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Alternative Culture Articles

February 11, 2001

What does this symbol really mean?
By Royce Carlson

Most people, when asked this question, would say that this is the recycle symbol, but they would be only partly right. It means much more than that. It is the symbol of the Three Rís of the environment, Reduce, Re-Use and Recycle, of which Recycling is only one part, and the last resort at that.

People think the symbol means only recycling because Recycling is the only one of the three Rís that industry can make any money at. They have reduced the meaning and have drawn attention away from the other parts of this triangle. Why? They canít make as much money if you are reducing consumption and re-using their products and packaging. They can make money with recycling. Have you noticed that some recycled products are actually more expensive than ones made from new materials? Donít be fooled. Pay attention to the other two Rís Ė Reduce and Re-Use.

Americans alone throw away over 50 billion food and drink cans, 27 billion glass bottles and jars, and 65 million plastic and metal jar and can covers every year. 85% of it goes to a landfill. The amount of trash we throw away can be reduced by reducing consumption and by re-using materials as long as possible. The last step, after reduction and re-use, is to recycle the materials.

Letís look at each of the three Rís individually.

Reduce. Reduced consumption means reduced waste:

  • Consider whether you even need a particular product.
  • Buy products that don't have a lot of packaging.
  • Buy products that have packaging that is re-usable, recyclable and did not require a lot of energy to produce.
  • Borrow or rent instead of buying
  • Share products with family and friends so each individual doesnít have to have his/her own.
  • Instead of buying magazines and newspapers, read the news online, or at the library.
  • Compost food waste and then use the decomposed materials to enhance the soil in your garden.

Reduced energy consumption helps keep our air cleaner:

  • Walk or ride a bike when you can, instead of driving.
  • Use public transportation where available.
  • Carpool.
  • Turn off lights that you are not using and use energy saving light bulbs.
  • Use energy-saving appliances.
  • Use low-flow showers and toilets.
  • Save energy on home heating by adding insulation to your house.
  • Have a home built with energy savings in mind.

By reducing consumption and waste you can do the most to help the environment stay cleaner and healthier.

Re-Use. Instead of throwing things away, use them again.

  • Use your own cloth sacks when you go to the grocery store instead of the paper or plastic bags the stores provide.
  • Use coffee cans, jars and other containers that usually get thrown away to store things.
  • Donít throw away used clothing, toys or furniture. You can have a yard sale or donate them to thrift stores.
  • Use both sides of paper.
  • Store food in reusable containers
  • Use silverware and dishes instead of paper plates and throwaway utensils.
  • Use rags that can be washed instead of paper towels.
  • Be creative in thinking of ways to re-use materials rather than tossing them out.

By re-using materials you are saving money, being creative and helping reduce waste at the same time.

Recycle. If you cannot re-use an item, see if the materials can be recycled.

  • Try to purchase items that are recyclable. If they have the Three Rís symbol on them you can take them to a recycling station or maybe your city collects recyclable materials.
  • Newspapers, cardboard, glass, and many kinds of plastic are recyclable. Donít throw them in with your other trash.
  • You can save up aluminum cans and actually get paid for them at an aluminum recycling facility.

Please consider the forgotten two "Rís" whenever you see the symbol. Donít let the corporate world fool you into believing that it only means recycling. Itís very important to Reduce and Re-Use and once you've done that, then Recycle.


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Royce Carlson