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updated: 4/15/2013 10:42 AM

Recycling's two other R's

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Chelsea Wang

Like many households, my own family recycles regularly, as an almost automatic knee-jerk reaction to finishing a carton of juice or reading through a magazine. Recycling has become such an inherent, automatic part of our life style that people have become ingrained with the notion that recycling can be the effective resolution to even the most drastic environmental issues of the day. However, far from serving as the remedy, regular recycling prevents only about one-third of all trash from ending up in landfills. Even among items recycled, conscientious consumers inevitably place the incorrect item in the wrong bin or perhaps even unrecyclable items among recyclable objects, thus significantly delaying the system. As a result, environmental experts now are encouraging people to address what have been the traditionally overlooked aspects of the three 'R's: Reusing and Reducing.

Among the most applicable and effective techniques in reusing include refurbishing common household objects and creating a functional purpose for them as another object. For instance, broken metal clothes hangers can be unwound and molded into a hanging wire for a kitchen appliance and identical, petite boxes can be taped together to form a drawer-organizers, used milk and juice cartons can be cut open and used as storage bins…the list goes on and on. Reusing items is fundamental to conservation, and you can do it easily with just a little bit of awareness and creativity!

In addition, many American households are not aware of the many ways to cut down on use. Besides turning off unused lights and keeping track of leaky faucets, insulating a house for the winter can cut down on heating bills by more than 80%, and using a non-mechanical water filter can reduce both electricity usage as well as cut down on chemical contamination. During summer months, families can reduce use of air conditioning when they aren't home during the day, and also can opt to use cooling fans in each room rather than use air conditioning for the whole day.

With these tips in mind, reusing and reducing can be just as easy as recycling. The next time you go to toss something in the recycling bin, think about if it could be remade into something else, and you may end up even surprising yourself with what you can come up with!