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1. Reduce 2. Reuse 3. Recycle (In That Order)

"Three, it's a magic number," sings Jack Johnson in a song called "The 3 R's." It's from the soundtrack of the 2006 Curious George movie, which my daughter loves. First called "Ooo Ah Ah," she now affectionately refers to him as "Georgie." The song is my favorite from the album because it teaches kids about the phrase "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle."

“If you’re going to the market to buy some juice / You’ve got to bring your own bags and learn to reduce your waste / Gotta learn to reduce

And if your brother or your sister’s got some cool clothes / You could try them on before you buy some more of those / Reuse / We gotta learn to reuse"

But the song actually has an important message past simply encouraging kids to do the “3 R’s.” It also hints at the fact that the three words are in a certain order on purpose; it is a hierarchy.

“And if the first two R’s don’t work out / And you’ve got to make some trash / Don’t throw it out / Recycle.”

We often jump right to the last R: recycling. I do it too. It feels good to recycle! And it's pretty easy to do. But what we really need to be doing is focusing on the first two Rs. Can we avoid using a disposable product in the first place? Can we reuse something first? While it feels good, knowing it’s not going to the landfill, it actually takes a lot of energy to recycle all that stuff. Plus, recycling is a business, and if there’s not a market for the material, it’s possible it could eventually end up in the landfill anyway. China has recently said they will no longer take much of the recyclingthat the US and other countries have been previously sending their way for processing. I talked with Steven Gimpel with Waste Management Northwest who said the material that’s recycled in the Wenatchee Valley currently goes to Spokane for sorting and then moves on to domestic markets. But that could easily change if there’s no longer a demand for those materials. If Waste Management can't make money selling a certain material to a recycler, they'll be forced to stop accepting it through curbside recycling and drop-off centers.

Soda stream, reusable food pouch, un-paper towels, cloth napkins, silicone sandwich baggie, silicone baking sheet
Some of my favorite reusable products, clockwise, from the top: un-paper towels, SodaStream > LaCroix, reusable food pouches for babies & toddlers, silicone Stasher Bags replace Ziplocks, a silicone baking sheet liner replaces tin foil, and cloth napkins.

So before we pat ourselves on the back for recycling, maybe we should think about how to take a couple of steps back, and look at all of our options. It can be a hard thing to do when using disposable products is so convenient, and such a big part of our culture. As passionate as I am about sustainability, I never judge where other people are at; it's a journey for all of us.

{A version of this blog post can also be found on }

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