Back to the Basics of Sustainability: Reduce, Reuse & Recycle

Posted on Apr 19, 2011 by Theresa Lehman

Earth Day is fast approaching. Typically around this time everyone thinks about ways they can do their part to minimize their environmental impact. Sustainability has come a long way in the past few years, from LEED certification to eco-friendly vehicles to renewable energy and more; but the one thing to keep in mind is that it can all be brought right back to the basics…reduce waste, reuse materials and recycle more.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that between 1960 and 2008, the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.5 pounds per day. How do we slow this alarming trend? Just follow a few easy steps to help us reduce, reuse and recycle.

Reduce: We can all work to use fewer resources. Look for things of higher quality that last longer. In the end it could help you keep more money in your pocket. Here are some ways to reduce:

• Buy materials made close to home to save on logistical and transportation costs.

• Cut back on electricity consumption by using a smart power strip, or unplug electronics and appliances. According to Wisconsin Public Service, appliances and electronics are responsible for about 20% of the typical U.S. home’s electric bill.

• Turn off task lights, calculators, computers and monitors at the office before leaving for the day.

• Reduce transportation costs by carpooling or biking to work.

• Decrease water consumption by installing aerators on your bathroom and kitchen faucets, and replace your shower head with one that is low-flow. Another option, decrease shower time by a few minutes.

• Install a programmable thermostat.

• Remove your name from bulk mailing lists.

Reuse: Before you toss out materials, make sure to ask yourself if the item still has any life left in it, or if it can be re-purposed. By using resources for just a bit longer, we keep them from entering the waste cycle. Some easy examples of reuse include:

• Take furniture to thrift stores, or donate it. Many organizations will refurbish and re-sell household furnishings, interior doors, etc.

• Share and pass along magazines or DVDs.

• Reuse common household items such as jars, bottles or turn old T-shirts and towels into cleaning rags.

• Take your gently used clothing to second-hand stores.

• Use sites such as Craigslist and eBay to buy pre-used goods at a reasonable cost.

Recycle: Recycling has come a long way in the past few years. According to the EPA, as of 2006 there have been 8,660 curbside recycling programs implemented. In addition to recycling, we can also continue the cycle by purchasing products that have recycled content. A few ways to recycle:

• Recycle paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, batteries, electronics and ink cartridges.

• Compost food scraps.

• Buy recycled. Chose eco-friendly and recycled materials when making purchasing decisions, such as office supplies, paper products, books, etc.

Reducing, reusing and recycling our waste provides numerous social and economic benefits. All of the latest sustainable features and initiatives can be based on these three fundamentals. It’s the little things that add up and make a huge difference when it comes to sustainability and these are the changes that keep us moving forward.

About Theresa Lehman

Dedicating her entire career to sustainable practice, Theresa has worked on more than 70 projects seeking LEED® certification utilizing the LEED®-NC, LEED®-CI, LEED®-CS, LEED®-EBOM, and LEED® for Schools green building rating systems. She has successfully certified projects that have earned LEED® certification at all four award levels including: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Her portfolio of LEED® projects includes many “Wisconsin firsts” such as the first State of Wisconsin LEED® certified project, the first healthcare facility, the first LEED®-EBOM Schools, the first LEED® for Schools project and the first zero-net energy / carbon neutral project–the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center–the “greenest building on the planet” according to Rick Fedrizzi, former President, CEO & Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council.

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