R's, placing most importance on "Reduce", next on "Reuse", then, as a final option when none better exists, resort to "Recycle" if you must.

There are many ways to implement the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" practice during your everyday living. As we continue to critique our own lifestyle choices, we learn new ways to help a little bit more. Below are just some of the ways I can think of that we follow this principle. (Initially I thought I'd have 3 or 4 items in each category, but once I started thinking about it, we have implemented many positive changes over the years so far!) I hope this list inspires you to do more for Mother Nature. She has been good to us. This is the least we can do to return the favor.