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Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
There are many benefits to embracing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) philosophy of reduce, reuse, and recycle. The environment benefits from reduced energy costs and landfill waste. When you reuse products rather than tossing them in the trash, your actions help reduce fossil fuel emissions.
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Factors Driving Reuse
Setting aside the environmental factors, economics also drives the reuse rate. When products are reused as recycled materials, local economies benefit. The National Recycling Coalition estimates that there are over 26,000 establishments involved in the reuse and remanufacturing industry, employing over 160,000 workers.
Other economic factors also play a role. In light of the recession of 2008, many Americans are making the choice to reuse rather than buy new. According to U.S. Department of Transportation figures, new car sales dropped nearly 20 percent in 2008. Instead, Americans are getting by with what they have or buying used vehicles. When you consider how did reusing begin, it may have just been a cost-saving strategy.
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History of Recycling and Reusing
Americans were not always so conscious about the economics of reusing and recycling. According to the EPA, the overall recycling rate was a mere 6.4 percent of all solid municipal waste generated in 1960. In 2007, that rate soared to 33.4 percent.
Awareness became a key component in the drive toward reusing and recycling as a way of life. The environmental movement of the 1960s taught people that their actions affected the environment. It also showed the need for treating the planet better.
As with the 2008 recession, rising energy costs in the 1970s led to the energy crisis and helped influence Americans that recycling and reusing offered better alternatives. Awareness grew yet again as evidence began to emerge regarding global warming or climate change. The concept of the ecological footprint by William Rees in 1992 became a wake-up call that everything a person does or buys has an environmental cost.
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Economics of Reusing
The economics of reusing offered irrefutable proof that it was a sensible option. Reusing recycled plastic as lumber, for example, uses less energy than would be needed to harvest virgin timber. The resulting product is more durable and will not split or splinter. Its longevity far exceeds that of treated lumber without introducing hazardous chemicals into the environment.
Reusing products evolved into a convenient way to save money and effort. Reusing water bottles, for example, is far less expensive than buying new products. It is also convenient. You can simply save emptied bottles and refill them without having to go out. Emptied glass jars can easily store whatever items you have around the house.
Reusing items is an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment. Simple actions can save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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National Recycling Coalition: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/rmd/rei-rw/pdf/exe-sum.pdf
Rees, W. Ecological Footprints and Appropriated Carrying Capacity: What Urban Economics Leaves Out. Environment and Urbanization, October 1992, 4(2):121-130.
U.S. Department of Transportation: http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_17.html
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Municipal Solid Waste in the United States – epa.gov