For years, I’ve reminded people that the best way to conserve resources and eliminate waste is to practice the 3 Rs in order – reduce, reuse and then recycle. After all, it’s better to prevent waste than figure out what to do with it.
It struck me that this doesn’t just make environmental sense. It makes economic sense. Think about it: If we reduce our use of foodstuffs, energy and water, we conserve our ecologic and economic resources. When we recycle, there’s no economic gain, since we’re simply throwing trash into the blue bin rather than the trash bin. This doesn’t mean that recycling isn’t important, just that it doesn’t produce impacts nearly as positive as those produced by reducing and reusing.
Here’s a good example. The average family spends about $7000 a year on food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and University of Arizona estimate that we throw away between 25-50% of all the food we purchase. This means we waste between $1750 and $3500 per family per year. Cutting food waste in half can save each of us up to $1750 annually!
Cutting food waste in America by 50% would also mean savings of up to 25 million tons, about enough food to feed the population of Canada. It would also mean an enormous savings in the economic and environmental costs associated with producing, transporting, storing, and preparing all of that food.
Need another example? Heating and cooling our homes accounts for over 40% of our energy bills. The single best way to reduce that energy bill is by sealing your ductwork. The Department of Energy states that doing so can reduce your heating and cooling costs by 15%. If you spend $200 per month, you’ll save $30 per month or $360 a year simply by sealing your ducts. How do you do that? With duct tape that costs about $4 a roll. Who wouldn’t spend $4-8 to save $360 a year, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
Here’s one more: The average household can save over 2,300 gallons of water per year by installing low flow shower heads. Since saving water also reduces the demand on water heaters, households will save energy as well. In fact, a household could save 300 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power a television! If every U.S. household did so, we could save more than $1.5 billion on water utility bills and more than 250 billion gallons of water annually. In addition, we could avoid about $3.5 billion in energy costs (and greenhouse gas emissions) for water heating.
So, doing what’s right for the environment isn’t just common sense. It’s good business sense.