We all used to hear a lot about recycling. We still do. 56% post-consumer material. Made from recycled sneakers. The list goes on. When we were taught the three environmentalist R's: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, the first two got glossed over somewhat, and recycling took center stage. The concepts of reduce and reuse deserve more attention, so here are my definitions for this popular threesome:
Reduce: This concept is twofold. First we reduce our waste output by doing things that don't create waste in the first place, like using a reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water, using a reusable shopping bag instead of the plastic or paper ones you get at the store, or buying buying items in bulk where possible so there is less packaging to throw away. Secondly, we can reduce our waste by saving some of what we would throw away for later reuse or recycling.
Reuse: This is all about using what you might normally throw away all over again, either for it's original intended purpose or for a different purpose altogether. If you use a plastic freezer bag to store bagels over and over again, you're reusing. If you use an old jelly jar as a vase for cut flowers, congratulations! You're reusing too.
Recycle: This one is frequently more about what your local recycling center can do for you than what you can do for yourself, but don't let that absolve you of your environmental responsibility. Recycling plants need to expend energy to turn those tin cans into tinfoil, melt glass down to be reformed, and all the other things they do. It can be satisfying to expend some of your own energy to make old things new again. Using old newspapers (and even the hated "junk mail") as paper mache is a great example of recycling and no one will ever know what's in it.
So there you have it. I hope this goes to show how important all three of these environmental concepts are, and I hope you give them all the equal respect they deserve.