The Three Rs of Trash

s you make your next trip to the trash can, think about the item you plan to throw away. Maybe there's an alternative to disposal. While there is no easy solution to the problem of trash, there are some things we can do to make less of it. Scientists call those things the "three Rs of trash" – reduction, reuse, and recycling.

We reduce the amount of trash we generate and we use fewer disposable items. For example, we can select products that have as little packaging as necessary so that there is less to throw away. Buy hot cereal or cocoa mix packag­ed loose in a box instead of individual packets and you'll produce less trash. When we reuse an item again and again, we cut down on the amount of trash we discard, pour yourself a glass of juice instead of reaching a juice box. You can wash that glass and use many times over. Many communities have "reuse centers" – local thrift shops or materials-exchange facili­ties – where people can donate reusable items rather than throw them away. By donating, we prevent useful items from being discarded and make them available to others. We conserve the natural resources that would be used to create more of the same product.

When we recycle, we separate and collect items that would otherwise wind up in the trash can. These items are then used to make new products. For example, aluminum cans can be recycled into new cans over and over. Used paper can be recycled into new paper products. Plastic bottles and plastic bags can be recycled as well.

Buy a recycled product, and you help to close the recycling loop that began when you separated the materials in the first place. Recycling not only reduces the amount of trash we throw away but also protects the environment and conserves our natural resources. Recycling isn't easy, but it is important. Many communities require residents to separate paper, plastics, metals, and glass from their trash. If you recycle, then you're one of the billions of people who recognize recyclables as valuable resources, not trash.

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