The year 2007 played host to a one-time European reality TV show where 11 Survivor-esque individuals signed up for a sun-and-fun filled eco-challenge only to get "Dumped" in a landfill for three weeks. According to the show's tagline, "Most of us have some idea that we waste too much and don't recycle enough, but we tend not to think about what happens to our rubbish once it has left our homes." These contestants couldn't avoid finding out directly.
Most people wouldn't opt to live in - or even spend time in - a landfill to see what happens to their garbage once it leaves their front step, but the show does raise public interest in an ugly subject. In this article, we'll show you why reducing, reusing and recycling aren't just good environmental actions, but good budgetary ones as well.
The three "Rs" - reducing, reusing and recycling - are integral to the health of the environment, economy and community. In the "Dumped" challenge, contestants had to develop their three "Rs" skills to survive - and even make money.
But you don't have to stake out a landfill to benefit from these environmentally friendly measures. Incorporating these three "Rs" into your home and work life may help save the planet - and pad your pocketbook in the process.
Probably the easiest of the three "Rs" to master, reducing the amount of garbage you throw out can have an incredible impact on the environment.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans discarded 245 million tons of garbage in 2005, 54% of which ended up in landfills - even while the number of landfills is shrinking. What's worse is that this yearly junk pile addition can take "between 100 to 400 years to decompose".
Many of the products purchased at the nation's grocery stores are packaged in high-waste containers (ie. non-recyclable plastic, extra plastic wrap, or even extra Styrofoam). If you want to help cut down on the millions of tons of unnecessary trash, opt instead for reusable or recyclable packages. The cost of these products (including bulk products) is often less expensive, and therefore will free up money in your budget as you cut down on your trash output. In addition, reusing packaging such as yogurt containers, plastic bags, etc, can reduce the amount of packaging that you'll need buy, providing additional savings.
|Note: If the average American household were to reduce what it tosses in the trash each year by even 10%, the nation\'s garbage dumps would have 24.5 million tons less garbage added - that\'s about the same weight as six million elephants.|
You can carry these savings over to the office as well. There are a number of ways to reduce your consumption on the job including emailing more and printing less, sharing and reading files electronically, scanning instead of faxing, making pots of coffee instead of individual cups, carpooling, and using energy efficient lights, appliances and computers. To get more reducing tips, check out the Reduce Your Rubbish website.
According to the EPA, 2-5% of all waste is reusable, which equates to 3.9-9.8 million tons of useful products. Let's take a look at what you can do to increase your reusing skills.
In your office, reusing can help an old object take on a new purpose. You can help save money, and gain points with your boss, if you suggest new uses for old office items. Do you have some old computers that are no longer competitive due to upgrading fees? Have a local charity come pick up those working computers for families who can't afford them, and receive a donation tax break for your company. The savings from donating certain office products can then go toward employee bonuses, free lunches or to upgrade the rest of your equipment.
Unfortunately, there is a who's who culture of buying the latest and greatest new vehicles and gadgetry, and individuals and corporations may be seen as cheap for reusing products that their peers might just toss into the recycle or garbage bin. This style of consumerism can be seen as the anti-green movement. For every new gadget introduced, there is a still-valuable older model that must be replaced to satisfy a social hunger. This constant need to upgrade, improve and buy larger only creates more waste. You will lose money, time and energy in pursuit of the latest toys - and the environment will hurt for it too. (For more on this topic, see The Dark Side Of Bulk Buying and The Disposable Society: An Expensive Place To Live.)
If you must buy the newest and latest product, there are ways to decrease your waste - and reusing is key. The Capital Area Corporate Recycling Council (based in Baton Rouge, La.), calculated that in 2006 it refurbished and recycled more than 1,000 tons of used electronics. Impressively, the EPA measured the environmental benefit as being equal to:
- enough energy savings to power 3,350 U.S. households in a year,
- greenhouse gas reduction equal to removing 2,365 passenger cars from the road per year,
- solid waste generated by 380 U.S. households in a year,
- reduction in air emissions of 156,700 metric tons,
- reduction in water emissions of 328 metric tons, and
- cost savings of $3,290,000.
The great thing about this second "R" is that there are many applications for your home. You can renew and reuse items by simply adding a coat of paint, changing the size or shape of the item, or even by changing its original use entirely. In the age of renovation and flipping, why rely on a coffee-table book to start a conversation when tossing a coat of paint on an old door, adding some old table legs, and showcasing the new coffee table itself can get you the same result?
By reusing, even the least environmentally conscious individuals can increase their standard of living. With internet community sites like Freecycle, you can post an ad for whatever it is you want to get rid of and have people come to your house to pick up the unwanted item. This costs you nothing, but pays off by freeing up space in your home and cutting down the time and gas spent getting rid of that item. You could also sell your household or electronic goods and again have people pay for the pickup and delivery, or if they are local, have them come to your house and pick up their purchases. If you're not in the habit of purging, you could literally be sitting on a gold mine of reusable items.
Remember, if your goal is to reduce your environmental footprint, try not to be too concerned what the Smiths next door will think of your reused potting containers and two-year-old iPod. And if you can't convince your friends to join you in your reusing effort, you can still rest in the knowledge that for every pot you reused in your garden there is one less rotting in a garbage dump - not to mention one less you'll have to buy new next spring. (For related reading, see Stop Keeping Up With The Joneses - They're Broke.)
Recycling is one of the most effective ways to reduce your garbage pile. It involves reprocessing your used items into new products, thereby reducing the use of raw materials. Most paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and glass can be recycled and then transformed into new products. Even tires, one of the biggest polluters when burned as garbage, can be transformed into new roads, playground "sand" and floor mats. The EPA measures the waste caused by spare tires, and says that in 2003 alone more than 290 million scrap tires were thrown away.
Of those 290 million, 233 million were able to be recycled as follows:
- 130 million were used as fuel,
- 56 million were recycled for civil engineering projects,
- 18 million were converted into ground rubber,
- 12 million were used for road construction,
- 9 million were exported to be used as retreads, and
- 9.5 million were used for agricultural and miscellaneous products.
And, when it comes to recycling, the government is working with consumers; most communities offer a recycling program for free, alongside your garbage pickup. If this is the case, the difference between tossing a can into the trash or into a recycling bin is negligible.
If you are new to this process and don't know which products you should recycle, contact your local waste-management department for a complete list. If you do not have a curb-side pickup, then you still might be able to find a recycling depot or drop-off center close to your home. There are many products, like copper, paper, cans and bottles that can be returned to a depot in return for cash. If you don't recycle these items, you are literally throwing money in the trash.
Your workplace may already have a recycling program. If it doesn't, start one. It's as easy as getting a designated bag or area for people to put their recyclables. A couple times each month - depending on how many people are involved, and how many you recyclables you pile up - designate one employee to take the material to the depot. You should notice a huge decrease in your trash pile once you factor in the massive paper trail your office is currently leaving behind.
If you have any sensitive information on your papers, make sure these pages are not recycled. Instead, use a shredding company that will come and care for your secure documents. You can shred your own documents, but remember that most curbside recycling pickups won't take shredded paper. A shredding company, however, will often be able to recycle its loads of shredded paper at larger recycling centers. In the end, if you end up recycling 200 pages and shredding 20 pages, you've still largely reduced your company's negative impact. Finally, don't forget that many printer cartridges are recyclable too, and if you can't recycle them, there are many services that will reuse the cartridge by refilling it with ink for a small fee, providing a savings over buying them new.
Rewards for the 3 "Rs"
When TV participants are "Dumped" in a landfill, it's easy to laugh, but if that landfill ends up outside your back door, that giant pile will lose its humor. The devastation caused by millions of tons of garbage annually can be reduced by making these three "Rs" a priority in your work and home life. With everyone watching for a 10% reduction in waste, this nation could breathe a sigh of relief when those six million elephants are lifted off its back. The added money in your wallet from saving, sorting and selling your unwanted items can help you sigh in relief too.