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“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle/ Reduce, Reuse, Recycle/Reduce, Reuse, Recycle/because three/is a magic number.”
Jack Johnson’s “Schoolhouse Rock” mash-up underlines an important point about the New Age “R’s”—there are three! While tremendous strides are being made in the areas of recycling AND reusing, not enough people are making a concentrated effort to reduce the amount of waste they create.
According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the recovery rate for solid municipal waste (SMW = trash) through recycling (and composting) was up to 32% in 2005, a significant increase over the less than 10% recycled in 1980. However, the creation of SMW has risen 60% since 1980.
The EPA estimates that each American still makes about 4.5 pounds of waste each day (most in the world), and that’s just not getting the job done. No matter how much we recycle (or reuse), if we don’t reduce the amount of trash we’re producing, we’re going to rubbish our green Earth.
It’s true that we live in an age of increased environmental awareness, and more and more people are “going Green,” but these changes continue to occur primarily within our “comfort zone.” It’s easier than ever before to recycle, and buzz-words like “vintage,” “antique” and “eBay” have given rise to an entire thrifting culture, but it takes a real effort and some humility to learn to make do with less.
Consider these facts:
- Every year Americans use about one billion shopping bags, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste (Clean Air Council).
- In 2008, paper and cardboard accounted for 31% of municipal waste; plastics were 12% (EPA).
- Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day an extra million tons of waste is generated each week (California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, 2009).
- Somewhere between 827,000 and 1.3 million PET water bottles were produced in the U.S. in 2006, requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil; and nearly 77% of them ended up in landfills (U.S. Accountability Office).
- 30,900 tons of food scraps were discarded in 2008, or 18.6% of all materials going to landfills or incinerators (EPA).
In spite of our idiosyncrasies, we generally move in large groups over the smoothest path, and collectively share the suffering or the success of the passage. I’m one to think that conditioning plays a larger role than nature in determining how we act, and we’re not born with some fundamental need to wreak havoc on Earth’s ecosystems. On the contrary, our “survival instinct” should preclude irreparably trashing the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life. It’s obsolete consumerism that has conditioned us into irresponsible behavior patterns. We continue to celebrate excess in the United States like it was 1955, and we still aspire to have more.
It has been standard corporate policy in our country to sell more stuff, therefore making more stuff and consequently convincing us to buy even more stuff. We simply need to change our thinking. We have to shift from “wanting more” to “needing less.” We must favor products and industries designed to reduce waste. And, we should demand responsibility from the companies we support.
Any change in our national psychology has to start with the adults, but must really take hold with our kids. Education is always money in the bank, so we should rightfully start with the 3 R’s and reiterate the order of preference—“Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!”
Most kids already have the hang of the recycling bit, and my own boys frequently trade toys with neighbors and even recently conducted a used toy sale (which netted an amazing $125). They also make good use of second-hand clothes. BUT, they still want the latest and greatest (evil commercials) a lot of the time, and as loving parents we frequently try to give it to them, caving in to “everyone else has one” pleas.
It’s important to remember “Reduce” comes first for a reason. Admittedly, it takes a decided change in attitude to shrink our super-sized appetites, and it’s not easy to get by with less, but it is possible.
Lunchsense is committed to reducing food and packaging waste by providing an Earth-friendly, reusable lunch kit that puts the “R’s” in their proper place. Recycling can’t do the job alone. Reduce and reuse first, “because three is a magic number.”