Every item we use or product, and every product we consume, comes at a cost to our planet. Large amounts of natural resources and energy are consumed during production, and the waste associated with our consumption must somehow be absorbed. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” – referred to as the three Rs – is a simple strategy that each of us can apply to limit the extent of our impact on our planet.
Preserve Natural Resources
The planet's natural resources are finite. By applying the three Rs, it is possible to dramatically reduce the pressure we place on these resources. For example, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recycling 1 ton of paper saves the equivalent of 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water.
Conserve Natural Spaces
Mining natural resources and large-scale farming are often detrimental to the natural areas where they occur. Reducing the demand for these resources can help to preserve natural spaces.
"Use and Reuse" Saves Energy
The mining and refining of minerals and other natural resources and the manufacturing of consumer goods are energy-intensive processes. An example: According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, 20 times more energy is needed to make aluminum from bauxite ore than from recycled materials. So when you reuse household items instead of buying new ones, you limit the amount of new resources required and save a lot of energy.
Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
A large portion of the energy consumed during the process of mining, refining and manufacturing comes from burning fossil fuels. Recycling half of your annual recyclable household waste saves 2400 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas linked to global warming concerns.
The large amounts of waste associated with our consumption inevitably leads to pollution of our air, soil and water. For example, improperly disposed of used motor oil can pollute ground and fresh water. The EPA estimates that 200 million gallons of used motor oil are improperly disposed of each year. Reusing things around the house, and disposing of them properly once they can no longer be reused, can have an enormous impact on pollution levels.
Reduce Landfill Space
Many of the items we throw away end up in landfills, where they take up valuable space and are sources of air and water pollution. Often these items are not biodegradable and take centuries to break down. Plastic, for example, can take up to 500 years to decompose. The EPA estimates the average American produces 4.3 pounds of nonhazardous trash per day. Other sources put the amount of waste that could be recycled as high as 60 percent.
Industries developed to recycle goods can be a valuable source of employment. In Ohio, as far back as the year 2000 almost 100,000 jobs were created as a direct result of recycling as of 2000. Recycling creates five times more jobs than landfill management, according to Brennan.
Stimulate Technological Advances
With increasing social pressure to implement more environmentally friendly practices, companies are forced to find innovative technologies to incorporate recycled materials into their products. These new technologies are ultimately good for the planet.
Purchasing only what you truly need, and reusing things around the house instead of purchasing new ones, saves money. In many parts of the U.S., it is more expensive to dispose of waste than it is to recycle it, says Brennan. In some cases it is even possible to earn a small amount of money from your waste.
Create a Sustainable Future
Our planet has a limited amount of natural resources and a limited capacity to process waste. By reducing, reusing and recycling, we are not only decreasing our immediate impact on the planet but we are creating practices that are sustainable for future generations.
About the Author
Michael Owen holds a PhD in mechanical engineering. His fields of expertise include fluid dynamics, heat transfer and computational fluid dynamics. His interests include renewable energy and sustainability.
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