Waste, and how we dispose of it, profoundly affects our global environment - air,
water, land, animals (including people!), plants, and man-made things. If we want
a healthy environment for our families and our earth, smart waste management is a
skill we need to learn. The waste we create has to be carefully managed to minimize
its impact on our personal health and the health of our planet. Here is a quick review
of the 5 Rs of managing waste (3 that have been around for years, plus 2 newer ones),
including simple steps you can take at the grocery store:
Reducing means producing less waste so that you throw away less trash and garbage into landfills. Reducing is the most effective way to manage waste and the place to begin whenever you can. A simple step at the grocery store: Bring your own cloth or mesh bags, so you don’t take either paper or plastic! You have immediately reduced the bags you might throw into the trash when you get home. How to remember your bags? Always keep them in the car or right by the door.
Reusing means getting the most out of things in their original form before you toss or recycle them. You can reuse things yourself - or pass them along to someone who can reuse them when you can’t. Reusing is pretty simple once you get into the habit, like writing a shopping list on an opened envelope or the back of office paper rather than on a brand new sheet. Plastic bags (both large white bags and clear produce bags) can be reused several times before they are recycled.
Recycling is the R that has caught on the best. However, recycling is not as easy as one would like - or even available in some Montana locations. Recycling, like using cans to make new cans, is better than throwing them into the landfill, but it still takes energy to collect, crush, and remake them. So, recycle after you have reused things as much as possible. Reuse your plastic bags as many times as you can, then take them to the recycling bin available at many grocery stores.
Rejecting is one of the newer Rs. Some people also call it pre-cycling. In terms of smart waste management, this is the simple act of rejecting excessive or unnecessary packaging. When shopping, it means saying “no thanks” to a bag for small purchases that you can easily carry in your hands. You can also reject - choose to not buy - foods, beverages, or other products in fancy, multi-layer packaging that you will just have to throw into the trash as soon as you open them.
This R goes by several different names, but they all come down to one thing: letting manufacturers and businesses know what you think about their waste management practices. You can contact them with a letter, an email, or by calling the toll free number listed on the package to voice concerns about excessive packaging. Or, you can let them know that you have noticed and appreciate when they are doing something positive for the earth. Using the grocery bag example, you could thank your grocery store manager for selling inexpensive cloth bags and/or providing a way to recycle plastic bags.
The programs of the MSU Extension Service are available to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or family status. Issued in furtherance of cooperative extension work in agriculture and home economics, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dr. Douglas Steele, Vice Provost and Director, Extension Service, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717.
Montana State University Extension Service is an ADA/EO/AA/Veteran's Preference Employer and educational outreach provider.