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The Meaning of the Three R's: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle


by David Chandler, Demand Media
Individuals' collective actions can make a tremendous impact on waste issues.
Copious amounts of garbage resulting from a consumption-driven and densely populated society have led waste managers to adopt and promote an approach
to the waste problem summarized by the phrase "reduce, reuse and recycle" -- the waste hierarchy. This slogan reminds consumers of the actions they can
take to minimize the burdens that their waste creates: reducing waste, reusing waste when possible and recycling waste into goods for tomorrow.
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Reduce
The first and most effective component of the waste hierarchy is reducing the waste created. Consumers are encouraged to reduce their waste by purchasing
in bulk, buying items with less packaging and switching to reusable instead of single-use items. Businesses can adopt manufacturing methods that require
fewer resources and generate less waste. In addition to benefiting the environment, these efforts often offer consumers and businesses the financial incentive
of lower expenses in purchases.
Reuse
Despite efforts to reduce the amount of waste generated, consumers and businesses still create substantial waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
estimates that each American generated 4.3 pounds of waste daily in 2009 (see References 5). Much of this waste can immediately be reused to minimize the
strain on the environment and municipal waste management. For example, consumers can refill a purchased bottle of water with water from home to minimize
the number of plastic bottles being discarded. Consumers have a financial incentive here as well, as municipal water is far cheaper than bottled water.
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Recycle
When waste is eventually discarded, segregating items for recycling from other waste is important. Recyclables include glass, newspaper, aluminum,
cardboard and a surprising array of other materials. Lead, for example, has one of the highest recycling rates because of laws requiring the recycling of lead-
acid batteries. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, recycled lead accounts for almost 90 percent of the lead used in manufacturing today.
Disposal
Waste that cannot be reused or recycled in some form eventually finds its way to disposal. This disposal includes landfills, but an increasing number of
municipalities have elected to divert waste into resource recovery. These recovery methods use the waste to generate electricity or produce raw materials for
industry. However, resource recovery is not without its own undesirable effects, such as pollution from incinerators. Some waste, however, is not suitable for
resource recovery methods.
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References
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle; April 2011 (http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/rrr/index.htm)
Municipal Waste Advisory Council; WasteNet -- The Waste Hierarchy; January 2011 (http://www.wastenet.net.au/information/hierarchy)
Maine State Planning Office: Waste Management Hierarchy (http://maine.gov/spo/recycle/hierarchy/index.htm)
U.S. Geological Survey; Mineral Commodity Summaries -- Lead; January 2011 (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/lead/mcs-2011-
lead.pdf)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Reduce and Reuse; January 2011 (http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/rrr/reduce.htm)
About the Author
David Chandler has been a freelance writer since 2006 whose work has appeared in various print and online publications. A former
reconnaissance Marine, he is an active hiker, diver, kayaker, sailor and angler. He has traveled extensively and holds a bachelor's degree from
the University of South Florida where he was educated in international studies and microbiology.
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