The First “R” is Reduce For a Reason   Leave a comment

A while ago I read a newspaper article that started with a statement something along the lines of: We’re all familiar with the three “R’s” reuse, recycle, and repurpose… It made me ANGRY to read that, and weeks (months?) later that anger is still festering. The three “R’s” of environmentalism are REDUCE, reuse, recycle. Besides, reuse and repurpose are redundant.

The order of those “R” words is not arbitrary but is in order of importance and impact. Reducing is the most important thing that you can do, pretty much across the board because the benefits multiply. There’s the immediate and obvious effect of reduction that you use less of whatever it is, be it electricity, water, paper, food, plastic, media, pesticides, or concrete. Depending on what was reduced, there is also a reduction in waste going to a landfill or incinerator with consequent reduction in soil, groundwater, or air pollution. Because of the (somewhat unavoidable) amount of loss and waste along the supply chain, that reduction on a personal scale leads to a waste reduction of many-fold moving up the chain. Some examples are a lightbulb left off not that only reduces the electricity to generate light but also the electricity wasted through heat generation (and losses in the transmission system, and losses at the power plant, and inefficiencies in the generation of electricity, and water consumed by the power plant); and a paper not used not only saves a piece of paper but the packaging, the paper trimmed off the roll, the bleaching/dyeing chemicals, the energy and water to make the paper, and the energy to transport it. Not using something therefore means not using a lot more of the raw materials required to make that something, and reducing the pressing need to mine/harvest/pump ever more of those raw materials at an ever faster rate.

In some cases there are other benefits. Printing less paper means that you have less paper that needs to be filed and stored somewhere, saving time and money. Having less junk means less of your house is taken up by storage space and more can be used for living space. Buying less whatever generally saves money. Watching less TV or spending less time playing video/computer games may mean more family time or sleep. Having less stuff or fewer commitments can mean a much more peaceful life. For people like me who hate to shop, buying less stuff means I have to shop less. On a larger scale using less pavement means more infiltration, healthier plants, more groundwater storage, and less pollution in surface waterways.

At a time like this when jobs are a hot topic and the unemployment rate is scarily high, is it “unpatriotic” to talk about reducing consumption of anything/everything? I don’t think so. For one thing, an economy that is mostly based on excessive consumption is not sustainable ecologically or economically. Isn’t some of what we’re going through now a contraction from the rapidly increasing rates of consumption and indebtedness in recent years? And considering the scarily high amount of personal debt carried by the average American, reduced consumption that saves money also increases personal stability and security. More consumption isn’t necessarily going to be a long term economic fix, but smarter consumption would help.

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