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Living Green Part II: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
There are plenty of ways your family can do its part to help the environment and preserve our natural resources. In this article, we'll review ways to practice the three R's—reduce, reuse and recycle—which can lower our impact on the environment.

Having a baby or young child can generate a great deal of trash. From diapers to juice boxes, advertisers constantly encourage us to buy disposable items. Although these items tempt us with their convenience, they also generate a lot of waste. Trash ends up in landfills, requires incineration and contributes to our carbon footprint. There are many ways to show that we care about mother Earth. Getting in the practice of reducing, reusing and recycling when our kids are young can model environmentally responsible behavior, instill good habits in our children and benefit the planet for years to come.

How to reduce your consumption:

Cut down on paper products.
Paper takes a lot of trees, energy, water and chemicals to produce. Preventing even one paper item from being made is as helpful for the environment as recycling many paper items. Use cloth napkins rather than paper. Choose reusable plates and cups rather than paper. Keep a stack of cheap washcloths near the sink and avoid paper towels.

Bag it.
Bring a reusable bag when you go shopping. The best ones for the environment are cloth. This cuts down on the need for paper or plastic bags.

Reduce junk mail.
Only subscribe to magazines and newspapers that you read, and check out http://www.junkbusters.com to lower unwanted solicitations.

Purchase fewer disposable products.
Disposable diapers are one way our children contribute to the landfill. Consider using cloth diapers and save disposable diapers for specific outings rather than daily use. Another way to cut down on waste is to package your snacks in reusable containers rather than buying treats in single serving disposable packages.

Choose reusable water bottles.
Avoid purchasing single-use plastic water bottles. The water in them is no healthier than most tap water, and it takes energy to make the bottles and transport them. Sadly, only 13 percent of these bottles are recycled; the rest end up in landfill. It's better for the environment to drink tap water or filtered water from reusable water bottles as long as they are made with safe materials. Stainless steel bottles are healthy to use, as are some plastic bottles. With recent concern about chemicals in plastic that could leach into water, check the recycling symbol on the bottom of your reusable water bottle. Bottles thought to be safe are made with #2 HDPE (high density polyethylene), #4 LDPE (low density polyethylene) or #5 PP (polypropylene). Avoid the colorful hard plastic bottles identified with the #7 recycling symbol. These may leach bisphenol A, a chemical that may disrupt hormonal signaling in our bodies.

How to Reuse and Recycle:

Give toys and clothes a second life.
As your child outgrows toys, books and clothes, don't throw them away. Save them for the next sibling or friend in line, or donate them to a homeless shelter, thrift store or community organization. Keep some old hats, shoes, scarves and used garments in a box for your child to play dress-up.

Reuse paper.
Don't throw away paper that has only been used on one side. Reuse the back of these sheets for computer printing, note taking, or art projects.

Turn trash into art.
Many items initially destined to become trash–old magazines, fabric scraps, bottle tops, egg cartons and plastic containers—are a gold mine for your budding artist. Countless art projects can be generated with a good box of trash and a healthy imagination. Keep a box in the house to collect items and use them to make collages, decorate picture frames or build a sculpture. Keep glue, string and paint on hand to facilitate these projects.

Recycle food waste.
Children love to sort things and can be taught at an early age to place food waste in a recycling bin. This can be used for composting in your own backyard or for neighborhood composting if your community engages in this practice.

As you can see, there are many ways to reduce, reuse and recycle, even before you fill curbside recycling bins. See how many of these ideas work for your family. And, remember: reducing consumption is even more helpful for the environment than recycling.
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist