Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

We live in a culture of excess consumerism. Even though the “go green” movement has been trending for the past couple years, we as individuals are still accumulating much more than we need. On any given episode of Hoarders or Extreme Couponing, for instance, the need to seize the best deals overrides actual, physiological needs. However, if we want to protect our environment, we cannot continue to buy into this destructive cycle of mass consumption. Rather, we must proactively aim to reduce consumption, reuse resources, and recycle waste. The 3 R’s of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle have been ingrained in me since grade school, but now it involves an adult level of environmental awareness through conscious, everyday choices.

Reducing involves making a conscious-driven effort to drastically cut down by decreasing waste and minimizing carbon footprint. In modern-day society, we are defined of excess consumerism, with a plethora of flash sale sites such as Gilt and Groupon. We are driven even more so by a narcissistic over-sharing via social media platforms, as we immediately Tweet and Instagram said flash sale purchase. But to reduce means to go against this grain. And to go against the grain requires accepting – and even promoting – minimal living, a lifestyle that espouses that “less is best.” For this reason, reducing has been the most difficult part of the cycle for me. However, it is also the most important part of the cycle, as there would be less to recycle if items have already been reduced and reused. My efforts at reducing, though still a conscientious work in progress, include: donating an old item in order to purchase a new one, carpooling with a friend instead of driving alone, and validating an immediate need before making an impulse purchase. Essentially, the first and most important step of the cycle requires leading a day-to-day life reduced to the bare basics – one that is simple, minimal, and just enough.

Reusing means finding value, meaning, and purpose in upcycling. In finding new uses for old products, reused items are given a much-needed facelift and ultimately receive more value, not less. To me, reusing means scourging my grandmother’s closet before I make another trip to the mall, making my own cleaning products from common (and usually expiring) household items rather than buying completely new and often toxic name brands, or even using an old toothbrush to clean the grout on the kitchen counter. This past summer, my friends and I hosted a neighborhood garage sale to rid our old clothes. Whatever was not sold was either swapped with one another or donated to Goodwill. More recently, as I’ve gotten into the juicing craze, I have made sure to bake leftover juicing pulp instead of throwing it in the waste receptacle. Often, reusing involves a little creativity and a lot of thinking outside the box, but the end result is something that I’m always proud of – not to mention one Mother Nature approves of as well.

Recycling is the means to sustainability. Like the work of a venture capitalist, recycling involves seeing potential in a product far before that step in its life cycle and taking the necessary actions to ensure it is used to its fullest capacity. For me, recycling means choosing to look a little silly for the betterment of the environment, even if it entails me carrying a huge trash bag full of cans and bottles home from a social function. On a slightly larger scale, even separating paper and plastic from waste and greenery speeds up recycling and minimizes environmental impact. To be in a recycling state of mind is to be constantly mindful of earth’s resources as limited. Ultimately, to make a justifiable cost-benefit case for recycling, one must see the cost on the environment and the benefit for humanity. Nowadays, recycling is much more than a hierarchical concept in waste management; rather, it has transformed into a green lifestyle that helps me do my part in balancing the ecological pyramid.

When it comes to the 3 R’s, consider the power of one. One person can make a vast impact on the environment, and it is up to you and I to decide what kind of impact we want to make, what kind of world we want to live in, and what kind of environment we want to bestow to future generations.

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