Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – In that order!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – In that order!

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What’s the problem with recycling?

So many people get caught up in the recycle part of that old adage, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Have you noticed it’s the last part of the statement? The last part. That should tell you something.RRR

I think people get hung up on recycling for two reasons: it’s easy and it’s advertised.

The marketing campaigns and city-sponsored programs made that a slam dunk. But the thing is, that is on the low end of the spectrum when it comes to actually making a difference.

We’ve all heard stories about how you separate your recycling and then when it gets to the dump or the processing plant, they just throw it all in together anyway. Or that if one little contaminate gets into the recycling that should have been there, the plant will just toss the lot into the dump because they can’t process it. I certainly hope those are just urban legends, but they are probably at least partly true.

Even aside from the idea that just because you put something in the recycle bin at home, doesn’t mean it goes where you want it to. We still have to consider the process of breaking that product down and creating a whole new product. It’s expensive and energy consuming.

Let’s compare recycle to the two, often overlooked, other components of the adage.


  • Buy a new product, throw it (or the package) into a recycling bin, and then buy another new product.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat for eternity. (You can see why marketers and manufacturers love this option)

You keep spending money on a new item over and over. The factories keep burning energy churning out new products. The recycling plants keep processing all the waste. That’s a Lose-Win-Win situation, and you are the loser.

Factory Smoke Stacks
Manufacturing and the recycling process both create waste and pollution


  • Buy less
  • Use less

Saves you money, saves energy from lower production and processing time, saves space in landfills.


  • Buy one thing and then use it again and again.

Saves you money, saves energy from lower production and processing time, saves space in landfills.

Hopefully, you can see the advantages of the reduce and reuse part of the equation: they save you money.

If you’re still wondering how this saves you money, think about just the packaging. Every time you buy a new product you pay for the packaging, again.

Let’s consider bottled water – this is a product that blows my mind when I think about it too hard.

Plastic Bottle Recycling
Photo by Michal Maňas

Every 20-ounce bottle of water comes in its own package (the plastic bottle) with a lid and label to show the brand.

You pay for:

  • The water in the bottle (which you could get free elsewhere)
  • The plastic to hold the bottle (which you will proudly recycle so that it can be destroyed and made into a new plastic bottle or widget)
  • The brand name (because water needs a brand?)

A gallon of water is 128 liquid ounces, so roughly six and a half bottles. If you pay even a single dollar for that bottle of water you are paying $6.50 per gallon of water … How much is gas these days?

And that’s a cheap bottle of water! Most people are probably paying double what they would for milk or gas for something they can get FOR FREE!!!

Seriously, my brain hurts!

If you want to learn more about the true cost of bottled water, here is a great video by the Story of Stuff team

There are a number of great products out there that could be used to put free water in over and over and over again. If you’re worried about purity, you can buy a bottle with a filter that can be reused 300 times for under $10. Think of the savings!

Other ways to reduce and reuse

There are so many other ways to reuse and reduce.

  • Buy and sell used items that are still usable on sites like eBay, Mercari, OfferUp or Facebook Marketplace.
  • Get crafty. Go to Pinterest or Instagram and find some of the amazing lifehacks that will help you reuse and upcycle things you already have.
  • Use what you have. Instead of buying some specialized tool or product, see what you have around the house already, and use it!

What are your Earth and money saving tips? Post below, I can’t wait to see all the ideas!

12 Replies to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – In that order!”

  1. I completely agree with you that marketing campaigns focus much more on the recycling part of the process and, as a result, so do most people. I’m definitely not exempt from this, and I always feel like I’m doing my part simply by recycling, but that really is just treating the symptoms not the source of the problem. It’s a tough movement to push back against as, like you said, this goes against what companies want us to do as consumers. But it’s definitely necessary. K-Cups are what make my brain hurt. They cost so much and apparently aren’t recyclable as a complete pod, so my money/Earth-saving tip is to make coffee with the reusable pods. Thanks for the article!

    1. I like that tip! I have found a couple brands of k-cups that you can recycle if you empty them, but it is a lot of work. And reusing is better than recycling anyway!

  2. lol I like your rant on water. And I agree. lol What’s so bad about using the water fountain at work? Also, I do already practice the “reduce” part as well. Gotta work on recycling though. Cheers.

  3. This is great advice for our planet. I have used filtered water pitchers for years. All the talk about leaving water bottles in hot cars and then drinking the chemicals from the plastic scared me! The pitcher filters last a long time so I feel I’m saving money in the long run. Thanks for this!

  4. Greetings,

    Oh boy…I’m definitely guilty of buying too much….and I don’t even have a husband or children to blame! But I have made some changes:

    I leave a small cloth or recycled tote bag in my most-used handbags, so when I just need to pick up a few items, I tell them not to bag it….I have my own!

    I would often buy many plastic bottles of water. Well, I found some bottles in pretty colors that are BPA free, so now I can reuse them as often as I want….guilt free!

    And I’m making efforts to change my buying of food. I tend to stay away from those 3-5 pound bags of fruits and vegetables, and just buy them loose.

    I’m a long way from where I need to be, but I’m enjoying the process!

    1. Oh, yes, very good idea not to buy fruit in bulk. I have also thrown out plenty of produce because it went bad before I ate it all.
      And I love your idea to keep a reusable shopping bag in your frequently used purse/bag! That was one of the hardest things to remember when I first started using reusable bags! It’s all those little habits adding up to bigger changes.

      Way to go!!

  5. Great post with great ideas. I do recycle, however, I am guilty of not reducing my buying or re-using maybe as much as I could. Reading your post has definitely caused me to stop and think about this though. I will try to do better. Thanks for sharing this info.

  6. Totally agree. I only buy water bottle when my supply is out (mobile). I used those Flask containers (different sizes) and fill them up with my water purifier machine at home. I have a machine because I dislike the taste of chlorine in my water. My parents taught me to recycle when I was young and still do it. My dad is still recycling, well he does get money for it. He says he use it for his gas money.

    1. I got the filtered bottles (Bobble brand) because the water in the city I used to live in tasted terrible! Using a purifier at home works too though!

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