Reduce, reuse, recycle. Anyone that is concerned with the environment will recognize this phrase. But what does it mean in practice?
What is the best way to reduce, reuse, recycle? Should we be reducing and reusing more or concentrating on recycling what we use? It can be confusing.
But with growing concern about climate change, it is crucial to understand each one clearly and, more importantly, which one is best. A recent Facebook post suggested we should stop recycling and start reducing our use of plastics.
However, before we look at each one, let’s examine plastic waste and what it is doing to our planet.
The Facts about Plastic Waste
- Plastic does not biodegrade naturally. Once manufactured it lasts for centuries.
- Only 9% of all plastic produced has ever been recycled
- 79% ends up in landfills, dumps, or our natural environment.
- Today, 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced every year.
- Most of that is single-use plastic, which is used once and then thrown away.
- 99% of plastics are manufactured from oil, natural gas, and coal, which harm the environment during production.
- 8 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in our oceans.
- By 2050, if we carry on producing the same amount of plastic waste, the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating mass of plastic waste between Hawaii and California, is growing. It is now three times the size of France (1.6 million square kilometers).
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – How to use it in practice
First – Reduce
So, reduce, reuse, recycle. Which is more important? Experts say that the most important thing you can do about plastic waste is to REDUCE the amount you buy in the first place. Of course, it is great to recycle everything we use, but it is far better to not use it in the first place.
In this way, we reduce the number of plastics we need and demand falls. This has a knock-on effect on the number of materials used in the manufacture of plastics. Not only that, but we also reduce the energy required to produce plastic products and the harmful emissions emitted into our atmosphere.
Furthermore, don’t forget that any product requires fuel to transport it. So if we all make a concerted effort to stop using plastic, we reduce, not only the plastic product but everything associated with its production and supply.
Practical ways to reduce plastic
It is easier than you think to reduce the amount of plastic you use. The easiest way of reducing plastic is to take your own bags with you to the shops. But there is so much more you can do when you are out.
- Every time you visit the supermarket and pack your fruit or vegetables in a thin, single-use plastic bag you are contributing to the problem. Buy these items loose. Or, if they come pre-packaged, free them up and leave the plastic wrapping in the store.
- Buy items in bulk. For example, if you cannot find plastic-free alternatives of shampoo and conditioner (and let’s face it, who can?) then buy larger bottles.
- You can do your bit by purchasing washing detergents in cardboard boxes and not liquid versions in plastic bottles. This not only saves you buying plastic but reduces the amount of water we use as well.
- Refuse plastic straws in bars and restaurants. Take your own travel mug with you when you go to buy a coffee. Buy a refillable water bottle instead of purchasing disposable ones.
- Buy juice in tetra-cartons which can be recycled much more easily than plastic bottles. Or, why not invest in a juicer and make your own fresh juice?
- Forgo anything that is disposable. So, ditch plastic razors that you cannot reuse and plastic lighters that you cannot refill.
- Don’t use those thin plastic cups by the water cooler at work. Take your own glass and encourage colleagues to do the same.
Second – Reuse
The second most important part of reduce, reuse, recycle is REUSE. Once you have a plastic item in your possession, the last thing you want is for it to end up in a landfill or floating in the ocean somewhere. So how can you put it to best use?
We all have those food containers leftover from a takeaway we purchased. There’s no need to throw them out. you can use them for all kinds of things. If you are making a big batch of food and you have some leftover, use them to freeze your leftovers.
Use plastic containers for storage in the fridge. They don’t need to be used just for food as they can store anything. Find stores that sell from bulk bins and take your own containers. You can take these containers out to restaurants with you and use them instead of doggy bags as most places use Styrofoam which cannot be recycled.
If you have purchased loose fruit and vegetables in those single-use thin plastic bags, don’t throw those away. I use them for all kinds of things. Even picking up dog poop! You can use them for sandwiches in lunchboxes or mini rubbish bags in a bathroom or bedroom.
Why not go back to using a milkman instead of using plastic bottles? Glass milk bottles are reused every week and you can even get juice in glass bottles too.
Did you know you can use old toothbrushes for cleaning? I use them for those awkward areas around taps in the bathroom and kitchen.
Lastly – Recycle
When we have used your plastic as many times as you can you are ready for recycling. It might seem like a lot of faffing about to clean a plastic tray rather than just stick in the rubbish bin, but it will stay polluting the planet forever if you cannot be bothered to recycle it.
If you clean it and recycle it then it has much less impact on the environment. And it has only taken you a couple of minutes. If you find recycling too much bother, try not to buy plastic in the first place. But if you do end up with plastic, the least you can do is recycle it.
You can return any plastic containers to local greengrocers who will recycle them for their next customer. Swap plastic items (such as cling film) which can’t currently be recycled, for tin foil, which can be if it is washed. Think about other items that you can swap or refuse.
Plastic coat hangers in stores. Simply give them back so that the shop can recycle them. You can easily recycle plastic bags in local recycling bins. And don’t forget about things like batteries and light bulbs. Some local collections take these types of items, otherwise, check your area for refuse waste and recycling.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. It doesn’t have to be difficult. With a little bit of organization and forethought, we can make the planet a better place.