Beyond the Three Rs
By Sarah Wilson
We’re all familiar with the three Rs associated with waste: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But there are more “Rs” that we can adopt to help us achieve a zero-waste, sustainable lifestyle.
According to The World Counts, humans produce more than 2 billion tons of waste every year. Annie Leonard, creator of the animated 2007 film “The Story of Stuff” and Executive Director of Greenpeace USA has said: “There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere.” Manufacturing, transporting, selling and disposing of non-food goods contributes significantly to our greenhouse gas emissions.
Reduce: Just use less, whatever it is. Reduce your use of wasteful and nonrecyclable products. This can include avoiding single-use items (think plastics or paper towels) and using less resources (shorter showers, lowering the thermostat, as examples).
Reuse: Use your products multiple times or in multiple ways (think reusable water bottles, travel mugs, cloth shopping bags). The longer you can use an item without replacing it, the better. Re-use washed glass jars for storage or use old toothbrushes for scrubbing hard to reach areas.
Recycle: Recycling should be the last R, after you have considered the other options. Not every product can be recycled efficiently. While glass and aluminum can be recycled multiple times without degradation, paper and plastic quality degrades quickly and may only be able to be recycled once or twice. Check the Town of Yorktown website’s Recycling A-Z Guide to learn what can be recycled and how to prepare your items for pickup or dropoff.
Beyond these Three Rs, what else can we do?
Review: spend a week observing the amount and types of waste that your household is generating. Write down what you are throwing out and how much. Develop a plan to reduce or eliminate waste by employing the other Rs!
Refuse: The lowest GHG resources are those never used at all. Our homes are full of “stuff” we don’t need, and it all has an environmental cost. Refuse plastic bags, straws and cutlery, don’t purchase products that use excess or non-recyclable packaging. Refuse to buy disposable and non-repairable products; repairable products will last much longer, save you money, and help the planet.
Repurpose: Almost any non-food item going to waste can be reimagined if you think about it creatively. This is sometimes called “upcycling”. Use recyclables to make art. Use scrap wood to make picture frames or shelving. Turn a favorite tee shirt into a throw pillow.
Repair: We often find it easier to toss a broken item than to repair it. That wasn’t the case for our great-grandparents. Most items were made with quality, longevity and repairability in mind, so when they did break or needed mending, there were shops to bring them to, or people in the family with know-how who could make the repair. Learning the basics of sewing is very useful. I recently joined a Zoom call and learned how to mend a sock! There are YouTube videos available to help people make all types of minor repairs. Patronize the local repair shops that still exist. Right to Repair legislation campaigns for consumer’s rights to repair what they own and requires manufacturers to provide repair shops with the information needed to fix their products. The quarterly Yorktown Repair Café is a great place to meet people with repair skills and learn how easy and rewarding it can be to make your own repairs.
Finally, let’s add an “S” to this list: Share! Yorktown Shares and Buy Nothing groups on Facebook list an amazing variety of items that people will give away to anyone who can use them. Donate your unwanted items where they will be put to good use by people who appreciate receiving them. Visit the library for books and movies. Rent or borrow tools and equipment that are only used occasionally, freeing up space and saving you money. Set up a clothing swap with friends. And share some of your zero-waste ideas with us!
Yorktown100 is a 100% volunteer group of neighbors working to reduce our carbon footprint by 5% a year through various programs. Contact us if you would like to learn more or would like to join. We welcome new members! Visit us to learn more about this topic and many others and help make a difference.
Sarah Wilson is a member of Yorktown100 and the Climate Smart Communities Task Force for the Town of Yorktown. She is the organizer of Repair Cafes in Yorktown and serves on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club Lower Hudson Group.