NO PLANET B: The three Rs: Following the waste hierarchy as a college student

This is a column part of a monthly series called “No Planet B” written by Sustainability & Energy Management Coordinator Chelsea Malacara and her sustainability interns. This series aims to provide insight on how we can begin to think and make sustainable choices on campus for a better future. 

The phrase, “reduce, reuse, recycle” is a familiar one that has been ingrained in the minds of Millennials and Gen Z our entire lives. Being taught not to litter by our parents and teachers, and seeing recycling bins around schools and neighborhoods is a common sight. However, have you ever really considered the other “R’s” or how to implement them into your own life?

First, let’s define them:

Reduce means to eliminate or decrease the amount of waste that is produced to begin with. To you, that might mean investing in a reusable coffee cup to reduce the amount of paper coffee cups you use on a daily basis.

Reuse means taking products that would otherwise be discarded and using them again in their current form or with minor repairs. Think, donating or purchasing items at a Goodwill.

Recycle means collecting and sorting used materials, processing them mechanically and chemically, and remanufacturing them into new products. For most of us, recycling just means placing your paper, plastic or glass inside the blue bin at the curb.

Although all three R’s are collectively important, it seems that recycling is the only “R” that has been popularized in the consumer-driven culture we live in today. According to WasteAdvantage Magazine  (cite), “Americans don’t know how to recycle – and that lack of knowledge is the biggest barrier to being green”.  Tossing items into recycling bins that are dirty or can not be recycled contaminates the rest of the bin. Even with good intentions of recycling, the Environmental Protection Agency (cite) states that only about 35% of the total amount of discarded items gets recycled or composted. Beyond reducing our overall waste production, the global recycling crisis is why it is important to understand the value of reuse and repair.

Imagine what would happen to America’s landfills if every individual took a step back and considered reusing or repairing an item before tossing it in the trash and heading out to the store to buy something new. This is not only a cost-friendly habit to create but it also helps reduce the environmental and societal impact that is created by our disposable culture.

Let’s examine some small ways you can remove yourself from the adverse impacts of the disposable economy, while saving money too!

Stock up some reusable everyday items

Reusable coffee mugs, water bottles, straws, silverware, cleaning rags, and tote bags are widely available, including in secondhand stores. By purchasing and remembering to use these reusable items will decrease the need to consume single-use plastics during your daily routine here at Marquette.

Think before you buy

Next time you are looking for a new outfit, some new apartment decor, or even a new book to read, ask yourself if it’s really worth paying for a brand new item when the same or something similar already exists secondhand. As a college student, it is understandable to want to wear trendy and new clothes. If you can’t find your favorite brands at Goodwill, thrift stores like Plato’s Closet and online thrift apps often carry name brand items for half the cost!

Platforms like Facebook Marketplace and other online thrift stores are excellent for finding apartment furniture and other decor. Before buying a brand new book for school or for pleasure, look at Thriftbooks.com and find what you want to read for $2 or download an e-book to help reduce paper waste.

This month, you can thrift right here at Marquette too! On October 27th at the AMU, Marquette Sustainability is hosting a pop-up free store. Learn more about this event and others in October here: https://www.marquette.edu/sustainability/events-news.php

Repair, don’t replace

If any of your electronics are not working as efficiently as before, consider spending half the cost to repair what you already have instead of buying new. If your backpack or clothing items rips, consider sewing it yourself before tossing. Youtube and TikTok are a great resource for learning a new skill!

Reducing, reusing, and recycling are great ways to be consciously active in decreasing your environmental impact. Yet, it is essential to strongly consider reducing, reusing and repairing before resorting to recycling. As a generation, it is up to all of us to shift from our consumer, single-use culture to one that values simplicity, shared resources, and giving old items new life and that can begin right here at Marquette.

This story was written by Allyssa Vesely. She is a sustainability intern for Chelsea Malacara, the Sustainability & Energy Management Coordinator for Marquette University. She is not a staff member for the Wire. She can be reached at allyssa.vesely@marquette.edu