With the growing amount of pollution, waste, and environmental issues, it has become increasingly important to reduce our waste, reuse what we can, and recycle items that we cannot reduce or reuse. It is also important for parents and guardians to teach children the three R's to instill care for the environment, become aware of how much waste we produce, and learn how to reduce it.
The first step in decreasing our carbon footprint is reducing our waste. This includes a large number of items made from paper, plastic, and electricity. There are many ways you can begin reducing your waste today and they are very simple.
There are many ways to reduce our plastic waste. The Green Education Foundation lists several ways to begin cutting down plastic waste at home. They suggest stopping using plastic straws, even at restaurants. Go without a straw or if one needs to be used, think about purchasing a steel or glass straw. Instead of using the store's plastic bags, bring your own tote bags. If you purchase fruit or vegetables in plastic containers, keep the containers for when you purchase produce at a farmer's market or make them into handy storage units.
For more ways to reduce your plastic waste, have a look at the suggestions at the National Resources Defense Council website. If you would like to learn more about why we should reduce our plastic waste, read this great article at Wonderopolis. You can also visit the Plastic Pollution Coalition at their Official website.
We use a lot of paper in our day to day lives; whether it's at home, school, or the office. Some at-the-office tips suggested by Earth Share are to make copies on both sides of the paper, fit two pages of a document onto one, place a recycling bin in easy view for all to use, and do a paper audit. To reduce paper waste at school, Montclair University recommends to minimize point sizes and reduce margins when printing and to consider not printing at all. Documents you can easily access online or by email can stay electronically available instead of having to be printed out. There are also many electronic notebook applications available.
If you would like to reduce your home paper waste, the World Wildlife Federation suggests thinking before you print, recycle the paper you have, ask for recycled products, and reuse any paper you have for other projects.
Reducing Water Usage
Many places have water shortages, so it becomes absolutely essential to learn how we can reduce our water usage. Home Water Works recommends when doing laundry to wash full loads and use a water-efficient washing machine. If you wash dishes by hand, fill the sink with water and then wash all dishes. If you use a dishwasher, consider purchasing or upgrading to a water-efficient machine and wash only full loads.
Be sure to fix any leaking or running faucets in the house or office. Just sixty drops of water can turn into 192 gallons of wasted water. Collect water from the shower if the water takes a long time to heat up. Replace shower heads with those that have a slower flow rate. Check your toilet water level and replace any toilet that was installed before 1994.
For more information, you can visit:
Reducing Electricity Usage
Electricity can also cause pollution. The US Department of Energy has many suggestions to reduce your electricity waste. You can purchase energy-efficient products and plug them into an advanced power strip to reduce “vampire loads,” which is electricity used when appliances are not in use.
Be sure to use energy-efficient bulbs for lighting and turn off lights when you are not in the room. Open all curtains to increase the amount of daylight into your home, so you use lights less. Consider installing solar panels or passive solar designs into your home. If you live in a cooler climate, make sure your home is properly insulated.
For more ways to reduce your electricity waste, check out Energy Star or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors website.
We all receive junk mail from various companies. You can take some steps to reduce your junk mail load also. Call Opt Out Prescreen to remove your name and address from mailing lists that credit card companies use. Marketers also pass your name around, but you can stop this by simply writing “Please do not rent or sell my name” or “No mailing lists” next to your name. You can see more recommendations at Harvard University.
To learn more, go to:
- Federal Trade Commission: Stopping unsolicited mail, phone calls, and email
- State of Michigan: Reduce your junk mail
Even when we go shopping, we can also create waste, especially food waste. The King County, Washington website recommends only buying what you will eat. Make a shopping list and look in your refrigerator and pantries to see what you already have. Try buying the fruit and vegetables that don't look perfect.
One Green Planet suggests watching out for personal care items packaged in plastic. Look for products that are packaged in cardboard instead. Some shampoos come in bar form, which makes a great alternative to liquid shampoo and having to throw away a plastic container. You can even reuse the plastic containers by refilling them or using them in craft projects.
For more ideas, go to Think Eat Save: Tips on reducing food waste.
Less Is More offers simple advice at 29 tips to reduce waste.
Hamilton County teaches parents and children how to limit waste at school: Reducing waste at school.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also has an informative page: Reducing waste.
University of Illinois: 27 ways to reduce household waste.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has their own advice at Reducing waste.
The next step in the three R's is to learn how to reuse. There are many items and products we can easily reuse.
Instead of going out and purchasing brand new furniture and throwing away old furniture, you can repurpose it. This is especially fun for those with imagination and creativity. North Carolina State University shows how repurposing our old furniture can create new and exciting pieces within our homes, thus reducing the chance of throwing away something that actually still has a purpose.
Habitat for Humanity has many great ideas to make old furniture new again. You can take an old headboard from a bed and transform it into shelving, use old doors to decorate an entry way, or create a bathroom vanity from an old dresser. You can also repurpose old office equipment, like this chair project at Reuse Network.
Reusing Old Clothing
We can also repurpose our old clothing, just like our old furniture. Instead of throwing it away, we can make it new and interesting again. According to this article at Cornell University, America threw away 13 million tons of textile items in 2011. They were funded by the US EPA to show that old clothing can be reused to reduce waste and become eco-friendly. The University of Wisconsin gives some great suggestions on how to reuse your clothing; you can donate it, trade clothing with friends, cut damaged clothing into rags, or upcycle.
Arts and Crafts from Things Around the House
Using items from around the house for beautiful arts and crafts is a great way to spend time with your family. You can make this cute art saver out of paper towel rolls at KinderArt. If you love bird watching, the National Wildlife Federation has a tutorial on making a bird feeder from an old milk jug. Musically inclined children and adults can also make instruments from things around the house, such as this coffee can drum at Artists Helping Children.
Items That Can Be Reused Rather Than Thrown Away
There are many items around the house that we can reuse instead of throwing away. The Michigan Water Stewardship Program talks about how long each recyclable item takes to decompose. Glass bottles can take up to 1 million years to decompose, with plastic bottles at 450 years, and tin cans at 50 years before decomposition. This is why it is so important to recycle, reuse, and reduce our waste at home, school, and the office.
There are also many items that you may not have thought could be reused. Old wine corks and jewelry can be used to make crafts and interesting art, toothbrushes can be reused for cleaning purposes, and leaves can be used for compost and mulch around your home garden.
Utah State University: Reuse: Creating new life for common items.
Syracuse University has a great guide available here: Reuse it! Guide.
Recycle Works discusses composting and gardening: Sustainable gardens.
Go Green Plus talks about reusing materials around the house: Reusing materials.
The Eco Guide talks about what we can do about our carbon footprint: Reducing your carbon footprint at home through reuse.
After we have tried to reduce our waste and find ways to reuse our old items, the option to take items to a recycling facility is the final step. Below are some items that can be recycled:
According to the Glass Packaging Institute, glass is 100% recyclable and can be endlessly recycled without loss in quality or purity. Glass is made from readily-available materials such as sand, soda ash, and limestone. Recycling glass reduces emissions and consumption of raw materials and saves energy. Also, recycling 1,000 tons of glass creates around 8 jobs.
For more information, visit Glass Recycles: Official website for recycling glass.
Aluminum is more widely recycled than any other consumer product. The Department of Ecology of Washington states that you can take aluminum to collection centers and be paid. Most aluminum cans are recycled into sheet aluminum to make new cans. Any lacquered labels are burnt away in the process. You can also search for local non-profit agencies that collect aluminum to raise funds.
For more facts about recycling aluminum cans, you can visit The aluminum advantage
You can also recycle lighting. Lamp Recycle shows you how any burnt out fluorescent or other light bulbs can be recycled at a facility near you. As the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers states, most light bulbs have mercury inside them. Within several states, it is mandatory to recycle them after use as they are considered a hazardous material.
Batteries, whether they are rechargeable or not, can be recycled. However, they need to be recycled at an appropriate facility. You can visit Call 2 Recycle to find a recycling facility near you for batteries. You can also recycle cell phone batteries at participating facilities. While each state may have differing policies on how to dispose of batteries, Eco Rhode Island gives some guidelines, such as rechargeable batteries being disposed of at a facility due to the possibility of contaminating ground water. Car batteries are considered a hazardous waste and most car service companies can take properly prepared car batteries after use.
Recyclable electronics are built with many different types of parts that need to be recycled certain ways. Electronics Recycling shows that recycling electronics can allow companies to reuse valuable material. Some electronics can be repaired and donated to schools and other organizations needing them. Also, some electronics contain hazardous materials and need to be disposed of properly to protect the environment.
To learn more, visit Sustainable Electronics: Official website.
Appliances, like electronics, are made from several types of material that can be reused or recycled but need to be done so properly. Refrigerators and coolers contain hazardous coolant and must be recycled properly, most likely having you call a special recycling pick-up service to do so. Consumer Reports states that large appliance companies like Best Buy and Sears participate in the EPA's Responsible Appliance Disposal Program and will haul your old appliances away to be recycled . You can also locate a facility near you for pickup at the Steel Recycling Institute.
Paper and Cardboard
Paper and cardboard are the two most commonly recycled items around your home or office. It's Easy to Recycle states that 90% of all cardboard, or corrugated cardboard, is recycled. Most homes and businesses recycle cardboard and paper. Most cardboard is used in post-consumer material. Sawdust and wood chips are also renewable resources which are used in making cardboard.
Paper Recycles shows you what happens to the paper you recycle; 33.7% goes to create cardboard for packaging, and 11.8% goes to create boxboard for folding boxes and gypsum wallboard facings. Paper is also used to create post-consumer products, such as coffee insulators and napkins.
Food waste is also recyclable. Food Forward says that 30-40% of food in America is not eaten, or becomes food waste. Consumers are throwing away almost 6 billion pounds of food due to cosmetic faults, over-stocking and over-purchasing, and by confusion about sell-by dates. To reduce your food waste, you can donate food, get involved locally, or call your elected official and ask them to support legislation that reduces food waste.
To learn more, visit Grace Communications Foundation: Food waste.
America Recycles Day offers some great tips: Recycling tips of the day.
The Public Health and Safety Organization also has a list of tips: Recycling tips.
The Centers for Disease Control offer advice as well: Recycling.
Oregon Metro discusses recycling extra materials during the holiday season: 5 tips for holiday recycling.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation also discusses ways to recycle: Recycling tips.
Tips and Resources for Kids
Teaching children how to recycle instills a love of the environment and an interest in doing good in the community. You can show them how to reduce waste at home together, reuse items to make amazing crafts, and go with them to the recycling facilities. Eco Kids USA has a lot of great information about the 3 R's (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) that you can teach your children. Find out what your recyclables become with the information website at Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
For more information, go to Earth 911: Offical website.
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