How To Think Green

You’ve heard them a hundred times: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But what do these ideas actually mean? Here are five basic tenets of responsible resource consumption laid bare.

1. Reduce. In our American, consumerist society, we have a tendency to buy more things than we need. We buy extra food, houses that are too large for the number of people that live in them, and own more clothing at one time than an impoverished person may ever own in their entire lifetime. This tendency towards excess provides many opportunities for finding ways to use less. For example, buy only food you know you can finish. Make do with fewer clothes. The less you purchase and the more of it you use, the less trash you will have. Other decisions may have a larger impact. Buy a smaller house. Cut back on Christmas. Make things instead of buying them. Hang your laundry out to dry. Not only will each of these things make an impact on our planet, but it will save you money.

2. Reuse. This is a concept that is not widely accepted in our consumerist society.  Often we choose to buy something new, instead of using what we already have. Clean out your garage. Find those old nails and use them to hang pictures. Pull out Grandpa’s toboggan and take the kids for a ride instead of buying a new plastic sled. If you don’t already have what you need, shop at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. These stores resell products that have been lightly used by others. This both recycles goods and provides usable items at a low cost. While you’re there, drop off some old clothes that don’t fit your kids anymore so someone else can use them next.

3. Recycle. The purpose of recycling is to reuse the materials that we have already been used once. Pop cans can be melted down and shaped into new pop cans, glass can be melted down and formed into new glass, and paper is shredded and made into new paper. The new forms are not quite as good as the originals, but the technology of recycling is improving, and one day you won’t even be able to tell the difference. Recycling can be done at home, too. Take old t-shirts and use them as washable rags or make a shag rug. Bottles can be used as decorations; cans as storage containers. Use egg cartons as craft projects. With a little creativity, recycling can turn into a game.

4. Regulate. Watch carefully the things that you buy, the things that you eat, and the things that you use. Determine which items are used frequently, and replace those when necessary. Organize your possessions so you can find them when you need them rather than buying them new. Take care of your possessions; extend their life as long as possible. Remember that sometimes you can go without. The things you bring into your house will eventually have to leave. It’s up to you how long they stay. It’s up to you where they go. Choose carefully.

5. Be resourceful. Be creative. Take an item and use it for something it was never intended for: this is one form of creativity that translates into energy efficiency. For instance, you could take old newspapers and use them as mulch in your garden. Suppose you have an old sweater. You could throw it away. Or you could unravel it, learn to knit, and make yourself a new sweater. While you’re doing that, give your kids an old egg carton, left over coloured comics and some glue and see what happens. If you find yourself unable to be creative, or don’t know how to knit, ask a friend. This can apply to food as well: use perishable food items before non-perishable ones so they don’t go to waste. Purchase fewer heavily packaged foods. Make a small omelet or a boiled egg for breakfast instead of eating that hot pocket. Ride a bicycle to work everyday instead of driving. Take the bus, take the train, or carpool to minimize the amount of gas used per person. Talk to your coworkers, friends, and family. Together is the only way to solve the problem, and every little bit counts.

Reduce, reuse, recycle, regulate, and be resourceful. Don’t discount the little things you do.
Leaves in Northern New England
Credit: Ariele Sieling