Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Last week when I put the trash out I was very impressed that our standard sized trash can was only half full, meaning our house of 4 grad students had created half our usual amount of trash! The recycling bin was also not any more overflowing than normal. Today is trash day again, and as of this morning the can was empty! Granted, we have a basically full kitchen trash can, some trash in the bathroom, and some bedroom trash, but that still means we will have a low trash amount again this week. We have reduced!!

Of course, the amount of "stuff" we buy has always been fairly low; grad students only have but so much money to throw around. On the same note, we've always tended to reuse: we have plastic and glass food containers we reuse in the house, we acquire much of our furniture used and give our old furniture to new homes, give clothes and "stuff" to Salvation Army or sell at yard sales, and put old things to new use.

Recycling though has been a more interesting progression for me. When I was a kid I didn't really care much about the environmental impact our actions had. I was brought up to not be wasteful and not throw away anything that could be reused, but it was my younger sister who was adamant about recycling. For instance, she would remind us to recycle our soda can when the thought of throwing it away had only half-formed in our minds. We didn't have house pick up of recyclables in VA (they still don't, at least in the southern half of the state), so bags of recycling would pile up in the basement until it was time to take them to the recycling center. What a hassle! I never really cared all that much about it, and didn't think it would really make a difference. To this day everyone in my immediate family still recycles, but I think sometimes some of them get annoyed with how much effort it takes.

Now that I live in MA, I've become at least as aggressive about recycling as my sister already was about 15 years ago. I understand much better the environmental impact of our waste, and how crucial it is for us to try to do our best. I will buy a different brand of the same product in the stores if the package is made from recycled material or is more easily recycled. I remind housemates when they throw away or are about to throw away something that could easily be tossed into the recycling bin instead. Since we have recycling pick-up with our trash once a week, it is practically hassle free to recycle, which makes it so much easier to actually do it.

The next step is composting, which I find a little bit harder without my own yard. Many of our friends compost, and it really does seem like a crucial way to decrease the amount of stuff sent to landfills. In Springfield, MA they recently instituted an additional bin for food waste that is picked up on the curb with the trash. I'm not sure how well it's working since I don't live there, but it's great that they are trying to take that step.

I really feel like where a person lives and the attitude toward reducing, reusing, and recycling in that area (as well as accessibility of recycling) makes a big difference toward how much that person participates. For me, both taking a resources geology class my last year at Virginia Tech and moving to MA really made the difference.

What do you think influences people on this issue? Do you have any other ways we should be trying to save the environment within the reduce/reuse/recycle strategy?

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