Earth Day 2024 - The New "R"s  of Sustainability

Earth Day 2024 - The New "R"s of Sustainability

The Problem With Plastic

More than 14 Million tons of plastic waste enters our oceans every year… That's nearly a garbage truck load each minute.

We are producing over 380 million tons of plastic every year, and nearly 50% of that is for single-use purposes. Single-use plastics have become ubiquitous with the convenience of fast-paced, modern living. Plastics are used to package everything from laundry detergent to shampoo, from straws to bubble wrap and bags that protect our quick and easy 2-day deliveries. It's all designed to be used once, often for just a matter of minutes, then thrown away. Unfortunately, plastics don't just disappear as soon as we're done using them. Some plastics take over 500 years to fully biodegrade, and in the meantime they are littering our environment, clogging our waterways, and piling into our oceans. And unfortunately, recycling facilities are not equipped to handle the sheer volume of plastics that we consume; of the 3 million tons of plastic that gets sent to recycling facilities in the United States, only about 5-6% gets recycled. The other 2.8 million tons are either sent to landfills or they are incinerated, sending toxic chemicals, microplastics, and carbon emissions into the air and the environment.

So what can we do? Ultimately, the best solution to the plastic crisis is to dramatically minimize our plastic consumption. We can do that by making small changes to our lifestyle that reduce our overall environmental impact. 

The New “R’s” of Sustainability

Remember Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? The original environmental mantra got an upgrade! 

Meet the new R’s of Sustainability:


First, consider the environmental impact of your choices, whether it’s buying secondhand vs buying new, or making coffee at home rather than grabbing one to go. When we start to rethink our routines, we can notice all the little ways in which we can make a big difference in our environment.


Reduce the amount of waste you create by buying only what you need. Buy with longevity in mind, such as a sturdy reusable shopping tote or a reusable coffee cup or water bottle. Only buy and use plastics when absolutely necessary, and make every effort to keep your items out of the landfill for as long as possible. This core tenet of environmentalism has several sub-sections including Refuse, Reuse, Repurpose, Refill, and Repair.


Say “no” to single use plastic items like straws, bottles, and plastic bags when on-the-go, and opt for items that are minimally packaged. Choose to support restaurants and shops that offer alternatives to typical plastic packaging, such as compostable to-go containers. Opting to buy products that are not packaged in plastic sends a message to corporations that we value the environment over convenience.


Think of ways to reuse containers that would otherwise end up becoming waste. Reusing items keeps them out of landfills, recycling facilities, and ultimately, our ecosystem. You can repurpose lots of things: old jars can become food storage containers, old bottles can be used to propagate new plants, old coffee canisters can become new pots for those  plant babies. Choose products that are designed to be reused, such as glass and metal containers, or reusable tote bags, to-go containers, or drinkware.


Grab your empty containers and fill up on everything you need at your local zero-waste store (find one near you at Shopping in bulk allows you to refill your containers and give them another life. It can also save you money by allowing you to only buy what you need, without the packaging.


Tap into your creativity and strive to find new uses for old products. Many things can be “upcycled” or transformed into something new and better than what they were before. If you can’t find a use for something, consider “rehoming” it, donating it or gifting it to someone else who can!


When something breaks or tears, try to repair it rather than replace it. You can find repair videos for just about everything on YouTube, or hire a local handyperson, tailor, or repair shop to help you keep your items looking and working like new.


If an item cannot be reused, refilled, repurposed, or repaired, then find out if it can be recycled. Even if your municipal recycling facility is unable to recycle the item, there may be programs available to help reclaim and recycle products at the end of their useful life. Ridwell, Terracycle, and Rubicon are some available options for hard-to-recycle items, such as plastic films, textiles, and batteries. As a last resort, you can always contact the manufacturer of the item to ask them if they will take it back for recycling. Consumers asking companies to recycle their products may put pressure on them to address their plastic production.


Participating in local composting initiatives and supporting zero-waste movements helps our local communities, and also demonstrates to government agencies that we are ready for change when it comes to caring for the environment. If your city, employer, school, or apartment complex does not offer composting or recycling, find out who is in charge of waste management and ask them to implement sustainable initiatives for their community, employees, students, and residents.

Rethink, Reduce, Refuse, Reuse, Refill, Repurpose, Repair, Recycle, Reform - This is how we can make a difference!


PHOTO: A trash truck dumps its load in the working phase of the Larimer County Landfill outside of Fort Collins. The landfill is among those in Colorado nearing capacity; it will run out of space this fall (2024). Credit - Kathryn Scott, The Colorado Sun ]


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