One way individuals and organizations can help cut down on overconsumption is through recycling. (Courtesy photo)
Recycling for the future
By Eulalie Ruelle, USAG Benelux Environmental Division
CHIEVRES AIR BASE, Belgium – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: you may have heard these words since childhood, or at least over the last few years as public awareness of environmental issues has increased.
But have you ever stopped to think about the ways we can incorporate the principle of the “Three Rs” into our daily lives?
Over the last few years, the negative impacts our present way of life has on the planet have been well documented through awareness campaigns and in the media.
The extraction and processing of the materials, fuels and food needed for our day-to-day life is currently responsible for half of the total global greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the gas emissions from the production of plastics are expected to double in a few decades if nothing changes.
It has been estimated that if consumption continues at its current rate, given rising population levels, by 2050 three planets would be needed to sustainably support the needs of the Earth’s population.
One way to help tackle these issues is through recycling and the implementation of a circular economy. A circular economy is a model of production and consumption involving reusing, repairing, sharing, leasing, refurbishing and recycling existing products and materials for as long as possible.
The recycling rate has risen to 34% in the U.S. and 46% in the European Union, but it needs to continue to grow and improve.
For the U.S. Army, an executive order has set recycling targets at 50% for fiscal year 25 and 75% for fiscal year 30.
Here at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux, we are already exceeding those expectations. The garrison recycled 81.6% of its waste in fiscal year 22, and we intend to continue improving on this achievement in the future.
A graphic showing the proportions of disposed and recycled waste for U.S. Army Garrison Benelux from fiscal year 18 to fiscal year 22. (Courtesy of the USAG Benelux Environmental Division)
As individuals, there are a lot of simple things we can do every day to reduce our consumption of goods and generation of trash.
- The best place to start is to buy less stuff. Before purchasing something, ask yourself whether you really need the item, or if it will end up being used once or twice before sitting abandoned in a cupboard or thrown in the trash.
- Buy local and organic food to reduce consumption of fuel and pesticides.
- Buy in bulk to reduce overall packaging waste. One large bottle uses less plastic than two smaller ones. Some products, such as fruit and vegetables, can be purchased with no packaging at all.
- Another source of trash is our takeaway or on-the-go food. To avoid generating waste, try bringing your own reusable coffee cup, grocery bags, water bottle and metal or wooden cutlery rather than using disposable ones.
- There are a lot of steps you can try before throwing away an item. Put your imagination to good use-try to upcycle by repainting, altering, or repurposing old items.
- If you have a broken item, perhaps you could have it repaired or even fix it yourself. If you can reuse it and do not need to buy a new one, it will be better for the planet but also for your wallet.
- Where possible, shop at secondhand stores. This prevents items from ending up in the landfill and can also save you money. There is almost certainly a secondhand store on your installation or nearby where you can buy or donate items.
- If no other option is suitable, recycle your item.
- Make sure you sort your recyclables into the appropriate bins. Some materials or larger items may need to be taken to the recycling center.
- Throwing items in the trash should only be done as a last resort.
Recycling is not a one-day event-it’s important every day! But over the next two weeks, particularly on America Recycles Day on Nov. 15 and during the European Week for Waste Reduction from Nov. 19 to 27, be aware of your waste and try to improve one small thing every day.
- Discover more about America Recycles Day
- Discover more about European Week for Waste Reduction
- Learn more about the U.S. Army’s recycling initiatives