America is a disposable nation. Each person, on average, produces more than 1,600 pounds of trash each year. In total, over 230 million tons of trash accumulates in landfills yearly in the United States. Growing up you have likely been taught to help reduce your waste by practicing the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Have you ever thought about what those terms really mean? Did you know that there are actually three more R’s that we can practice helping make the planet healthier? To help reduce our impact on the environment, it’s time to practice the 6 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle and Rot.
We use these terms when we talk about what to do with stuff we no longer want, need or even stuff we want to purchase. It could refer to the plastic bottle or straw you just used to drink your water. It could refer to the clothes you wear every day. If we think about these terms in relation to the things we use in our daily lives, we can practice the 6 R’s every day, making the planet healthier day by day!
The first and most important R is Refuse. This R can be the most difficult to embrace, especially when it challenges habits that we’ve formed over a lifetime. Those few extra seconds you take to refuse a single-use disposable will help you keep waste out of the landfill or from ending up in our creeks. Some first steps are saying no to freebies, single-use plastics, disposable items and junk mail.
The second R is Reduce. Reduce the number of things you buy and donate/sell items you don’t need or use. Not only can you reduce your consumption, but you can save time, space and sanity. A quick step to help reduce the things you buy is wait 30 days before buying something new or create household rules like everything has a home or one thing in and one thing out. Don’t forget to apply the reduce principle to your energy and water consumption.
Third, Reuse. Start to replace disposable with reusable. You have probably done this without even knowing, whether it’s reusing jars or buying second hand. Look for opportunities to extend the life of items or even find a new use (upcycling)!
The fourth principle is Repair. When a product breaks down or doesn’t function properly, fix it. It’s often easy and convenient to just replace something broken. Try and find someone to repair it or learn how to repair it yourself. When shopping, buy items that can be repaired.
Next, Recycle. Although this is the first thing we might think of, it is estimated that roughly 90% of the worldwide plastics in use DO NOT get recycled. What you can’t refuse, reduce, reuse or repair be sure to recycle. Check with your local recycler on what can and cannot by recycled.
Lastly, Rot. Compost accepted materials that are not in the other R’s. Did you know some organics can be included in your yard waste bin for composting? Some examples include green waste, pizza boxes, food waste, and coffee grounds. Contact your local recycler for a full list of compostable items.
For more information on consumer recycling and composting contact:
Mendocino County: Mendorecycle.org or call the Recycling Hotline at (707) 468-9710.
Sonoma County: www.zerowastesonoma.gov or call the Sonoma County Eco-Desk at (707) 565-DESK (3375).
As we move into 2020, make a resolution to start implementing the 6 R’s. Start with picking one item and work towards incorporating more sustainable practices in your day-to-day life. From reducing your water consumption, to just saying no to single-use plastics can help make a difference! For more resources on zero waste initiatives visit www.zerowastesonoma.gov and www.zerowastemendo.com.
This article was authored by Sarah Dukett, of the County of Mendocino, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.