It was about 15 years ago that the three "R" campaign really started. The three R's being Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. While the three circular arrows are still quite common, you don't hear mention to the three R's so much any more.
Looking closer at these, I think as a whole we've become relatively good at two of the three R's.
- Recycle. Technology for recycling and participation in recycling programs is quite impressive. At one point not long ago people couldn't imagine separating their household waste, now blue boxes are all over and some are lost for a moment if they are some place without one. Recycling has become a major industry and waste diversion initiatives generally work.
- Reuse. Maybe not as successful (or as measurable) but people are much more aware of the need to reuse products before sending them off to the garbage or recycle. This is very apparent with children who don't like to waste anything and reuse it for something new. Hopefully this generation will help us turn the corner.
The lost 'R' is Reduce. While the others have achieved modest success, our society refuses to reduce. We live in a consumer society and purchasing and consuming is the furthest from the 'Reduce' mentality.
Why have we lost this R? I think in part because of the scale that the mega-marts of the world (don't want to mention any names) are able to achieve. Things are built cheaply and sold cheaply, making the short term perception much more desirable than the long term view. The expectation that people have is that things should be cheap.
The two items that really get me are bottled water and backyard canopies. A lot has been written up on bottled water so I won't dwell on that one. As for backyard canopies, you know these. They are cheap at every major chain, last about a season then end up in the garbage in the spring, only to have a brand new one in the yard a week later.
The wake-up call that I'm trying to make is that before you jump on that great deal, think twice about what you are really getting. Typically if you spend just a little bit more, you can get something that is much better quality. In the long run I would argue that it is cheaper - and helps contribute to the lost R.
Look around your house, surely you can find a dozen examples. If that's not convincing enough, when you do your spring or fall cleaning, take note of what you are getting rid of.
The Reduce mentality is of course much much more than this. I'm just sick of cheaply built and sold products.