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Reduce, Reuse …

See what happens when you don't reduce and reuse? Photo by Attila Horvath.

You know the third practice in the waste reduction hierarchy, it’s recycle. But let’s get back to that word hierarchy – recycling is what you do only after reducing and reusing.

“You need to purchase things,” says Steve Grossman, president of Grossman Environmental Recycling, Inc. of Columbus, a broker that develops markets for materials that are not yet being recycled. “Limit what you are purchasing to what you ultimately will be able to reuse. (Reduce and reuse) totally tie together.

“Basically, a lot of it is common sense,” says Steve, who – along with other experts – offers these tips on how to “not waste” your life:

Reduce and Reuse

At home, get off as many junk mailing lists as you can by using services such as and Pay your bills online. Read your newspapers and magazines online (like you’re doing now!). Use cloth towels and napkins instead of disposables. Compost your yard and food scraps, a.k.a future soil. If you walk your dog around the neighborhood, pick up after it with paper, since both paper and poop are biodegradable (unlike plastic bags with poop inside). Buy fewer items of higher quality – especially ones that can be repaired. A perfect example is a good quality pair of hiking boots that you can get resoled.

Have a rag pile so your clothes get a second life, like as cleaning supplies for spiffing up your bike. Use gift bags instead of wrapping paper for birthdays and holidays. Implement the standard reuses, such as an old car tire for a bonfire – just kidding! – an old car tire for a tree swing. Host a clothes and/or gear swap. Having a cookout before summer’s over? You can use compostable cups and plates, but an even better option is to hit the thrift store for cookout reusables. Hint: If cups and plates actually match, mark each one with a number or letter so people can keep track of theirs throughout the evening.

At work, use e-mail instead of paper for communications when possible. Use the back of one-sided paper, either through your printer if that works or as scrap paper. Make double sided photocopies. Buy recycled paper for when you use a fresh sheet. Bring a coffee mug and use it instead of taking that paper cup from your local coffee shop. Save your office decorations for the next office party.

At the store, take your own cloth shopping bags instead of making the lose-lose choice of paper or plastic. Take smaller bags and use them in the bulk section. For anything not available in straight-up bulk, buy larger containers of it, not the double-plastic-wrapped individual servings of juice, yogurt, etc. (You can transfer to smaller containers when you need to.) When you can’t buy in bulk, buy products that come in recycled and recyclable packaging. Ask your grocer to carry more items that are unpackaged (carrots, potatoes, etc.) and to purchase items with recycled and recyclable packaging. An individually shrink-wrapped potato is an offense that should never be tolerated.

At camp, use your camp dishes instead of paper plates. Ditto the water bottle and coffee mug instead of disposable cups. Use rechargeable batteries in your flashlight. Buy and sell used gear before buying new when possible (thrift stores, Craigslist and eBay). When you buy new, look for products with high recycled content. When you’re on the road to and from your destination, take Tupperware containers and use them for leftovers when you stop at restaurants instead of the Styrofoam boxes they give you.

And then, finally,