Sustainable living is more than the 3-R’s

Hopefully we’ve all been recycling (or been around recycling) long enough to recognize the symbol that has become synonymous with the act: the triangle with the 3 arrows, moving in the same direction, creating a closed loop, a cycle. Bonus points for those that know that each of those 3 arrows actually stand for different acts, only one of which is recycle. This symbol is actually the graphic that was created for the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The order is important, as it is prioritized by the most desirable action first. Ideally, recycling is really the last resort. Ideally, we should be migrating towards a life with fewer and fewer disposable items.

But with our fast paced, more modern and mechanized society, we’ve focused on the one trait we thought would be easiest to implement and institutionalize and thus increase participation. But we find ourselves in a bigger predicament now, because the other R’s (reduce and reuse) have been largely ignored. We’ve increased the amount of waste produced per person (closing in on 5 tons per person per year in the U.S.), so even increased recycling rates put little dent on our over consumption, and thus increased environmental impact, issues, which are only complicated and compoundly exacerbated every year. When doing research for another article, I ran across this gem or a resource from YES Magazine from September 2011, outlining 10 tips to help the average person get on board and move closer towards zero waste. I would like to challenge that these tips require little effort, and when done as a group, say in an office space or for institutionalizing throughout a school or organization, could prove financially impactful as well as provide a healthier living/working space that reduces the negative impact we might have on our environment and community.

  • Refusewhat you do not need.
  • Reducewhat you do need.
  • Reuseby using reusables.
  • Recyclewhat you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse.
  • Rot(compost) the rest.


1. Fight junk mail. It’s not just a waste of resources, but also of time. Register to receive less at, optoutprescreen.comand

2. Turn down freebies from conferences, fairs, and parties. Every time you take one, you create a demand to make more. Do you really need another “free” pen?


3. Declutter your home, and donate to your local thrift shop. You’ll lighten your load and make precious resources available to those looking to buy secondhand.

4. Reduce your shopping trips and keep a shopping list. The less you bring home, the less waste you’ll have to deal with.


5. Swap disposables for reusables (start using handkerchiefs, refillable bottles, shopping totes, cloth napkins, rags, etc.). You might find that you don’t miss your paper towels, but rather enjoy the savings.

6. Avoid grocery shopping waste: Bring reusable totes, cloth bags (for bulk aisles), and jars (for wet items like cheese and deli foods) to the store and farmers market.


7. Know your city’s recycling policies and locations—but think of recycling as a last resort. Have you refused, reduced, or reused first? Question the need and life-cycle of your purchases. Shopping is voting.

8. Buy primarily in bulk or secondhand, but if you must buy new, choose glass, metal, or cardboard. Avoid plastic: Much of it gets shipped across the world for recycling and often ends up in the landfill (or worse yet, the ocean).


9. Find a compost systemthat works for your home and get to know what it will digest (dryer lint, hair, and nails are all compostable).

10. Turn your home kitchen trash can into one large compost receptacle. The bigger the compost the more people will use it.

What will be your committments and contributions to your health and the health of our community and planet this year?

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