As kids we learned about the three Rs, especially around Earth Day – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The lesson was about doing our part, but also about creating habits that center on caring for the Earth and the future of our environment.
We who live in Evanston tend to recycle. The City provides an easy recycling program, so every week we dutifully separate our items and put them in the blue bins. We feel good about doing our part to help the environment and our community. And while we could do more to recycle – especially in our schools, in commercial buildings and on construction sites – what we are doing helps.
But what about the other two Rs – Reduce and Reuse?
The truth of the matter is that recycling is not enough. Climate change is damaging our world. We should not have 60-degree weather in the Midwest in February. And waste, in particular, is a huge problem. In the last 50 years, humans have consumed more resources than in all of previous history. Companies build products to be quickly consumed and disposed of instead of building things that last and leave a much smaller mark on our environment. Developers want to build new buildings and houses instead of restoring and caring for older ones. This requires natural resources that have to be mined, shipped, shaped and hauled into place with heavy machinery. This takes a tremendous amount of carbon-intensive energy, and many of these materials are not renewable and will eventually run out.
Luckily, we as a community have the ideas, tools and strategies to slow this tide. But we must do everything we can to curb climate change.
The best thing we can do for our environment is to reduce our trash – or rather, what we think of as “trash,” because much of what we throw away can have a second, third or even fourth life. “Trash” is a word for something we do not want anymore, not necessarily something that is no longer useful. There is something we can do that, if enough people join us, will have a pretty significant impact: take a minute to think about the impact our trash has on the environment. How might we reduce what we throw out? How do we store food? Is something really garbage, or can it be reused at least a few more times? Can it be donated to a reuse center? A food pantry? We must challenge ourselves to make fewer trips to the curb each week.
The next best thing to reducing trash is reusing things. Pinterest is a treasure trove of ideas for giving things new life by repurposing them. YouTube is full of videos that show how to repair items instead of throwing them away. Another idea is to visit a local repair clinic – one is starting soon in Evanston – or get friendly with the local shoe repair expert. By tapping into our creative side, we can find different uses for those old wood windows or soda can, or do projects with our kids, such as turning old tiles into coasters. And, of course, people can visit the Evanston ReBuilding Warehouse to look for reclaimed building materials for home improvement or art projects. Reuse projects usually rely on human energy, not carbon-intensive energy, and that makes a big difference.
Every little thing helps. Seven years ago, the Evanston ReBuilding Warehouse started as an all-volunteer non-profit organization. Every year since then, our impact has grown. In 2017, we successfully rescued 4.4 million pounds of material through our deconstruction services, and our warehouse sold 254,000 pounds of reclaimed materials that might otherwise have ended up in the landfill. That is a lot of material that has been recycled and reused by our neighbors, and a lot of material that did not have to be trucked to landfills, crushed using heavy machinery or replaced with new materials that take energy and resources to create.
Together, we can make a real impact by adopting habits to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle every day. We need to start small, set goals and ask ourselves whether there is a better option than buying new. The Earth will thank us.
Aina Gutierrez is Executive Director and Mark Igleski is Board Chairman of Evanston ReBuilding Warehouse