Reduce, Reuse & Recycle: What Do These Terms Mean?

Everyone knows the basic terms Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. What do these terms mean?

Reducing means to eliminate as much waste as possible. Examples of reducing are over packaged products, disposable or single use items, things that break easily or need to be replaced often, things that you will never use or only use a few times. Changing your personal habits is the key to reducing.

Reusing a product minimizes waste and maximizes the use of resources.If we

do these two things we can’t help but get more for our money. Reusing a product has many positive benefits.

  • Reuse keeps goods and materials out of the waste stream.
  • Reuse reduces the strain on valuable resources such as fuel, forests, and water supplies, and helps safeguard wildlife habitats.
  • Reuse creates less air and water pollution than making a new item.
  • Reuse results in less hazardous waste.
  • Reuse results saves money in purchases & disposal costs.
  • Reuse creates an affordable supply of goods that are often of excellent quality.
  • Reuse has the benefit of bringing resources to people and businesses that otherwise may not be able to obtain them.

One good example of this is Freecycle. There are Freecycle groups all across the United States. Members of Freecycle give away no longer needed items to others who have a use for them. This process helps eliminate waste.

The most basic definition of recycling is to take an old or used item that would have been thrown away and make it into a new product. Recycling prevents the emission of greenhouse gases and water pollutants. Recycling saves energy, supplies valuable raw materials to industry, help create jobs and stimulates the development of greener technologies. Recycling conserves resources for our children’s future and helps to reduce the need for new landfills. (1)

Recycling, including composting, kept 68 million tons of material away from landfills and incinerators in 2001, up from 34 million in 1990. (2) Recycling, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions that affect the global climate. The need to recycle is urgent in the US, as the US comprises only 6% of the world’s population but produces half of the world’s garbage.(4)

Some interesting facts about recycling and why it is worth the effort and time it takes to recycle.


  • one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours — or the equivalent of a half a gallon of gasoline.
  • During the time it takes you read this sentence, 50,000 12-ounce aluminum cans are made.
  • An aluminum can that is thrown away will still be a can 500 years from now!
  • There is no limit to the amount of times that an aluminum can be recycled.
  • A 60-watt light bulb can be run for over a day on the amount of energy saved by recycling 1 pound of steel. In one year in the United States, the recycling of steel saves enough energy to heat and light 18,000,000 homes! (4)
  • To produce each week’s Sunday newspapers, 500,000 trees must be cut down.
  • Recycling a single run of the Sunday New York Times would save 75,000 trees.
  • If all our newspaper was recycled, we could save about 250,000,000 trees each year!
  • The average American uses seven trees a year in paper, wood, and other products made from trees. This amounts to about 2,000,000,000 trees per year!
  • The average household throws away 13,000 separate pieces of paper each year. Most is packaging and junk mail.
  • The construction costs of a paper mill designed to use waste paper is 50 to 80% less than the cost of a mill using new pulp. (4)
  • With the advent of emails, has our copy paper usage has gone up, down or stayed the same? It has gone up by 40%!! And it’s increasing a further ten percent a year. So much for the paperless society. (5)


  • use 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour! Most of them are thrown away!
  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year!
  • Americans throw away 25,000,000 plastic beverage bottles every hour!
  • Recycling plastic saves twice as much energy as burning it in an incinerator.
  • Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 styrofoam coffee cups every year. (4)


  • Every month, we throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill up a giant skyscraper. All of these jars are recyclable!
  • The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. It also causes 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution than when a new bottle is made from raw materials.
  • A modern glass bottle would take 4000 years or more to decompose — and even longer if it’s in the landfill.
  • Mining and transporting raw materials for glass produces about 385 pounds of waste for every ton of glass that is made. If recycled glass is substituted for half of the raw materials, the waste is cut by more than 80%. (4)

Electronic Waste

  • Americans have about 500 million obsolete, broken or otherwise unused cell phones, and about 130 million more are added each year. The equivalent of 65,000 tons of waste, according to the EPA.
  • The National Safety Council estimates that the number of obsolete computers in the United States will reach 315 million in 2004. Yet, this same study found that only about 11% of obsolete equipment is recycled.
  • Americans quit using orreplace about 133,000 computers every day.(6)

There are many myths regarding recycling. These myths often keep people from doing there part in recycling their waste products.

Myth 1 – It is okay to throw something away as long as it is biodegradable.

Fact – Biodegradable waste breaks into methane in the land fill, if it all. It is usually released into the atmosphere where it turns into greenhouse gas. Composting biodegradables is more effective. (7)

Myth 2- Landfills and incinerators are more cost-effective and environmentally sound than recycling options.

Fact – Recycling programs, when designed properly, are cost-competitive with landfills and incinerators, and provide net pollution prevention benefits. Recycling materials not only avoids the pollution that would be generated through landfilling and incinerating these, but also reduces the environmental burden of virgin materials extraction and manufacturing processes. (8)

Myth 3 – Landfills are significant job generators for rural communities.

Fact – Recycling creates many more jobs for rural and urban communities than landfill and incineration disposal options. Just sorting collected recyclable materials sustains, on a per-ton basis, 10 times more jobs than landfilling. However, it is making new products from the old that offers the largest economic pay off. New recycling-based manufacturers employ even more people and at higher wages. Recycling-based paper mills and plastic product manufacturers, for instance, employ 60 times more workers than do landfills. (8)

What are some ways that you can do your part to become more environmentally friendly? Reduce your waste as much as possible. Eliminate single use items. Think before you buy and think before you throw something away. Change your habits. If it can be reused for something, reuse it. If it can be donated somewhere, donate it. Or recycle it. Take advantage of your curbside recycling program if you are not already. It takes a little bit of effort to get started but it is worth the effort for a cleaner environment.






6. CNN, 2005



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