By the second decade of the 21st century, recycling had become a watchword in virtually every household, and recycling bins provided by city governments were ubiquitous. Citizens were told to do their best to ensure that materials once destined for either incinerators or landfills be routed to recycling centers for proper processing. But the push to reuse certain commodities -- instead of recycling them -- has not been as widespread despite the numerous benefits of reuse, including saving energy and cutting back on the generation of pollution.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the first two of the three "R's" of conservation -- reduce, reuse, recycle -- are actually the most effective ones. The best way to eliminate waste, of course, is to not create it in the first place. By reusing things, you cut down on the amount of material that needs to be dispatched to either landfills or recycling centers. By lowering the need for manufacturers to extract new materials from the planet's crust, you help lower overall energy expenditures, and less pollution is jettisoned into the Earth's atmosphere and waterways.
Ways to Reuse and Reduce
Keep a few tips for everyday living in mind to get into the reusing groove. You can buy things used -- clothing at thrift shops is a prime example, but you can find other quality items such as building materials at second-hand outlets as well. You can also try to buy products with less packaging, as when buying in bulk. Try to avoid using throwaway items such as plastic grocery bags and disposable silverware. Strive to maintain your possessions in a state of good upkeep so that you won't find yourself throwing things away and having to replace them as often.
Electronic commodities such as computers often lend themselves especially well to the "reuse" credo. Comparing what happens when a school or office reuses 100 ordinary computers instead of recycling yields compelling results. While recycling them saves enough electricity to power 2.75 American households for a year, reusing them saves enough to power 68 -- a 25-fold difference. In terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, recycling the 100 machines is tantamount to taking a couple of cars off the road for a year, while reusing them is equivalent to taking 48 of them off the road.
The Reuse People, an organization that started in San Diego in 1993 and now has locations throughout the country, emphasizes a key difference between reusing and recycling: The former is anything that prolongs the life of an item, while the latter involves reprocessing it into a new material. Clearly, recycling, while honorable in its own right, is less cost-effective. TRP says you may need to get creative to reuse and that this may involve repurposing -- for example, using an old window as a picture frame. Today, shoe companies even reuse the various materials in old shoes to construct running tracks, basketball courts and more.
About the Author
Michael Crystal earned a Bachelor of Science in biology at Case Western Reserve University, where he was a varsity distance runner, and is a USA Track and Field-certified coach. Formerly the editor of his running club's newsletter, he has been published in "Trail Runner Magazine" and "Men's Health." He is pursuing a medical degree.
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