Recycling and the “8 Rs”: Finding a More Sustainable, Less Wasteful Way of Living on this Earth

By Nancy Upham

Recycling seems so yesterday, right? We’ve been talking about it for decades. Is it doing any good? And it’s so hard to keep up with the changes!

The truth is, recycling is doing good things, and there’s much more to do! It’s important to see recycling as just one element—one “R”—in a host of related actions that can shrink what we each leave behind at the end of the day. As individuals and as a community, we can raise awareness about recycling and its benefits—and its limitations. Let’s broaden the conversation by including action on all eight of the “Rs”: Reduce, Refuse, Reuse, Re-Purpose, Repair, Recycle Right, Remove, And Rally!

So, let’s dig in! Think about what we all can do to make each “R” a part of “R” everyday lives.

REDUCE This is one of the most meaningful and important things we can do—simply reducing the number of things that we buy that result in waste. Buy in bulk with a minimum of packaging. Carry refillable water bottles, coffee cups and drinking glasses with a reusable straw and carry your own reusable bags, including produce bags. Think about all the plastics we use only once and then send straight to the landfill, such as plastic straws, utensils and containers for anything from shampoo to laundry soap to BBQ sauce.

Be a conscious shopper. Choose the product with reduced packaging. Plastic packaging is simply pollution waiting to happen.

Tired of your daily delivery of junk mail? There are several ways to opt out. One is from the Federal Trade Commission, and another is from CalRecycle.ca.gov. Send postcards to all the catalog companies and organizations sending you things and ask them to stop. Sadly, this may take multiple efforts, but keep trying!

Artwork by Susan Greenleaf.

REFUSE An offshoot of reducing is to refuse when offered. Just say no to plastic straws or utensils and other things on a fast-track for the landfill after your meal. Offer up your own refillable mug or cup and refuse things in single-use, throw-away plastic. This tactic is, of course, difficult during COVID days, when you’re not allowed to bring in your own reusable items for safety reasons. But things are starting to change back to pre-pandemic ways. If you have a choice, please patronize places that will let you use your own reusable items or buy in bulk and refill your own!

REUSE and REPURPOSE Better than recycling is to repurpose an item. With a little pre-planning you can figure out how to repurpose a whole variety of items, rather than putting them into recycling or the landfill. Sometimes it’s simple—rinse and dry the inevitable plastic bags for as many uses as possible. Or get creative! Before tossing, ask yourself if you or someone else could put something to use. Look around and notice just how much waste could be avoided if you think beyond an item’s original purpose.

REPAIR What a concept! How often do we just toss something and go buy a replacement? Obviously, not all things can be repaired, especially these days with planned obsolescence, but why not take a moment to ask, “Can I repair this?” Repairing will most likely take less fossil fuel than to produce and transport a new product. It’s all about making wise choices.

Most of us have been trained to just use and dispose. Reducing, reusing, repurposing and repairing—that’s a new way of thinking for many of us. But this critical way of thinking is part of the really big picture solution that we need to find—and soon! If we reduce what we purchase, we reduce the number of new items that must be manufactured. This reduces the fossil fuels and carbon emissions necessary to make them. And not only will we reduce the amount of trash that goes to landfills, but you get to put that money saved into your bank account! If you must buy a replacement, find one with as much recycled content as possible.

RECYCLE RIGHT After you’ve reduced, reused, repurposed and repaired everything you can is it time to look at what you can recycle. But recycle the right way! Markets change and waste management companies have to adapt, so the rules of recycling often change. Stay abreast of what is recyclable where you live. Today at local county landfills, the rules for what can be recycled are basically the same as Bishop Waste curbside recycling—and they are much more restrictive than they’ve been in recent years.

Here’s what you can recycle.

  • Paper Only clean office or copy paper with no staples. Envelopes with the plastic windows and adhesive removed. Junk mail paper if the paper is NOT GLOSSY. Small paper pieces, but NOT shredded. Any color newspaper print, as long as not glossy.
  • Cardboard Only clean corrugated cardboard
  • Glass Clean, all colors (no need to remove labels)
  • Metals Clean aluminum and tin cans and put them in the appropriate bins
  • Plastic Only clean #1 PETE and #2 HDPE. Please remove all bottle caps and the ring on plastic bottles, if you can

It’s very important that everything you recycle be as clean and dry as possible. If not, your dirty recyclables could contaminate an entire load, sending it all straight to the landfill! Wash or rinse all recyclable plastics, bottles, and cans.

The following cannot be recycled at this time

  • Glossy paper of any kind including from magazines, catalogs, or shiny mailings, and envelopes with plastic windows
  • Non-corrugated paperboard such as cereal boxes, egg cartons, waxed cardboard, juice boxes, pizza boxes, or anything shiny
  • Styrofoam
  • Plastics with #3-7 and plastic bags
  • COVID-19 waste such as gloves or paper masks

A note on “Wishcycling” It’s understandable to “wish” that something just might be recyclable and err toward putting it in the recycle bin. But this well-intentioned effort may actually contaminate the entire lot, causing it all to be tossed into the landfill. Make the effort to know what can be recycled!

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REMOVE Sometimes it’s just trash! And it’s ugly! It’s amazing what a difference picking up a little trash in our neighborhoods and “Big Back Yard” can make. Bring a bag (and gloves) when out walking and collect what’s been blown or thrown there. Join efforts with friends or local groups like Sierra Trash Eliminators or coordinated community cleanups, such as the Earth Day celebration and cleanup on April 24th. Go to www.INYO350action.org for more info!

RALLY Last, but not least, rally your neighbors, your friends, your family. Offer to help them know what and how they can recycle. Talk to them about all the “Rs” in waste reduction and help them to understand that they can be part of the solution, instead of the problem!

We hope that being exposed to the “8 Rs” has made you think about what it means to be a conscious consumer. Please consider waste in your shopping decisions. Many people have jumped on the zero-waste bandwagon and are laser focused on every aspect of waste they create. Others have taken a pledge to simply reduce the amount of waste they generate as much as they possibly can. 

There are many online toolkits available that can help you with this task. There are even tools like plastic pollution calculators to help you track how much waste you generate and then come up with a personal plastic reduction plan! It’s worth looking into these sources

Please join INYO350 this Earth Day by taking a personal pledge to do all you can to respect our one and only Mother Earth by managing your consumption and waste!

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