April 22, 2018
Remember the Three R’s: Recycle, reduce, and reuse.
This is going to be a photo finish, but it’s still Earth Day where I am. And because it’s Earth Day, I wanted to look at a phrase that’s connected to the occasion.
Many of us may have fist heard the Three R’s (recycle, reduce, reuse) as kids. If you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s, it’s likely you’ve heard the phrase because there were occasional or seasonal readings and teachings about the environment in at least one of your classes.
That said, I wonder when the phrase “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse” was first used. I remember when I was first aware of it (in the 1990s), but is it older than I think?
From my brief research, environmental concerns (and activities like recycling) existed long before the flurry of environmental legislation in the United States during the 1970s, but that era is interesting to look at anyway.
But first, let’s look at the meaning of the phrase.
How Does One Recycle, Reduce, and Reuse?
This is fairly explanatory, especially when we’re talking about the first and last R.
Many people recycle, by which they take items that could be cleaned and reconstituted so it could be used again. One example is an aluminum can, which we can take to cycling centers in order for that metal to be cleaned, melted down and used for other cans or purposes.
We reuse a lot of things, like clothes; instead of throwing those away, we wash them and wear them again.
We can reduce (the amount of energy we use or our carbon footprints, or the amount of waste we produce) by choosing solutions that require less electricity and be reusing some items. For example, we can choose to purchase reusable cutlery, like silverware, instead of disposable plastic cutlery.
I’m a big fan of recycling and reusing, but I find it hard to reduce in some areas.
How Did the Three R’s Come About?
In a post for Recycle Nation, Rachelle Gordon talked about the history of the Three R’s. While she didn’t really pinpoint the first use of the phrase, she basically said that it arose during the 1970’s, as the first Earth Day was celebrated, the United States created the Environmental Protection Agency, and Congress passed laws regarding the environment.
What Was the Inspiration for Earth Day?
In 1969, the city of Santa Barbara, CA was rocked by a devastating spill from Platform A. The Platform was run by Union Oil (which later became UNOCAL and eventually merged with Chevron) and the company received permits to operate beyond the state’s 3-mile controlled border. The oil spill occurred on January 28, 1969, but the leaks from the buildup that caused the spill (and another buildup that cause more leakage) weren’t sealed until March of that year (Maloney).
One U.S. Senator, Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, was deeply troubled by that spill. He has already established a reputation in the 1950s as the “Conservation Governor” for his efforts to restore state parks and establish green jobs (“Meet”). Months after the Santa Barbara oil spill, Nelson began to push for a national movement to increase environmental awareness across the country. Inspired by the teach-ins held by Vietnam War veterans, he called for a “national teach-in on the environment.”
How Did Earth Day Come to Be?
Nelson struggled to get much attention for environmental concerns from his peers in Congress, but he eventually recruited Rep. Pete McCloskey (a very liberal Republican from California) to serve as his co-chair for his board. Nelson plucked Denis Hayes from Harvard to serve as the national director. Hayes built a staff of 85 people for the initiative and that’s how Earth Day came about. April 22 was chosen because it fell between Spring Break and final exams for most college students.
On the first Earth Day —April 22, 1970 — 20 million people across the United States participated by taking to the streets, auditoriums, and parks. Their action in part led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of numerous environmental laws like as the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts (“The History”). The Resource Recovery Act was passed as well (Gordon).
Why Should Earth Day Celebrations Be Confined to One Day?
The truth is it shouldn’t. We should do every little bit we can to promote good habits in younger people and to take care of our planet.
As I’ve said before, the environment is not “my” issue, but it’s one that concerns me because it is the most important one. Without a hospitable planet, nothing else matters because it will not be able to sustain life.
Honestly, more of the onus should be on governments and large corporations because they pollute more, but there are things individuals can do to help the planet. One thing we should do is put pressure on governments to do more. One solution is the creation of green jobs and the use of green technologies to supply our energy. Basically, we need to move the conversation to the point where there is little incentive for companies to avoid using green technologies.
This is something we can do and we need the numbers. According to a 2014 study from the University of Maryland, only 1 billion people (out of a total world population of 7 billion) people observe Earth Day. Imagine what we could do if half of the world got involved?
Think about it.
Until then, I would like to talk more about environmentalism in the future. In particular, I am interested about the history of recycling, clean water initiatives, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. I know it’s being run by a Fox in the Henhouse right now, but that’s an interesting research project.
Gordon, Rachelle. “The History of the Three R’s.” Recycle Nation. 11 May 2015. Web. Retrieved 21 Apr 2018. <https://recyclenation.com/2015/05/history-of-three-r-s/>.
“The History of Earth Day.” Earth Day Network. Web. Retrieved 22 Apr 2018. <http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement>.
“Meet Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day.” Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Web. Retrieved 22 Apr 2018. <http://nelsonearthday.net/nelson/index.php>.
Moloney, Chris. “Santa Barbara Oil Spill, The (1969).” Green Criminology. 22 Apr 2013. Weblog. Retrieved 22 Apr 2018. <http://greencriminology.org/glossary/the-santa-barbara-oil-spill-1969/>.