The Challenges and Opportunities of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’

‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ and Home Safety

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” was a phrase that I learned more than 60 years ago. OK, so that dates me. Actually, I like to reference myself as being a child of the ‘60s, who has lived through two decades of ‘60s’ – the 1960s and the decade of my 60s.

Plastic

Plastic had hardly been invented back in ’60s. Toys were about the only thing made of plastic that I can recall in my early years. We didn’t have plastic bottles; we had glass bottles. But we did have newspapers, and for yesterday’s newspapers, lighting fires in the winter months and wrapping up fish & chips were the two main uses for them that I recall.  So, even back then in the ‘60s and even earlier, we were reusing and recycling. For example, the glass bottles that our milk was delivered in had a message on them, ‘printed’ in raised lettering: ‘Rinse and Return’. Our family would rinse out the milk bottles and put them on the front doorstep for the milkman who delivered our milk to collect.

That was reusing although if I recall correctly, it may have been called recycling as the old bottles were cycled through an intense washing process by the dairy and refilled, thus being both recycled and reused, but not being recycled by being crushed or melted down.

Recycling

Today recycling means throwing items away, discarding them but in a managed way – separated out to be crushed, crumbled, melted, or otherwise processed so that the raw materials can be salvaged and reused. In some communities, dirty water – known as gray water – is recovered and recycled, and used for watering golf courses and municipal property grounds.

From a health safety perspective, good arguments could be made in favor of both, but those who prefer the environmentally friendly approach will probably acknowledge that utensils and cutlery not washed properly could present a health hazard, not to mention the potential for serious cuts from sharp knives being washed by hand or from shards of glass from broken drinking glasses.

The temptation to wash, save and reutilize both plastic bottles and glass ones has been with us for as long as these reusable containers have been around. From an environmental friendliness perspective of reducing waste, it’s a great idea, and it can help minimize the volume of these items that get thrown away.

Glass can be usefully recycled and so can many plastics, but it’s not always economically viable to do so and as a result, a large percentage of the plastic items set out for recycling don’t actually get recycled. But back on the issue of Safety In The Home, it’s what gets put into these containers that can represent a hazard. Putting and corrosive product, such as bleach, into what was a food or drinks container is just an accident waiting to happen if the container is not labelled clearly and appropriately and if that container is not stored safely. Under the sink, unless it is a child-proof, locked cupboard, is not considered a safe place in any home with small children.

Reuse

Items like used batteries that can leak electrolyte, which is acidic and potentially lethal, should, of course, be recycled, but care about where they are stored prior to being disposed of is a concern. AA and AAA batteries are small enough for small children to put into their mouths and any amount of electrolyte is liable to cause a serious burn.

Storing Reusable, Recyclable Items

Being over-zealous about not throwing used items away can lead to a problem can be an issue for any family or any individual living alone. Plastic and glass containers – bottles, jam jars, yoghurt pots and the like, also cardboard boxes, and paper and plastic bags – might look like they would be useful sometime for some purpose, and keeping some makes good sense. But they take up storage space, and if not managed sensibly overflow available cupboard, drawer and closet space. Unfortunately, this is all too often true of elderly people, but is in no way limited to the elderly.

When cupboards, drawers and closet space become filled and overflowing, newspapers and magazines that were perhaps set aside and saved with good intentions of being recycled, pile up. They are stacked in any available corner or along halls and corridors, and even on the stairs.

A paramedic responding from the Fire Department because of a medical emergency 9-1-1 call (9-9-9 in the UK and some other countries) will be horrified to see this, and they do, all too frequently. At least they have been given an opportunity to share some advice about the hazards that might be presented – piles falling over if there is an earthquake, people tripping over items that protrude from the piles of stacked magazines; catching one’s clothing on just a corner of a magazine in a stack can cause a small avalanche that can knock an older person off balance. Not to forget that newspapers and magazines are fuel for a fire should one somehow get started.

Like all things, there usually pros and cons, and the extreme of always discarding everything and setting aside and saving nothing that is labeled ‘disposable’ is really no better not no worse that the other extreme of trying save and reuse everything.

Landfills & Incinerators

The key is balance and the reason why recycling programs exist is to enable balance and reduce the amount of trash material that is sent to landfills and incinerators. At least incinerators significantly reduce the amount of waste that gets buried, but its positives are partially offset by the air pollution that is generated by the incineration process.  For homes that even begin to fit the category of ‘packrat’ or ‘hoarder’ homes, a once-a-year cleanout, springtime or anytime, is a good thing to put on the calendar and then to keep only what is justifiable and dispose of as much as is possible in the most eco-friendly way.

How did this discussion move from the home – safety in the home – move into a discussion about landfills and pollution to the air caused by incineration? Yes, there is a safety tie-in. In addition to all of the items referenced that pile up in homes and end up in landfills, there are kitchen appliances and irresponsibly disposed of refrigerators are an example of accidents waiting to happen. What I am referencing is a discarded refrigerator, whether it be in a landfill or in a backyard can seem like something attractive to play in. Yes, I said, “play in“. Here is a link to information regarding the dangers of discarded refrigerators which looks at the issue from a legal perspective, a complementary contrast to my view from a safety perspective. < https://www.losangelescriminallawyer.pro/california-penal-code-section-402b-pc-abandoning-a-refrigerator.html >

For additional, related information visit our post on Common Accidents In The Home.

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