Earth Month

Earth Month

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

4/16/2024 | Angela Whitlock, CSRA

At Champaign County Forest Preserves, we prioritize the preservation of our natural world. Three great ways you can live more sustainably while also eliminating waste and protecting the environment are by reducing, reusing, and recycling.  

What exactly is waste? Waste is considered anything that we throw away or get rid of, that doesn’t get used. By learning about and practicing the three R’s of waste management, you can contribute to the environment’s overall health.  


Below is breakdown of what each R means: 

  • Reduce – decreasing the amount of waste you produce. 
  • Reuse – lengthening the life cycle of an item by using it multiple times before replacing. 
  • Recycle – taking items that can be recycled to a center or putting them out for pickup so that the materials can be broken down and remade into different items.  


A good way of thinking about the three R’s is to remember that they are listed in order of what you should do: 

  • First, Reduce the amount of waste produced.  
  • Then, Reuse what items you can for as long are you able to reuse them. Reducing and reusing often go hand in hand. By choosing reusable products over single-use, disposable ones, you can also reduce the amount of waste you produce. 
  • Last, Recycle what you cannot reuse. While recycling often gets the most attention, it should actually be considered a last resort.  


Sometimes, there are two more R’s that are added to these three basic ones. They are Rethink and Recover, making the more extended list appear as: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover, in order of importance.  

Here is a little more about what they mean: 

  • Rethink – consistently thinking and rethinking about the ways that our actions impact the environment.  
  • Recover – putting waste products to use, such as decomposing garbage producing methane gas that can be recovered and burnt to produce energy.  


You may be wondering how exactly to go about putting these ideals into everyday practice. Below are some suggestions for each R:  


  • Being mindful about how your choices and actions impact the environment.  
  • Staying knowledgeable and current about information and studies on different materials.  
  • Setting small goals or tasks that can be integrated slowly. Do not overwhelm or overload yourself.  


  • Only buy what you need. 
  • Choose products with less packaging and prioritize brands (whenever possible) with biodegradable packaging and packaging that can be more easily recycled (steel, aluminum, paper, cardboard, and glass are all easier to recycle than plastic). 
  • Buy in bulk. 
  • Look for items that you can reuse.  


  • Refill water bottles with tap water instead of buying disposable plastic water bottles.  
  • Update/refurbish tech devices rather than buying new ones. 
  • Choose reusable bags over single-use, plastic bags.   
  • Choose other reusable items over single-use items. Items such as Ziplock bags, paper towels, and napkins, all have reusable counterparts. While they are an investment up front, using them is cheaper and creates much less waste in the long run.  


  • Properly clean and sort all items intended for recycling.  
  • Know which plastics can and cannot be recycled, and how to recycle different kinds. Refer to the Resin Identification Code on the plastic container and learn more about what these codes mean here.   

Recycling receives a great deal more attention than reducing and reusing. However, the reality is that recycling is simply not enough. Since the theme of Earth Month for 2024 is Planet vs. Plastics, it is worth emphasizing the importance of reducing and reusing before recycling, as plastics are a common material found in recycling bins. However, less than 10% of plastics are actually recycled. Many are discarded from recycling bins for several reasons: left over film, not the right plastic, or the item has been previously recycled too many times. That is why it is important to follow the steps for recycling given above.  

To add to this, plastic waste treatment facilities (collecting, sorting, processing, recycling, incarnation facilities, and landfill sites) are frequently located in communities of color and exacerbate negative health outcomes. This implies that overemphasis on recycling is also an issue of marginalization.  

Even more, some plastic containers release chemicals into the things they are holding, such as food and drinks. Early studies about the health effects of chemicals from plastics show that they may affect the brain, endocrine system, immune system, reproductive system, and can cause behavioral problems. This happens most often if the food or drinks are heated in plastic containers or left out in the sun.  

A great way to honor the theme Planet vs. Plastics is to begin rethinking the ways you can reduce plastic waste. For more information on the dangers of plastics and ways to get involved, look at this page from the official Earth Day Website.  


  • Compost, which can be done on a small or large scale. For tips and steps on how to compost, check out this resource.  
  • Collect drain and rainwater to water plants. Make sure to check your local and state laws regarding this, as some states limit rainwater harvesting and permits may be required.  
  • Recovering as much waste as possible to generate power is something that is typically done within manufacturing operations of large businesses and energy recovery facilities. Looking into some of the corporations that you purchase your goods from, and choosing ones that promote this practice whenever possible, is a good way to contribute to Recover.   


For more resources on how to implement the 5 R’s into your daily activities, check out these suggestions from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.  


Sources:, Plastication Centre (online), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (online),,, Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 

Image credit: Unsplash