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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Sorting it All Out

written by: Rose Kivi•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 5/11/2011

The manufacture and transport of products uses the earth's resources and produces greenhouse emission, which, according to the NRDC, "leaves the world poorer, not better off." Learn the difference between the 3R's (reduce, reuse, recycle) and practice them to minimize your impact on the environment.

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    To reduce is to use less. Products that you buy -- clothes, electronics, toys, personal care items and etc. -- use materials such as plastics, cotton, metal and other synthetic or natural materials, some of which are not easily recyclable. In addition, fossil fuels are used in the production of the products that you buy. The fewer products you use the less materials and fossil fuels that are used. Reducing is the best way to conserve and be earth-friendly, although it is not the easiest because it takes some sacrifice on your part.

    Try the following techniques to decrease your fossil fuel usage:

    Purchase Fewer Items

    Before you buy something, ask yourself, "Do I really need this?" If the answer is "no", don't buy it.

    Purchase Items that Use Less Packaging

    Shop smart by purchasing items in earth-friendly packaging. Look for products that use minimal packaging, and when possible, choose products that are packaged in recycled materials. Another way is to buy bulk items. For example, less packaging is used in one large bag of potato chips, versus single serving bags of chips.

    Use Items Sparingly

    The longer you make items last, the less often you have to buy them.

    Lower Your Carbon Footprint

    Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide (C02), or greenhouse gases, you release into the environment through your daily activities. Natural gas, electricity and transportation are some things that contribute to your carbon footprint.

    By making simple lifestyle changes, you can make a difference. Examples are:

    • Purchase energy-efficient appliances.
    • Turn lights, appliances and electronics off when they are not in use.
    • Configure your computer to power saving mode.
    • Line-dry your laundry instead of using a clothes dryer.
    • Participate in a carpool, take the bus, ride a bicycle or walk instead of driving.
    • Throw on an extra blanket at night instead of using the heater.
    • Use less paper. Jot down notes on your computer, instead of paper. Send emails, instead of letters, to friends and family. Sign up for paperless bills and statements with your bank, utility providers and credit card companies.
    • Purchase locally grown produce. Non-locally grown produce is travels in long distances in vehicles that produce greenhouse gases.

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    To reuse is to use something again instead of throwing it away or sending it off to a recycling company. Why throw something away when you can give it another life? Reusing is the second best way to conserve and be earth-friendly because it keeps items out of landfills and reduces the greenhouse emissions caused by purchasing a new product. Using something multiple times -- like using a disposable container more than once -- is not the only way to reuse; you can also give old items a new purpose. For example, use an empty coffee can to store small craft supplies or an old loofah as a scouring sponge for cleaning sinks.

    Use your imagination to come up with creative ways to use old household items in a new way. Need some ideas to get you started? Try the following projects:

    Old Wool Sweaters

    Make cloth baby diapers out of old wool sweaters. Do you have old wool sweaters that are no longer fit to wear? Make cloth baby diapers out of them or new clothing items such as a scarf or mittens.

    Halloween Costumes

    Need a costume for Halloween? You don't need to buy one; instead, make one out of old items from around the house. Cut up and sew old clothing items to make a costume. Cut up, piece together and paint old cardboard boxes to make swords, body armor or princess wands.

    Craft Ideas

    Get the kids involved! Gather up old boxes, scrap paper, magazines, newspaper, cans, bottles and cloth material from around the house, along with some scissors, glue, paint and crayons, and you have everything you need to have some fun. Paint and decorate old cereal boxes and turn them into pretty jewelry boxes. Make unique birthday cards by cutting out magazine photos and gluing them to cardboard or paper. Painting or gluing pictures onto old cans or bottles is one technique to create a vase. Kids have great imaginations; you might be surprised on the unique creations they make out of old stuff from around the house.

    Science Fun: Glue from Styrofoam

    Are you ready for a little science? Learn how to change Styrofoam into glue. Not only is this project fun, it is earth-friendly. Styrofoam is normally difficult to recycle; very few recycling centers accept it. This practical science project saves you the difficulty of locating a recycling center. With help from an adult, kids can turn Styrofoam packing peanuts and Styrofoam containers into usable glue.

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    To recycle is to turn items into new objects instead of throwing them in the trash. Recycling centers melt down cans, bottles and other items to create new materials to manufacture new products. Recycling is the third best way to conserve and be earth-friendly. It conserves landfill space and saves energy because it takes less energy to manufacture products out of recycled materials than it does to manufacture them out of virgin materials. For example, it takes 95 percent less energy to make aluminum cans out of recycled aluminum than it does to use virgin aluminum, according to the Car Manufacturer's Institute. However, even though this process saves energy, it still does use energy, which is why reducing and reusing are preferable to recycling.

    Aluminum cans, plastic bottles and glass bottles are easy to recycle. Most curbside collection containers accept them, as well as neighborhood recycling centers. Other items, such as Styrofoam, microwave ovens, child car seats and electronics are more difficult to recycle because not as many collection centers accept them. The Earth911 database is a helpful place to look for places that accept these items.

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