Reduce, Reuse, then Recycle

the first two R’s are the most important, and the least used.  In the US we are improving, very slowly, our recycling practices.  Part of the delay is the lack of innovation to develop products made from recycled materials, called post-consumer content.  Paper and glass is relatively easy to form into new products, metal also fills an important role in reducing the use of new raw materials.  Plastic is more difficult to form into new products, and some varieties of plastic cannot be reused.  You can find sources to recycle various materials at Earth 911.  Information about the resource savings from using recycled materials can be found on Volunteer Guide, which also describes how to identify recycled products.  Learn more about the recycling symbols including the numbers related to plastics.

Recycling is important and environmentally helpful, but this process also uses energy and resources.  So I think we should focus on Reduce and Reuse as the main priority, and continue recycling efforts as a secondary effort.   The consequences for such a high use of materials includes:

  • Water consumption, the availability of clean water is drying up faster than we are planning for
  • Environmental Impact should be reviewed over the entire lifespan of a product – Cradle to Grave.  Often only the manufacturing process impact is reported and does not include extraction of the raw materials and how the materials are disposed of.
  • Energy consumption during the lifespan – Cradle to Grave.

The cost of not prioritizing all three R’s can be seen in our oceans and islands.

These photos show the trash that has collected on land; less visible is the floating trash pile of plastic (other trash materials sink to the ocean floor) that is trapped in the North Pacific gyre and other ocean currents around the world.  The floating plastics are small pieces like bottle caps, or broken plastic containers.  These small pieces of plastic prevent light from getting down into the water, are mistaken as food by some animals filling their stomachs with material that does not break down, and is difficult to recollect from the oceans.

To see a documentary about plastic waste watch Plastic Planet.

Ideas for a plastic free lifestyle:

  • For ideas on how to live without plastic, check out this Austrailian family who manages to live 2 years without plastic.  They have a book out in German with their ideas, hopefully it will be translated soon.
  • Living Plastic Free

song “Doldrums” by Laurel Braums touches on this subject

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2 comments on “Reduce, Reuse, then Recycle

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