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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Guest Post: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...

Today's post is by Rich Hoover, the Director of Sustainability for Libbey Glass, global manufacturers of drinking glasses and other glass tableware. Libbey has been working at integrating Lean into their global operations since 2004 and have recognized sustainability as a business imperative since early 2010. In this post Rich explains the important hierarchy of the three R's and the most effective way to eliminate waste.

We typically see or hear these words in this order for a reason. This hierarchy encourages us to reduce consumption first, which is the most effective way to eliminate waste. The least costly resource or material is that which is never used. Reuse is next in line, which is simply using an item over again for the same or different purpose than originally intended. Finally, recycle, which means to make new products from used or old materials. Let’s look at each of these landfill alternatives in more detail…

The place to begin is to use less. Consumption reduction decreases the amount of natural resources used throughout the life cycle of a product, from extraction of raw materials, to several layers of transportation, to manufacturing or processing, to use by consumers. Reduction isn’t easy. Most consumers think “bigger is better”, “new beats used” and “convenience is key”. When you shop, look for things that will last…things that are not just durable and well-made, but useful and attractive. The extra money you spend will be offset by the money you don’t spend replacing them. Maintain and repair items to keep them working and looking good. Other ways to reduce include: buy products made from post-consumer recycled materials, especially paper products; choose energy-efficient electronics, appliances and vehicles; buy local when possible (less transportation = less energy used); look for items with minimal packaging; cut back on water use; and turn off electronics and lights when not needed.

Before you recycle or dispose of an item, consider whether it has some life left in it. Reusing items keeps new resources from being used for a while longer and old resources from entering the waste stream. Reuse can take many forms. Find alternate uses for items such as plastic shopping bags or packaging from new item purchases. Have a garage sale or list items on internet commerce sights to turn used items into cash. Donate reusable items to charity. Books, magazines and dvd’s can be shared or traded. Use your creativity to find endless reuse opportunities!

Due to the continued proliferation of curbside recycling programs, it is fairly easy to recycle a number of common household materials…plastic containers, metal cans, newspapers and magazines, and corrugated containers. While recycling is a much-preferred alternative to landfill, recycling has its shortcomings. Recycling rules vary by municipality and the rules are not always straightforward. Also, recycling is beneficial as long as there is demand for the different recycled materials. Finally, resources are needed to sort, transport and reprocess recycled materials into new products. Even with these blemishes, recycling still reduces waste. Recycling ties in to all 3 pillars of sustainability…conserving resources for future generations (people); keeping waste and toxins out of landfills and reduced manufacturing intensity from recycled input materials (planet) and; generating cost savings, job creation and revenue (profit).

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  1. In today’s environment recycling plays vital role. I usually recommend everyone to make use of recycling idea.

  2. Great post - I'd add that reuse has two forms. Begin with a permanent item that is never intended for single use and is reuse friendly by design - example, ceramic coffee mug. Then, reduce items that are single use - if you must consume these at all. Third, reuse items that are traditionally single use, as you mention in your second paragraph. This could be items such as plastic cups, plastic bags, etc. Finally, recycle items as the last option, because recycling doesn't encourage reduction or reuse necessarily, but at least provides a diversion for landfill of tons and tons of material produced. Recycling always has diminishing returns on raw materials and resources, and impact to the earth. Cheers.