Recycling conserves natural resources, reduces pollution and saves energy. Recycling involves sorting and cleaning up trash to produce “secondary materials” — mainly glass, paper, metal and plastic — for reuse in products. Recycled aluminum, for example, is a particularly valuable resource; manufacturing using recycled aluminum is 92% more efficient than when unused raw materials are used, according to the Aluminum Association. About 40% of the country’s aluminum supply comes from recycling, but we are still throwing away nearly $1 billion worth of aluminum cans that could have been recycled every year.
2. Turn down the bag
Plastic bags pose ecological problems. They take hundreds of years to decompose and pose a particular threat to wildlife. Hundreds of thousands of marine mammals die every year after mistaking plastic bags, which are laced with chemicals, for food. Many animals get entangled in plastic bags and suffocate.
A sound approach to retail bags is to decline them when your purchase is otherwise carriable or bring your own bags. Use and reuse all those bags — paper, plastic, cloth — that have been accumulating in the closet over the years — whether or not they are designed to be “reusable.” If they become too grubby to carry your new purchases, use them to line waste cans or for picking up litter. And, ultimately, dispose of them properly — recycle them if you can.
3. Buy only what you will use
Americans are huge consumers of cars, food, furnishings, household products, recreational equipment, and electronics — and we buy much more than we need with many of our consumer purchases getting very little use. Excessive personal consumption of goods means higher direct and indirect costs to the environment, including the energy used and pollution emitted in the extraction of natural resources, and in the manufacturing, transportation, and disposal of goods.
These costs can be substantially reduced by avoiding impulse buying and making a realistic assessment of need before making a purchase. When you do have to buy goods, find durable alternatives with the smallest amount of packaging and the lowest possible carbon footprint and keep them in good repair.
4. Buy second hand
Use eBay, Craigslist or other means to buy used items, particularly durable goods that are needed for a limited time, like nursery furniture. Second-hand goods can be nearly as attractive and often just as functional as brand new purchases, and giving a household item a second life cuts its carbon footprint in half. A third or fourth life is even better.
5. Don’t invest in idle equipment
You are wasting money and natural resources used to produce them when you buy items you won’t regularly need. When the equipment, tools, or party supplies that you need once in a great while are not available through friends, rent them from a specialty rental business or a home improvement store. For those items you already have in the tool shed that you don’t regularly depend on, let friends and family know you are happy to share. Use block parties and everyday interactions to initiate a sharing culture in your neighborhood.