Whatever happened to the 3 Rs?

When I was a child, the new 3 Rs were introduced to us in school: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Since then we haven't stopped hearing about recycling. The other two, however -- arguably the more effective of the strategies -- have been much more muted. Recycling has caught on while the others haven't because the only change to lifestyle or mindset necessary is spending an extra few seconds thinking about which garbage can to put waste into. We can keep getting new things, keep using stuff, but with less guilt now, because we can recycle them!

Reducing has gained a bit of attention through new technologies which make it fun by necessitating the purchase of new things. Far more fun that simply acquiring less, we reduce by buying new high-efficiency lightbulbs, toilets, windows, washing machines, cars, the list goes on.

I'm not arguing that these things have no value, because they certainly are a step in the right direction. But they fail to achieve the shift in thinking and acting that will really be necessary to prevent us from utterly destroying God's beautiful creation.

Reusing has been a well-known strategy among the frugal for years, and it remains mostly with them. Mennonites have been facilitating this mode through thrift stores for years. More recently, Value Village got in on the idea, and consignment stores/second hand boutiques are beginning to pop up, so at least in the field of clothing, some are starting to get the picture. But we've got a long way to go.

Technology is one area where this problem is noticeable. On the one hand, technology has been used to create a lot of green technology, like all the high efficiency appliances. But on the other hand, technology also produces a lot of waste, much of it toxic. Computers and their accessories are a great example. Within a year or two, your brand new machine is outdated to obsolete and is more cheaply replaced than repaired. Technological innovations are now cheap enough to be accessible to the common man -- isn't it time for the brilliant minds to turn their efforts to innovations to facilitate economical repair and reuse of machines? After all, the average person isn't even aware of, much less have the capacity to use all the specialized features included in our computers, printers, phones, and iPods. Nevertheless, we keep updating our toys with the newest model, without a thought to what kind of effect our technological waste may be having on the environment.

So with all the buzz about "green" these days, let's remember our three Rs -- and not neglect to practice all of them.


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