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Ian Lifshitz


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and the Fourth R

Posted: 05/07/2013 5:32 pm

Many of us grew up in a time when we finished with a piece of paper, crumpled it up and tossed it into a waste paper basket.

Then recycling bins came along. And with it a message of reduce, reuse and recycle.

Some time over the 1980s they started appearing; blue boxes distributed at homes, offices and schools. We can recall separating our recycling from our household garbage, being in our class room or office and learning to adapt and change our ways -- no longer did that discarded paper go into the waste basket. It went into the blue box.

That square, deep blue bin signalled we were doing our bit for the environment. No longer would our old papers, unneeded reports, scrap sheets make their way to the landfill -- no, they would be recycled and with that we would herald a new era of earth friendliness and reduce the number of trees cut down each year to feed our paper consumption because we'd have recycled paper.

Flash forward to 2013. It's time to revisit the three Rs and add a fourth -- renewable.

The fact is that despite living in a digital era, we are anything but a paperless society, in fact even with the proliferation of digital data and the inclusion of recycling efforts, global paper demand for paper has continued to rise.

We'd like to think that once we put that paper in the blue box that we're making a difference. We are.

But some key facts to keep in mind are:

  • Paper can be only be recycled to a maximum of seven times -- after that, it becomes waste.

  • The amount of recycled content we get from consumer paper waste is dependent upon the efficiency of each mill. For example, recycling mills, particularly in North America have to upgrade for efficiency and sustainability if they're to pull out more reusable fibre.

So what can we do? By adding the fourth R -- renewable -- we can help strengthen our environmental commitment while still meeting the growing paper demand.

This is where Rapidly Renewable Fibre (RRF) comes in. RRF is made with environmentally friendly trees from plantations. They are optimized to save energy while protecting old-growth forests. And when it comes to sustainability efforts, there's room for both recycled material and RRF.

Together, RRF and recycling can provide a long-term, sustainable solution because the advent of sustainable tree plantations is transforming the paper industry.

Tree plantations in regions like Southeast Asia produce RRF because the region's tropical climate along the earth's equatorial band is optimal for accelerated growth and shortened maturity cycles for trees. For example, acacia and eucalyptus trees in Southeast Asia can be grown and harvested (much like crops such as corn and wheat) in about six years, rather than the nearly 60 years it can take to harvest a tree in northern climates.

RRF saves energy, and because they are a renewable source for fibre, old-growth trees can be protected, even amid the rising global demand for paper products.

As a sustainable, footprint-minimizing commodity, together recycled material and RRF offer a winning combination.

Ian Lifshitz is North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations at Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP), the third largest pulp & paper company in the world. To learn more about APP's community initiatives, sustainability efforts and to take part in conversations about the rainforest, visit Rainforest Realities.

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  • 1. Reduce

    The less stuff you buy, the less stuff you have to throw out -- it's as simple as that.

  • 2. Reuse

    Upcycle the things you would have normally thrown out. Glass jars, tin cans, and even old clothes can be given new life using these upcycled craft ideas.

  • 3. Recycle

    If you don't already participate in your city's blue, black, and green bin programs, check out your city's website to find out how to get started.

  • 4. Make Litter-Less Lunches

    Instead of packing lunches and snacks in plastic bags, plastic wrap, and foil, purchase products that will make eating on the go litter-less.

  • 5. Use Cloth Diapers

    Consider cloth diapers for your little one. Cloth diapers do have an upfront cost, but they will pay themselves off many times over.

  • 6. Use Reusable Bags

    The hardest thing about using reusable bags is remembering to bring them with you!

  • 7. Buy Smarter Light Bulbs

    Switch out your regular light bulbs for compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. On average, CFLs use 80 per cent less energy than regular incandescent bulbs. When you are ready to dispose of them, be sure to do it properly.

  • 8. Use Non-Toxic Cleaners

    Switch out your toxic household cleaners to those that are safer.

  • 9. Buy Better Body Care Products

    Switch your body care products -- lotions, shampoo, conditioner, makeup -- to safer natural and organic products. Not sure about ingredients or even where to start? Shop at a store that has done the research for you up front and don't be afraid to ask questions.

  • 10. Use Less Plastic

    Purchase products that are plastic-free and have minimal packaging.

  • 11. Focus on Experiences VS. Things

    Going forward, focus on providing memorable experiences for your children rather than buying them unmemorable things.

  • 12. Go meatless

    Going meatless once a week is great, a few times a week, even better! A few of my favourite vegetarian and vegan food blogs are Oh She Glows, Manifest Vegan, and Veggie Belly.

  • 13. Conserve water

    Turning the water off when you brush your teeth, and doing only full loads of laundry, are just two ways to cut down on water consumption. Here are 98 more.

  • 14. Do your laundry in cold water

    It's a myth that hot water cleans clothes better. It's not a myth that hot water uses unnecessary energy. Going forward, use cold water, and the only difference you will notice is in your energy bill.

  • 15. Compost:

    This one may be a bit intimidating, but it's simpler than you may think. The results will provide you with rich dirt for your garden.

  • 16. Garden

    If you have the space, plant a vegetable garden this spring. It's a great project to do with the kids, and in the end, the garden will produce healthy fruits and vegetables for your family to enjoy. Don't have the space for a garden? Try an indoor herb garden.

  • 17. Teach your kids about the environment

    When we teach our kids about the importance of taking care of our earth, the actions and the knowledge will be carried with them all their lives. Use age-appropriate projects and crafts to make it interactive, interesting, and fun.

  • 18. Use a DivaCup:

    Ladies, I know. It's intimidating and a little scary, but once you start using the DivaCup each month, you'll wonder why it took you so long. Seriously.

  • 19. Choose online billing

    Opt out of your paper bills and subscribe to e-billing.

  • 20. Buy local

    Support your local economy and your local small business owners -- both online and brick and mortar. Shopping close to home vs. shopping at a big box store that brings their products in from overseas makes a difference when fuel, energy, and time are considered.

  • 21. Buy a stainless steel water bottle:

    Invest in a sturdy, good looking, stainless steel bottle, and ditch the plastic bottles for good.

  • 22. Unplug chargers and small appliances

    Did you know that most of your chargers, electronics, and appliances still use energy even though they are not being used? Unplug anything that is not in use to avoid "leaking electricity."

  • 23. Meal plan

    Making a meal plan each week usually leads to healthier choices and less mid-week gas guzzling runs to the store to pick up forgotten items.

  • 24. Dispose of your electronics properly

    You can find e-waste bins at most electronic retailers. Also, check with your city to see if they hold e-waste drop-off days.

  • 25. Opt out of junk mail

    By law, Canada Post must deliver all mail addressed to you, but to cut down on the unaddressed junk mail, simply place a sign on your mailbox that says "no junk mail." If you receive your mail in a community mailbox, secure a no junk mail note in your box, so the mail person can see it each time. See the Canada Post website for more info.