Sustainability Corner: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Welcome all, to the sustainability corner! This will be a semi-monthly column presenting the latest in UC Irvine’s sustainable efforts, TGIF (The Green Initiative Fund) projects and novel notions on how to boost eco-friendly actions around campus. There is, however, something very important to remember in the world of sustainability: no matter how beneficial recycling, composting and landfill diversion is, the most sustainable practice is the art of reduce and reuse.

Let’s think back to the slogan surrounding sustainability that we all know very well: reduce, reuse and recycle. Jack Johnson felt so passionate about this eco-conscious triad that he included it in a song, but what does it mean to reduce, reuse and recycle and why in that particular order?

The act of reduction constitutes reducing the amount of waste that we allow to drift into our lives and inevitably into the Pacific Ocean. Cutting down on waste is not a challenging task; recognizing what unnecessary waste looks like is the first step. When the great sandwich artists at Subway ask if you’d like a bag — this is unnecessary waste. Purchasing a single item or a few items at a store and using a plastic bag — that is unnecessary waste. Over-grabbing from the napkin pile and throwing them into a trash bin — that is also unneccessary waste. Using plastic or paper plates, cups and utensils at home could be avoided by buying reusable dishware. Prepackaged food such as trail mix and granola bars create a heavy waste because, most likely, the packaging cannot be recycled. Buying nonperishables in bulk and using your own reusable packaging is less expensive and will reduce that waste. Reduction relies on a conscious effort to become aware of one’s impact.

Reuse is crucially intertwined with reducing waste volume, and is the most unique and creatively stimulating sustainable method. The more obvious form of reuse has already been introduced (kitchenware and to-go packaging), but also include canteen containers for cold liquids and tumblers for hot liquids like cocoa, coffee and tea. Reusable canvas bags and kitchen towels for cleaning and drying instead of paper towels are great ways to reuse, replacing items that are extremely inefficient to recycle in small amounts.

And still, there are more options! Save plastic to-go containers and glass jars from jellies and spreads to use for bulk food  and office supply storage. Bottles can be upcycled and come back as candle holders in their afterlife. Cut scrap paper into eighths and use as index cards, list-writing paper and for leaving notes. Paper grocery bags (if you must) are best reused as trash bags because they will compost in a landfill much quicker and with less energy than plastic. Purchasing second-hand clothing is a great example of reuse because the resources have already been expended to make that item, so instead of wasting those resources, extend their life!

This applies to donating used items, as well. Donate and divert from the trash. Reuse is about observation and acknowledgement. If we pay attention to our daily uses, we can perfect the task of reuse and lead more efficient lives.

Recycling is positive because it lessens the amount of waste compacted into landfills. Landfills leave a heavy mark on the environment and we should all be conscious of diminishing the size and volume of our landfills, yet recycling still generates waste. If we don’t employ reducing and reusing first, then waste is still being produced at a much larger level than necessary. This waste requires monetary resources and energy to breakdown and remake into something reusable. Your creativity and purchasing power is your greatest ally in making choices that benefit your wallet and the earth. Remember, it’s about quality and sustainability over quantity.  So always reduce and reuse your waste before you resort to recycling.