Conservation Corner - March 26

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Promoting Energy Awareness, Conservation and Sustainability

By The Staff

The second step, before you Recycle, is Reuse Reuse, the second arrow in conservation’s triangle logo Reduce – Reuse – Recycle, means to give our “stuff” a second (third, fourth…) life. 

(In contrast, Recycle as used in the logo means to break down discarded items into component raw materials from which new items can be manufactured.)

“Reuse” can be conventional reuse (using an item multiple times for the same purpose) or new-life reuse (using the item as-is for a new function). Your punctured automobile tire can be repaired and put back on your car, or you may choose to economize in the first place by buying “new” retread tires (both, conventional reuse). Or you can hang an intact but discarded automobile tire from your tree to make a swing (new-life reuse). Shredded tires (rubber road kill) can be further shredded to provide playground ground cover.

We know that the “primitive” civilization which preceded ours here on these islands adapted sea shells for use as tools – no Marina Hardware in those days! Today in “underdeveloped” economies, the useful life of hard-to-obtain manufactured products is extended in ingenious ways. (Look to Cuba and the extended life of 1950s cars.)

In our “developed” economy, a positive result of the current economic downtown is growing attention to reuse. On an individual and family level, the challenge is to buy only what we need and to avoid, when we can, one-time-only packaging. Back to Marina Hardware: we have the option there of choosing only the number of nails we need from the hardware store drawer, rather than picking up a little molded plastic (unreusable) container of someone else’s count and selection of nails. It’s not easy. Over the decades, manufacturers have found economies of scale and met consumer (our!) demand by devising ever more efficient ways to package and ship products. Milk is packed and transported more safely and easily in straight-sided waxed cardboard containers than in the reusable glass milk bottles of yesteryear. Then, by producing single-serving waxed cardboard juice cartons, manufacturers helped us simplify late-night/early-morning lunch box preparation. Here’s an alternative (cost-cutting, too): Buy your drinks and snacks in bulk, and stock up on a few leak-proof, one-serving, reuseable containers. (Wash, rinse, and dry well between uses.)

Which raises the question: is it safe to refill and reuse plastic water bottles? While some sources continue to claim such reuse is a health hazard (about.com), others (Snopes.com and Wikipedia – and, whoops, www.plasticsinfo.org!) -- insist those stories are mere “urban legends.” Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, you can Google “reuse” for more tips. One good source is www.reycleworks.org/reuse_center.html.