Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Recycling and Waste Reduction

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle chalk drawing
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After three flat years, carbon dioxide emissions rose again in 2017, showing that the earth’s struggles with climate change will only continue. While this news discouraged those who believed we might have finally hit peak levels, there’s plenty to be hopeful about. Now is the time for individuals to do what they can to reduce their impact, through actions big and small. In the week leading up to Earth Day, Earth911 tackles five different areas in which you can make a difference. Today, we look at the impact of recycling.

Why Recycling and Waste Reduction Matter

Humanity’s massive consumption of material goods is a root cause of climate change. Extracting and harvesting raw materials from the earth, as well as the processing, manufacturing, transporting and disposal of the products made by said raw materials, contributes substantially to pollution and the venting of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As these gases accumulate, heat is trapped within the earth’s atmosphere and the global temperature begins to rise. 

Recycling can minimize the rate of global climate change by reducing the extraction of raw materials from the earth and the amount of fossil fuel burnt in the manufacturing process. Waste prevention is even more effective — like recycling, it diminishes the need for raw materials, saves energy and fossil fuels, and diverts materials away from landfills and incinerators.

What You Can Do

Though recycling efforts within the U.S. and Canada have been temporarily reduced due to the Chinese recycling ban, it’s vitally important to recycle plastics labeled #1 and #2, as well as paper, metal and glass. However, reducing household waste should be your main focus. Here’s how to do this:

  • When shopping, purchase in bulk and use reusable containers whenever possible.
  • Take reusable cloth or canvas grocery and produce bags to the store.
  • Avoid single-use containers. When that isn’t possible, try to buy food packaged in paper, cardboard or glass.
  • Carry reusable water bottles, takeout containers and straws with you when you’re on the go.
  • Make and grow as much of your own food as possible.
  • Consider cloth diapers and reusable feminine hygiene products.
  • Compost as much of your waste as possible.
  • Buy lightly used products rather than new. Donate anything you no longer need that is still in working condition.

The Future of Recycling and Waste Reduction

Climate change isn’t just a nuisance, it’s a public health crisis. Global warming has been linked to the rise in occurrences of drought, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, pollution and mosquito-borne illnesses that we’ve seen in the past few decades. To remedy this problem, we need to make a global move toward a circular economy — wherein we use resources for as long as possible, get the maximum value from them while in use, and then reclaim and regenerate resources at the end of their service life. The European Union, as well as the UK and Japan, have each already implemented a circular economy at some level, and have seen positive results. If the rest of the world were to follow suit, we could reduce the demand for energy, raw materials and fossil fuels, and, consequently, the volume of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere would be greatly diminished — giving humanity, we hope, more time to mend our destructive ways and save this beautiful planet we call home.

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Liz Greene

Liz Greene

Liz Greene is an animal-loving, makeup-obsessing pop culture geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch her latest makeup misadventures on her blog, Three Broke Bunnies.
Liz Greene