The other day I met someone who claimed they were an environmentalist, but told me they haven’t recycled over the last two years. That made me scratch my head, as recycling is one of the main three pillars when it comes to becoming more sustainable.

It turns out she hasn’t recycled anything over this time because she hasn’t HAD to. Instead of recycling water bottles or paper, she had a reusable water bottle she drank out of everyday and everything she wrote was on her phone or laptop.

It’s pretty hard to avoid recycling, let alone throwing things in the garbage. Many times I try to collect materials that would’ve been thrown away otherwise to recycle it into something fun or useful. Old boxes turn into shelves, juice pouches and candy wrappers into outfits, and bottles into pencil case stands. But if we avoided using these materials altogether we wouldn’t have had to recycle them. I didn’t see the three R’s with a hierarchy until now.

First and foremost, we must Reduce the amount of materials and energy we use so it doesn’t become an issue in the first place. The act of reducing allows no materials to potentially turn into waste. While we reduce the amount of energy and materials used, if there is no alternative option we are not able to eliminate it altogether. For example, we need a cup to hold our water and drink out of it. Cups have to be made from something, whether it’s wood, ceramic, plastic, etc. Not only should we look into the best material, but we should also see which one can be reused over and over again, this way we can avoid buying more cups. Reusable cups are superlative to the disposable. So the second most environmentally efficient action is to Reuse.

But then there’s things you can’t reuse over again (even if it’s tempting). Disposable items are thrown into the garbage, leading to resource depletion and excessive waste production. If it cannot be Reduced, or Reused, the last resort is to Recycle. Many times I am known to collect these materials and make them into something fun, like a craft, outfit, or game. But it should be noted that all materials collected would have otherwise been discarded.

Following the steps of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle will save money, materials, and energy used in the long run. And for those starting to go green, it may make most sense to start it backwards. First begin to recycle the materials you’ve already used regularly, like plastic bottles. Then get a reusable bottle. It’s easy to lose the reusable bottle, so the last step is to make sure you keep it in a good place and have it with you at all times.

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