Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We've all heard it a thousand times. I present it to you yet again though, because those three simple words are the key to living green. They are concepts that will appear time and again in this blog, because they are so central to our ability to live sustainably. There are finite resources in this world and if we turn them all into products eventually destined for landfills, future generations will find great difficulty in making a life for themselves on this planet.
The three R's, or the waste hierarchy, are placed in the order, reduce, reuse, recycle, quite deliberately. Reducing our waste is the most important thing that we can do to help make the waste system sustainable. Anything that can't be reduced we can try to reuse, and anything that we can't reuse we can try to recycle. In subsequent posts, I will go into greater detail about how we can implement each of these actions into our daily lives, but for now I would like to send you to a short video that explains the need to do so better than I can in a short blog. If you can find 20 free minutes, please follow the following link to this eye-opening video.
In this video, Annie Leonard outlines the problems that occur when humans consume too many of the Earth's resources. She demonstrates that consumption patterns in our modern, developed world are in themselves unsustainable. If you had the chance to view her presentation, it is probably quite apparent to you why the word "reduce" is at the top of the list in the waste cycle. Reducing is the most important step that any one of us can take in living sustainable lives. What does this mean? It means that we need to decrease the tangible inputs into our daily lives, recognizing that there is a definitive difference between what we want and what we need. It means reducing the bulk and the clutter and learning to appreciate simplicity.
What I need is food and water, but I want chocolate bars and cans of soda. What I need is shelter, but I want the big apartment with all the fancy appliances. What I need is clothing, but I want the new styles from my favorite mall stores. There are so many things that I buy because I have myself convinced that I need it, when in reality it is simply something I want, disguised by the things I need that may fall in a similar category. Upon a deep reflection of the things that I need vs. the things that I simply want, I have realized the great error in my own consumptive habits. This morning I was running late to my internship so I decided to forgo packing a lunch and simply run through the pick-up window at the local McDonalds. I ordered a happy meal (yes, I still love the happy meal). My burger was wrapped in a paper wrapper then put in the bag with the fries in their cardboard container. All of this was placed in a paper bag along with several paper napkins and a small plastic toy in a plastic wrapper. Then I was handed my drink, which of course came in a paper cup with a plastic lid, along with a plastic straw in a paper wrapper. By the time I had finished my food I was able to completely refill the happy meal bag with trash. Couldn't I just have the food without all that muck? What I needed was food, and what I ended up getting was processed meat from unknown sources along with some fried starches, and a bunch of greasy waste. If I had packed my own lunch with the food I have at home, I could have reduced this waste contribution completely. Buying products at the store that come with less packaging can also cut down on wastes, and it's worth nothing that the healthiest foods tend to come with the least amount of packaging anyways.
Reducing my purchases of heavily packaged products is just one way that I am going to start reducing my footprint on this planet. I am also going to challenge myself to not buy unnecessary products, such as new clothes that I don't really need. One of my biggest temptations is the $5.00 movies that they place right by the registers in Target stores. Too often I invest in one of these, watch it once or twice, and then never touch it again. My friends all have tons of movies that I can borrow and I myself have enough entertainment in my life that I should never need a new movie again. These movies are obviously wants, not needs, and conquering this temptation for movies in excess is one more small way that I am going to work towards reducing the material inputs into my life. I challenge you to brainstorm your own wants and needs and then find small ways that you too can practice the art of reducing in your own life.