In NRDC's latest e-newsletter, This Green Life, they talk about the 3 r's. It's certainly worth reading. Here are some excerpts:
Consumer product companies are always selling us a new bill of goods. The latest is that we can shop our way to a healthier planet. Over the years, they've also told us that cool cars would make us free and diet soda would make us popular. But there are some things money -- and advertising -- can't buy, and a clean environment is one of them.
It takes resources to manufacture and transport all products, even those made from recycled content. At the very least, energy is spent. And spending resources leaves the world poorer, not better off. Buying nothing is better for the earth than buying green. More often, though, it is greener to follow the old dictum: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Reduce. "Reduce" means using fewer resources in the first place. This is the most effective of the three R's and the place to begin. It is also, I think, the hardest because it requires letting go of some very American notions, including: the bigger the better, new trumps old and convenience is next to godliness. But you don't need to let go completely or all at once. "Reduce" is a comparative word. It says: cut back from where you are now. When you shop, shop differently. Look for things that will last -- things that are not just durable and well-made, but useful and beautiful enough to please you for a long time. Then, maintain it accordingly and repair it when necessary.
Reuse. Before you recycle or dispose of anything, consider whether it has life left in it. A jam jar can store leftovers. Food scraps can become compost. An old shirt can become a pajama top. An opened envelope can become a shopping list. A magazine can be shared. DVDs can be traded. A dishwasher can be repaired. A computer can be upgraded. A car can be resold. A cell phone can be donated. Returnable bottles can be, well... returned. Reusing keeps new resources from being used for a while longer, and old resources from entering the waste stream. It's as important as it is unglamorous. Think about how you can do it more.
Recycle. Recycling is the "R" that has caught on the best. Partly, this is because there are so many curbside recycling programs today (8,660 as of 2006, according to the EPA), which makes recycling easy. Everyplace has rules. Most only take packaging made from #1 (PET or PETE) and #2 (HDPE) resins. You need to look at the bottom of the package for the chasing arrow symbol and check that the number is right. New York City, for instance, accepts #1 and #2 containers with necks, but not wide mouths because the two are formed differently and have different melting points. The wrong kind of plastic can "contaminate" the whole batch, rendering it garbage as far as the company with the recycling contract is concerned.
—Sheryl Eisenberg, NRDC's This Green Life