The basics of Recycling (the 3 R’s) – REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

The basics of Recycling are simple — just remember the 3 R’s — REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE


Attempt to reduce the amount of material you use that requires landfill disposal

1. Reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging

  1. Choose products with the least amount of packaging
  2. Remember that wrenches, screwdrivers and other hardware are often available in loose bins
  3. At the grocery store, purchase items such as tomatoes and mushrooms in unpackaged containers
  4. Consider large or economy-size items for household products that are used frequently
  5. Whenever possible, select grocery, hardware and household items that are available in bulk

2. Adopt practices that reduce waste toxicity

  1. Take actions that use non-hazardous or less hazardous components to accomplish the task at hand (i.e. chose reduced mercury batteries or plant marigolds in the garden to ward off certain pests rather then using pesticides)
  2. Learn alternatives to household items containing hazardous substances. In some cases, products that you have around the house can be used to do the same job as products with hazardous components. Below are source reduction alternatives around your house:Drain Cleaner – Use a plunger or plumber’s snake.
    Oven Cleaner – Clean spills as soon as the oven cools using steel wool and baking soda; for tough stains, add salt (do not use this method in self-cleaning or continuous-cleaning ovens).
    Glass Cleaner – Mix 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice in 1 quart of water. Spray on and use newspaper to wipe dry.
    Toilet Bowl Cleaner – Use a toilet brush and baking soda or vinegar (this will clean but not disinfect)
    Furniture Polish – Mix 1 teaspoon of lemon juice in 1 pint of mineral or vegetable oil, and wipe furniture.
    Rug Deodorizer – Deodorize dry carpets by sprinkling liberally with baking soda. Wait at least 15 minutes and vacuum. Repeat if necessary.
    Silver Polish – Boil 2 to 3 inches of water in a shallow pan with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of baking soda and a sheet of aluminum foil.  Totally submerge silver and boil for 2 to 3 more minutes. Wipe away tarnish.  Repeat if necessary.  (Do not use this method on antique silver knives.  The blade will separate from the handle)  Another alternative is to use nonabrasive tooth paste.
    Plant Sprays – Wipe leaves with mild soap and water; rinse.
    Mothballs – Use Cedar chips, lavender flowers, rosemary, mint or white peppercorns


    • DO NOT mix anything with a commercial cleaning agent.
    • If you do store a homemade mixture, make sure it is properly labeled and do not store it in a container that could be mistaken for a food or beverage.
    • When preparing alternatives, mix only what is needed for the job at hand and mix them in clean, reusable containers.  This avoids waste and the need to store any cleaning mixture.
  3. If you need to use products with hazardous components, use only the amounts needed. Leftover materials can be shared with friends and neighbors.

3. Be Creative – Find New Ways to Reduce Waste Quantity and Toxicity

  1. Turn a giant cardboard box into a child’s playhouse
  2. Transform an ice cream tub into a flower pot
  3. Give pet hamsters or gerbils paper towel and toilet paper cardboard tubes with which to play
  4. Use an egg carton to plant seedlings
  5. Place an order through the mail with a group of people in order to save money and reduce packaging waste
  6. Choose beverages such as water or milk in reusable containers, where appropriate

Reduce Reuse Recycle


Attempt to reuse as much as possible

1. Consider Reusable Products

  1. Look for items that are available in refillable containers
  2. When possible, use rechargeable batteries
  3. Cloth napkins, sponges or dishcloths can be used around the house and washed over and over again
  4. A sturdy mug or cup can be washed and used time and again
  5. When using single-use items, remember to take only what is needed

2. Maintain and Repair Durable Products

  1. Keep appliances in good working order
  2. Mend clothes instead of throwing them away
  3. Consider using low-energy fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent – they will last longer
  4. Use high quality long lasting tires for cars, bicycles and other vehicles – using them reduces the rate at which tires are replaced and disposed of

3. Reuse Bags, Containers and Other Items

  1. Reuse paper and plastic bags and twist ties
  2. Reuse scrap paper and envelopes
  3. Reuse newspaper, boxes, packaging peanuts and bubble wrap to ship packages
  4. Wash and reuse empty glass and plastic jars, milks jugs, coffee cans, dairy tubs and other similar items that otherwise get thrown out.
  5. Turn used lumber into birdhouse, mailboxes, compost bins or other woodworking projectsCAUTION – Never reuse containers that originally held products such as motor oil or pesticides. These containers and their potentially harmful residues should be discarded

4. Borrow, Rent or Share Items Used Infrequently

  1. Rent or borrow party decorations and supplies such as tables, chairs, centerpieces, linens and dishes
  2. Rent or borrow seldom used audiovisual equipment
  3. Rent or borrow tools such as ladders, chain saws, floor buffers, rug cleaners and garden tillers
  4. Share newspapers and magazines with others to extend the lives of these items and reduce the generation of waste paper

5. Sell or Donate Goods Instead of Throwing Them Out

  1. Donate or resell items to thrift stores or other organizations in need
  2. Sell secondhand items at fairs, bazaars, swap meets and garage sales
  3. Give hand-me-down clothes to family members, neighbors or the needy. Consider acquiring used clothing at thrift stores
  4. Consider conduction a food or clothing drive to help others


Use recycled materials and compost

1. Choose Recyclable Products and Containers and Recycle Them

  1. Participate in community recycling drives, curbside programs and drop-off collections
  2. If a recycling program does not exist in your community, participate in establishing one
  3. Consider products made of materials that are collected for recycling locally, in many communities, this includes glass, aluminum, steel, some paper and cardboard and certain plastics
  4. As more business and organizations provide collection opportunities, take advantage of them. For example, many grocery stores collect bags for recycling

2. Select Products Made from Recycled Materials

  1. Use products with recycled content whenever you can
  2. Look for items in packages and containers made of recycled materials
  3. When checking products for recycled content, look for a statement that recycled materials were used and, if possible, choose the item with the largest percentage of recycled content, if known.
  4. Encourage state and local governments agencies, local business and others to purchase recycled products such as paper, refine oil and retread tires

3. Compost Yard Trimmings and Some Food Scraps

  1. Learn how to compost food scraps and yard trimmings
  2. Participate in local or regional programs that collect compost materials
  3. If you have a yard, allow mown grass clippings to remain on the lawn to decompose and return nutrients back to the soil, rather than bagging and disposing of them

4. Craft Something Useful Out Of Them

  1. Recycle old newspapers and magazines to create your own handmade paper for greeting cards, stationery, or art projects
  2. Upcycle sturdy cardboard boxes into chairs, tables, or storage units
  3. Create sculptures, masks, or decorative items using paper mache, which is made from old newspapers and a paste of flour and water
  4. Weld or assemble scrap metal pieces to create unique sculptures or yard art
  5. Recycled content, like warehouse junk or bed frames, can be repurposed into industrial-style furniture pieces
  6. Craft colorful jewelry items such as earrings, necklaces, and bracelets using melted and molded plastic from items like old CD cases
  7. Transform glass bottles into vases, candleholders, or decorative centerpieces through painting, etching, or decoupage
  8. Disassemble old electronic devices and use their components to create electronic art, sculptures, or interactive installations
  9. Reuse wooden pallets to make outdoor furniture, shelving units, or even a vertical garden
  10. Hang an old tire from a sturdy tree branch and transform it into a classic tire swing for kids

With all these different ways available, implementing the 3 R’s in our daily lives should not be difficult. Consistency, dedication, and creativity are crucial here. Such small steps allow people from all walks of life to advance sustainability goals and contribute to a cleaner, safer environment for years to come.