1. Recycle

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recycle

It’s hard to overstate the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling. In a world where space is limited and human population isn’t shrinking, cutting down on the amount of trash we produce—from the Styrofoam you litter to that cell phone you junk—is key. Much of our waste is destined for landfills, but could just as easily join a 100 million-ton oceanic garbage patch in the middle of the ocean, or worse—poison kids abroad. While some companies out there are attempting to make products that produce zero waste, extending the life cycle of the products we use is a simple human duty. 

So separate your trash. Most local governments now supply recycling bins for free, so get at least two, one for paper and one for plastic. Then get in the habit of recycling everything—milk jugs, aluminum cans, glass jars, plastic bottles, cereal boxes, mail envelopes, even aluminum foil. Most cities and municipalities will recycle these for you, if you separate the items. As a general rule, paper products go in one bin, plastic in another, and glass jars and aluminum in another. Make a game of it with your family (get your kids to squash aluminum cans for fun) until pausing over the trash can becomes second nature.  

Don’t toss batteries and electronics—instead find a local recycler who will take those AAs (and printer cartridges) off your hands. You can go a step further by reducing what you print. If you must see a hard copy of a document, consider using the flip side of old printouts (just feed them back into the paper tray). Tell your mail carrier and retail companies that catalogs, which use 53 million trees annually, are just not wanted. Use your newspaper as wrapping paper, and shop for products made by companies that reuse paper.

Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.