I have a friend whose idea of heaven is a big, fat juicy T-bone steak smothered in sautéed onions, served with a “loaded” baked potato, a Caesar salad and a bowl of ice cream. This same friend claims popping a Lipitor with a red-wine chaser negates the effects of his deliberate cholesterol overload.

I know, what do recycling and cholesterol have in common? Simply put, just because there’s a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where human beings and machines sort paper, plastic and glass doesn’t mean you should buy cases of bottled water when a residential water purification system or Brita water filter will provide great tasting filtered water without having to recycle plastic bottles.

Protecting the environment is all about choices; just because an item is “recyclable” doesn’t mean you should buy it.

Here are a few ideas that will make a difference:

Don’t Pick Paper:

  • Choose cloth instead of paper napkins.
  • Choose a gift bag instead of wrapping paper when wrapping gifts for friends and family.

Styrofoam faux pas

  • Choose to avoid using Styrofoam at all costs. When dining out and taking home a “people bag,” request your leftovers be put in a non-Styrofoam container. And instead of using the throwaway cups at the golf or tennis club, carry your own BPA-free water bottle. (Note: Contrary to popular belief, Styrofoam is NOT recyclable in any way, shape or form.)

Fruit Ninja

  • Choose NOT to buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables, which typically come in “recyclable” throwaway plastic containers; instead wash; slice, dice, cut and chop these items yourself.

Don’t Get Glad

  • Choose glass or BPA-free plastic containers instead of using Glad or Hefty-brand re-usable/disposable leftover containers, which, due their extremely porous nature will end up in the recycle bin sooner rather than later.

Picnic Practices

  • Choose inexpensive, dishwasher-safe utensils and BPA-safe plastic cups for poolside dining and picnics instead of using throwaway plastic utensils and plastic cups.
  • Choose to use dishwasher-safe melamine (heavy-duty plastic) dishes rather than paper plates when going on a picnic. (Note: Melamine is not microwave safe.)

Shopping Saves

  • Choose to use reusable bags instead of paper or plastic when shopping. If you forget to bring your own bags, opt for paper, which is easier to recycle than plastic.

H2O no-no

  • Choose not to buy bottle water, opting instead to filter your own water and use a BPA-safe water bottle. Worried about how to recycle the charcoal water filters, the Brita company participates in a nationwide recycling program through TerraCycle.com, which supports the recycling of #5 polypropylene plastics. (Customers are responsible for all shipping/handling costs. Britta.com.)

Caffeine Fix

  • Choose to brew coffee the “old fashioned” way, or if you choose to use a “pod” type of coffee maker, stick with a company that encourages recycling, such as the Nestlé Nespresso coffee company, which offers its customers free collection bags and free shipping/handling of used pods. Nespresso.com (Note: as of publication time, Keurig does not offer a residential recycling program.)

O Christmas Tree

  • Choose to purchase an artificial Christmas tree, which can be used year after year without having to worry about watering and picking up loose pine needles. If you miss the smell of a live tree, buy a candle.

Jilt your junk mail

  • Choose to terminate the barrage of paper catalogs, newsletters, political solicitations, magazines and telephone books (but not your daily newspaper) by canceling the subscriptions and relying instead on the Internet for the most up-to-the-minute news and fashions.


  • Choose to return items for re-use rather than automatically recycling them. For example, plastic plant flats can go back to your local garden center to be re-used by the plant vendors; wire hangers can be returned to the dry cleaner; glass vases of any size or shape can be returned to any florist for re-use or dropped off at your local Hospice center or hospital where they will be used to brighten a patient’s day. And my personal favorite, Styrofoam “peanuts” can be “returned to sender” (pun intended) to any FedEx Office or UPS Store for re-use.

If each and every one of us makes a conscious effort to adopt a smarter, more considerate lifestyle where we respect the environment and consider alternate choices, others will follow suit and make better, more environmentally conscious choices as well. The more we do, the more instinctive these actions will become.