Beyond “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”

There is no denying that plastic waste is a problem. Whether it’s trash scattered around the parking lot or 620,000 square miles of garbage gathering in the Pacific Ocean, plastic waste is everywhere. 

Between nearly fifty years of public service announcements and campaigns promoting the familiar “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” slogan, many Americans have acknowledged the issue and taken steps to reduce their plastic waste, with recycling by far the most popular solution. For years, the mindset has been simple: it’s okay to use plastic as long as you recycle. Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely true. 

Although industries continue to come up with new and innovative ways to use recycled plastic in other products, the process itself can be quite wasteful and expensive, meaning a large percentage of plastics in the recycling bin will still end up in the landfill. 

For this reason, prioritizing the reduction and reuse of plastic and using recycling as a last resort is the ideal step to take to actively cut your plastic waste. 

With this goal in mind, it is helpful to update the original “Three R” model with  two additional ones: Refuse and Redesign. Both of these steps have the same effect of reducing plastic consumption, but with the added importance of advocating for change.

Redesign refers to the creation of smarter packaging that eliminates unnecessary plastic use. This is the most difficult step to contribute to on an individual level, and unless you work directly in the packaging or manufacturing industries, redesigning plastic products may seem out of your control. Before you make a sudden career change, however, try opting for alternative packaging in your own shopping habits instead. 

Refusing a plastic takeout box or grocery bag and offering up your own reusable option can send businesses a message, and reflect inventory count when a store goes to reorder supplies. If enough customers begin to change these habits, it can be enough to influence a change.

Aluminum, paper, and glass are all easier and less costly to recycle, and they have a much lower chance of ending up in the landfill or polluting the environment. By choosing to support companies using sustainable materials and plastic alternatives, you make a statement that can potentially have a massive impact on reducing plastic waste. 

Plastic is so ingrained in our everyday lives that once you start paying attention to products you use on a daily basis, you’ll notice just how hard it can be to avoid – but change won’t come unless people fight for it. By going beyond “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” and advocating for change through your habits of consumption, you have true potential to make a difference and move towards a more sustainable earth. 

Written by Haley Hodges, 2022 ASLC Communications Intern.

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