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What Are the 3 R’s for Sustainability? Reduce, Reuse Recycle

Reduce, reuse, recycle. You’ve probably heard those terms in commercials, but you might not have thought much about them. Don’t people reuse things? We don’t just throw away most things after only using them once, do we? And everyone recycles! (Don’t they?)

Most of us think we’re doing our part by putting bottles and cans into the recycle bin, but we don’t think about the amount of trash we throw away in a day. Did you know that each person in the U.S. throws away four pounds of trash every day? That’s a lot of trash!

We consume a lot throughout a normal day. Today alone you’ve probably thrown away several paper napkins, food packaging, and food you didn’t finish. We throw out pens with no ink, old papers, empty tubes of toothpaste, old toothbrushes, cotton swabs, dental floss, and all kinds of items that we encounter every day. Unfortunately, all this garbage ends up in landfills where it just keeps piling up and spreading out. If we don’t reduce the volume of products we consume, we could cover the whole planet in trash.

Product manufacturing uses a lot of raw materials and energy, and producing more new products than we need can be extremely damaging to the environment. In fact, some of these products are so damaging to the environment that they really shouldn’t be used at all! Unfortunately, these items are very convenient, and we have used them so long it can be difficult or expensive to use other products instead. For example, plastic containers are inexpensive, light, and shatter-proof. But replacing them with glass containers costs more, and they can be dangerous if they break. However, we have to start seriously reducing the amount of plastic we manufacture and use. There are currently more than 8 billion tons of plastic on the planet. It is estimated that 60 percent of all the plastic ever made is unrecycled.

So, what can we do? We have to do our best to generate less waste, and the best way is to apply the three principles of “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”


Some things cannot be reused or recycled because either they are made of unrecyclable materials or because we cannot recycle them for health and sanitation reasons. A few of these items include:

  • Bubble wrap
  • Foam peanut packing materials
  • Disposable diapers
  • Items with food residue (used food packaging, paper plates and napkins)
  • Plastic wrap
  • Styrofoam materials
  • Medical waste

Some of these items – like medical supplies – aren’t things we can reasonably do without. However, we can be more careful about buying items in ways that involve using extra packaging and packing materials. It’s easy to buy things online and have them shipped, but this can involve using unrecyclable packing materials.

You can reduce the waste you generate by making sure the goods you buy aren’t packaged in unrecyclable materials like the ones listed above, or items that don’t use packaging at all (like loose fruits and vegetables at the grocery store). You can also buy fewer manufactured items, which helps save natural resources (and money).

Here are a few other ways you can reduce the materials you consume.

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  • Stop chewing gum! Did you know that chewing gum is made of plastic? It is the second-largest type of public litter, second only to cigarette butts. Gum does not biodegrade, so it stays stuck on sidewalks forever and can only be removed using highly expensive industrial cleaning processes.
  • Keep and repair your things. Make sure you maintain your possessions nicely so that they last a long time. Repairing your clothes, shoes, electronics, and furniture rather than throwing them away and buying new ones reduces landfill waste and lowers emissions and pollution from manufacturing new products.
  • Don’t shop without a list. When you go shopping, either online or in a store, always bring a list of items you absolutely need and stick to it. This helps stop you from making impulse purchases!
  • Don’t use coffee pods. If you live with a family of coffee drinkers, you might have a single-serve coffee maker that uses individual plastic pods that contain the coffee grounds. These are terrible! You might put them in the recycle bin, but they’re not being recycled because they’re too small, and most people don’t separate them and clean them properly, so recycling centers just throw them away. Millions of them end up in landfills and oceans, where they remain forever, because they’re not biodegradable. The best way to make coffee is by using a French press, which doesn’t require filters.


If you want to declutter your home, you might be tempted just to toss all of the old stuff you don’t use or need into a dumpster and call it a day. But even though it declutters your room, it’s cluttering the planet.

Reusing old products is a cost-saving and environmentally friendly to get the most out of your possessions. Reusing your things beyond what they were designed to do rescues them from landfills and eliminates the need to buy more stuff.

Reusing old household items is pretty easy if you’re interested in crafting – there are lots of tutorials online for how to turn old clothes into throw pillows and quilts, or to make home accents out of soda cans and bottle caps. But even if you don’t have sewing or general DIY skills, there are still lots of things you can do to reuse old things.

  • Purchase used goods. Buying clothes at consignment shops and refurbished electronics is far more environmentally sustainable than buying new items. They are often just as good as new, and much cheaper, too!
  • Purchase reusable items. This is another money-saving tip that is better for the environment. Rather than buy disposable products like paper or plastic cups and plates, or plastic food containers, use reusable and sustainable silicone containers and even reusable, washable freezer bags.
  • Use plastic soda bottles for storage. Or as garden planters. Or as sprinklers. Or as bird feeders. There are hundreds of ways you can repurpose old plastic soda and water bottles. It saves them from landfills, and gives them a new and useful life!
  • Use plastic grocery bags as reusable food storage. This DIY sandwich container takes a bit more time than converting bottles into storage containers, but it’s a fun and creative way to give old grocery bags a new life! It’s great for people who like crafting. Of course, if you have old grocery bags and aren’t skilled in crafting, you can just reuse them whenever you go grocery shopping.


When you can’t reuse your household items, you should see if they can be recycled. Recycling is a system where materials are collected and transformed into new products, but donating old items to charities and organizations that redistribute them is also a form of recycling. There are lots of benefits to recycling. It can reduce the volume of trash in landfills and helps conserve our natural resources like trees and water, because manufacturers are either using recycled materials, or making fewer new ones because people are buying pre-owned items.

You might have a recycle bin that you leave out on the curb every week, but there are lots of items that you can’t recycle using this method. Here’s what you need to know about recycling your household items.

How does recycling work?

Recycling involves these three stages:

  • Collection/processing. When materials are either taken to a recycling center or left for curbside pickup, they are brought to a facility for processing. This is where the recyclables are broken down into materials that can be used to make different products. These are sold to manufacturing firms all over the world.
  • Manufacturing. The recycled materials are made into products, including paper towels, soft drink containers, and detergent bottles.
  • Purchasing. Once the materials have been transformed into consumer products, they are distributed to retailers.

Unfortunately, recycling has to come hand-in-hand with reducing and reusing – it’s just not enough to continue wasteful buying and using habits and expect to be able to give everything you don’t want to a recycling center. There just aren’t enough national or global recycling centers to process the volume of materials we’re consuming.

It’s particularly important for you to recycle your items properly, which means taking them to the right recycling centers and preparing them in the right way. This is because recycling facilities will often simply throw away materials when they haven’t been sorted correctly, because they clog the processing machinery and cause other problems. Here’s how to recycle your items effectively.

  • Consider taking your individual recyclables to material-specific processing centers. It’s easy to dump recyclable items into your curbside recycle bin, but the jumble of materials often contaminate each other, rendering them worthless to the processing center.
  • Make sure all of your bottles and cans are rinsed and dry. Regardless of whether you’re using the curbside recycle bin or taking them to a recycling center personally, they have to be rid of food contamination.
  • Recycle plastic bags at your supermarket. Do not put grocery bags into a recycle bin. Grocery bags cannot be recycled in curbside recycle bins, but they can be recycled. Check if your local grocery store has a plastic bag recycling program.
  • Recycle electronics at the proper facilities. Electronics cannot be put in curbside recycle bins, and they should not be thrown away. Contact your local sanitation district or check with an electronics retailer near you to find out how to recycle or properly dispose of your electronic waste.
  • Coated materials cannot be recycled. This includes paper products that are coated in wax or plastic, or laminated items. Try not to buy these items.

Reducing, reusing, and recycling are part of lowering your carbon footprint and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Forest Founders is dedicated to increasing global carbon accountability by promoting sustainable practices and reforesting and protecting the world’s forests. To learn how you can participate in our tree planting initiatives, please visit our signup page.