By Mary Barbara Alexander
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. These are the recycling triad principles and should be the motto of every human concerned about the health of our beloved planet. One of the greatest challenges we face in working to better the state of our Earth is changing human behavior. A good starting place is increasing recycling. But without the other two parts of the triad, reducing and reusing, the positive effects of recycling alone are greatly diminished.
I try to lead by example when it comes to recycling, but I find that most people are simply not aware of how cavalier they are about throwing things away. We have become such a throw-away society that where once it was the norm to return bottles to the store for refund of your deposit, or to use handkerchiefs instead of tissues, linen napkins instead of paper, or to take our groceries home in big cardboard boxes, now people just use things once and throw them in the trash. So sometimes it takes more than example. Sometimes you just have to re-educate people and train them to think in a different mindset.
I recently hired new housecleaning help. I use all environmentally friendly cleaners, rags that get washed and reused until they fall apart, and have a big bucket for emptying all the wastebaskets and transferring to the big trashcan in the garage so that I don’t have to waste a bunch of plastic bags for trash. In spite of my instruction to the new cleaners not to use paper towels for cleaning, I walked in to find one of them wiping the refrigerator with--you guessed it--paper towels. They are so used to using up to a whole roll of paper towels every time they clean a house that it is difficult for them to adjust to using a perfectly clean, soft, absorbent rag that is even better than paper for polishing windows or stainless steel. I reminded her that I will not tolerate the waste of resources and that trees are cut down to make paper and then the paper has to be processed in the trash. It sometimes seems like a losing battle because old habits die hard. But I keep insisting and even show pictures of piled up trash, mountains of plastic bags and deforested areas or print out guidelines for going green to give them.
Education is the key to change. We must all keep informed about best environmental practices, incorporate those practices into our daily lives, and finally, find ways to make those practices habit for everyone. So first, lead by example; find ways to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. And then, be an advocate; take opportunities to help your friends and family be more conscious of how they use and dispose of materials. Check out http://www.storyofstuff.com/.