The Waste Hierachy
One of the basic mantras used in by environmental conservationists is the principle of the '3 Rs' - reduce, reuse and recycle.
The first and arguably most important of the 3Rs is reduce. Reduce is to live with increase efficiency so you simply don't consume as much 'stuff'. Simply by being aware of things like excessive packaging can help you make wise choices when shopping and not buy items that have a large component that will become a waste product. If packaging cannot be avoided, buy packaging that is recyclable, reusable or is minimal.
Further ways of reducing the amount you consume include saying no to plastic bags, mending clothes and repairing toys, electrical goods and appliances rather than simply replacing them.
To reuse simply means using the same item more than once. Preferably many times. It doesn't have to be for the use it was originally designed for but stops things being thrown out after one use. Reusing items stops them going straight to increasingly scarce landfill.
Our parents and grandparents reused items all the time. Glass jars were reused for storage of all kinds of things from loose change to buttons. They didn't find it neccesary to throw the jar out, then go and buy a plastic container to do the job. Books, toys, clothes, furniture and appliances can often be reused by friends, family, donated to charity or sold second hand.
Many people would think that food scraps, lawn clippings, leaves and other organic matter could not be reused. These items, however, are perfect for reuse as feed material for placing in garden compost or a worm farm.
It may surprise you to hear that recycling is the least favoured of the 3Rs. The reason for this is that it takes little energy to Reduce and to Reuse. Even though recycling is infinitely more favourable than using virgin raw materials to produce something, it still takes energy to recycle something. Recyling is the breaking down of a waste product to produce a brand new item. The new item can be either the same as the original (e.g. recycling a glass bottle into a new glass bottle) or completely different (e.g. recycling plastic bottles into polar fleece fabric).
Most councils and local authorities now encourage recycling through a kerbside or sidewalk recycling program.
If possible simply avoid using things in the first place. As an example, you could buy a bottle of water, drink the water and throw the bottle into the rubbish. A better way would be to buy the bottle of water, reuse it a few times by refilling it before finally recycling the bottle. The best way would be to simply avoid buying the bottle in the first place and drink fresh tap water.
The Waste Hierachy
The waste hierachy uses the reduce, reuse, recycle ethos to classify waste management strategies. The aim of the waste hierachy is to gain the maximum practical benefits from products while generating minimal waste.
Figure 1. The waste hierachy. Least preferred, dispose, at the bottom. Most preferred, avoid, at the top.