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The Four R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot

Everything we use or consume takes energy to gather raw materials, produce, and transport, which creates associated greenhouse gas emissions at each stage. Therefore, an important part of protecting the climate is practicing the four R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (Compost). These four R’s represent a hierarchy. It is important first to reduce what we use in the first place, next to reuse things, then to recycle, and lastly to compost if appropriate.

Alameda Post - a reusable water bottle, jars that have been up-cycled, recyclable cans, and compost scraps
Reduce the need for single-use plastic water bottles with a personal water bottle, find creative ways to reuse leftover jars, recycle responsibly, and let scraps rot (compost) when and where it’s appropriate!

It’s best to start at the beginning of the hierarchy wherever possible. For example, it is great to recycle one’s junk mail, but even better to reduce the junk mail one receives in the first place by contacting businesses to be removed from their mailing list. It is good to recycle plastic water bottles, but it’s even better to not purchase bottled water and instead to fill a reusable water bottle with tap water. Other examples include reusing cloth napkins instead of composting used paper napkins, reusing dishcloths and mops instead of paper towels and other disposable cleaning items, buying and selling or donating used items instead of buying new, repairing items instead of replacing them, reusing a coffee travel mug instead of using disposable paper cups, shopping with cloth bags instead of using disposable bags, and switching to paperless billing instead of recycling old paper bills.

When it comes to food consumption, it is best to buy locally grown, in-season fruits and vegetables to avoid transportation emissions. Avoiding food waste is also important. Roughly 40% of food is wasted in the United States. Buy what only you need and use leftover vegetables to create soups or stir-fries. See more tips on the Stop Food Waste website.



How is Alameda doing at reducing waste with our curbside recycling and composting pickup? According to the City’s Zero Waste web page, we are diverting 81% of our waste. Not too bad but we could do better.

One important tip when recycling is to rinse out jars and cans before recycling them in order to avoid cross-contamination of paper products. The green bin not only takes food and yard waste but also takes food-soiled paper products like pizza boxes, paper takeout containers, and waxed paper. It is critical to keep all of these compostable items out of the gray bin as when they decompose in a landfill they create methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas. For more information on what goes in which bin check out Alameda County Industry’s website.

Joyce Mercado is a member of Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda (CASA). She can be reached at [email protected].

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