Reduction is the first step to keeping items out of landfills and from affecting the environment. From everyday examples such as choosing not to use a plastic straw if you don't need it and using reusable water bottles and dishes rather than single-use plastics to encouraging companies to make environmentally-friendly choices such as reducing plastic wrapping, we all play a large part in reducing waste!
However, it's not always easy to navigate what is and is not effective. For example, there are countless articles on why reusable grocery bags are better than single-use, but there are seemingly just as many about why reusable bags are bad for the environment. So which is it? It all comes down to how things are made and how they are used. Cotton and canvas may seem like a great, renewable resource, but they take disproportionately more resources such as water, pesticides, energy, and fertilizers to produce. Hemp and burlap require less pesticides and fertilizers, but still require a large amount of water.
The amount of use is also a crucial factor. If you buy a new reusable bag and rarely use it, the resources which go into making that bag will likely cause more overall environmental damage than if you use single use and bring them back to the store to recycle. As examples, it takes approximately 173 uses for a cotton tote to be more environmentally friendly than single use bags, paper bags need to be used 4 times, and recycled plastic bags only need to be used twice (Environmental Agency, 2011). The same is true of any multi-use object. So if you purchase a multi-use item, be sure to put it to good use! Many companies even offer discounts for using reusable containers, so it can be friendly to your wallet, as well.
Of course, the easiest way to reduce is to simply take stock of what you actually need and don't need. If you regularly toss a second pack of salad mix because you don't get to it before it goes bad, only buy one pack of salad mix a week. It takes a little time to determine what you do and do not need, but it is worth it both for the environment and for our bank accounts!
Reusing materials is a great way to reduce the amount of material that goes into landfills. From kid's crafts to garden decorations and home improvements, you might be surprised at just how much of what we normally throw away can be reused! Pinterest is filled with ideas for ways to reuse materials and give old, worn out items a facelift so they look new again. Not only does it help you save the environment, but it is also great on your wallet!
The Henson Robinson Zoo also does its part! Many of the craft projects we do with kids include some reused materials.
Sangamon County Department of Public Health: recycling information for tires, paint, oil, remodeling/building materials, appliances and metals, electronics, and furniture.
Learn the benefits of and steps to recycling!
A great breakdown of how recycling helps the environment.
Take the pledge to recycle more!
The last step in the chain is recycling. If you can't reduce usage or reuse it, recycle it! When possible, try to buy recyclable materials.
Many people are not aware how careful they need to be when doing curbside recycling, however, and recyclable materials end up in the landfill. Be sure you know what goes in which bin, don't mix in with non-recyclable materials or different types of recyclable materials (i.e. be sure things go in the appropriate bins!), rinse off food waste.
There are many guides to help you tell which materials can be recycled and how to recycle them, but when in doubt, always look to the guidelines posted by your local waste management.
Here is a good general guide to follow.