There is something better than recycling. It is National Recycling Week and that has prompted me to write this post. I know we’ve all grown up believing that recycling is the ‘green’ thing to do but we actually need to recycle less. What? Recycle less? Doesn’t that mean more waste to landfill? Actually, no. That is not what I have in mind. This is what is better than recycling…
Refuse – Reduce – Reuse
Recycling is a ‘green’ thing to do but recycling isn’t the answer to living a more sustainable life. Even if we had a perfect recycling system, stemming the flow of ‘stuff’ before it needs to be reprocessed is the more sustainable option. Capturing as much as possible of the embodied resources in our waste is an essential piece of the puzzle. Digging up all that oil just to bury it all again as plastic seems kind of crazy. Cutting down more trees that are absorbing the CO2 in our clogged atmosphere to make more paper and cardboard is counterproductive. Smelting more metals just to melt them down again though sensible is still wasteful.
We definitely need to keep improving our resource recovery and recycling systems. Closing the loop and buying products made with recycled materials is great too. I believe we need to do more. We need to consume less in the beginning. If we don’t use it, we don’t need to recycle it when we are done using it.
The waste reducing principles are the framework I use to consume less.
I start with REFUSE and consider if the thing I’m about to buy or otherwise consume is really necessary. Can we actually do without it? Is there a substitute?
If I do need it, can I REDUCE how much of it I use so that I can buy less of it? And can I reduce the amount of packaging it comes in? Can I use the same thing to do two or more jobs, such as cleaning products?
Can I REUSE something I already own by repurposing it? When I do buy something, I also consider if it will have a long life to be used over and over? I put REPAIR under this heading too.
So yes, recycling is a good thing to do but refusing, reducing and reusing is our first (and second and third) line of defence. They are better than recycling.