Monday, April 20, 2015

Confessions of a Prolific Recycler

The Climate Crusader is taking aim at her recycling habit.

I subscribe to emails from the David Suzuki Foundation. One that I received last month has really got me thinking. It linked to an article called Five ways to recycle less. As someone who actually recycles a lot it really stuck out.

Like many people, I think of recycling as a good thing. After all, it has many environmental benefits. Recycling reduces the amount of waste that's sent to landfills, it cuts down our consumption of new resources and it reduces the amount of energy we use. In the process we're protecting habitats, cutting down our carbon emissions and creating green jobs. What's not to love?

The answer is that recycling can easily turn into greenwashing for a few reasons. Here's why:

  • Some people (I'm guilty of this) will consume more - and especially more plastic - because the packaging can be recycled.
  • Recycling still uses energy and resources as it travels from your doorstep to a factory and on down the line until it's a new product.
  • As materials are recycled the quality can degrade, particularly for paper and plastics, and so either some virgin materials have to be introduced into the mix or the materials are downcycled into products that don't require the same quality.
  • Some products and materials, such as electronics, can release toxic substances when they are recycled, endangering workers and the environment.
So what is a well-meaning person to do? The solution isn't to abandon recycling entirely. Rather, the solution is to focus on reducing consumption and reusing materials where possible, and viewing recycling as the last resort. Here are four easy ways to reduce and reuse:
  1. Look for Packaging You Can Reuse. When you're buying jam, for instance, look for glass jars that you can reuse for storage. You can wash and re-wash them and because they don't absorb the substances they hold they will last forever if you take care of them.
  2. Buy in Bulk. Where possible, buy consumable items in larger quantities. The relative amount of packaging will be lower and you'll save money in the long run, too. Just make sure you can finish those bulk buys, because the next step is...
  3. Reduce Your Food Waste. The bulk of my recycling bin is food packaging. In the USA 30-40% of the food supply is wasted. This means that if we all take steps to cut down on our food waste, like meal planning and shopping our own pantries, we can also cut down on the amount of packaging we recycle when food spoils. Bonus point: once again you'll be saving money.
  4. Carry Reusable Bags, Water Bottles, Etc. Plastic bags are very hard to recycle, and many of us use a lot of them. Paper bags are, at best, a mediocre solution. And we all know that single-use plastic drink bottles are not exactly earth-friendly. By carrying reusables with you - and actually using them - you can cut down on your consumption and your recycling.
Are you a rampant recycler like me? How have you cut back on your consumption and your recycling? I'd love to hear your tips!


Diane said...

Great ideas, and a good reality check when it comes to recycling. The key thing is to use less overall - we can share, swap, upcycle, browse garage sales and thrift stores, and just scale our desire to have the latest, greatest, newest thing (though that's often easier said than done). Thanks for the great insights.

Betsy Escandon said...

I saw that newsletter too. I do think recycling makes us too complacent about consumption.

Green Bean said...

This is useful information! I know that a lot of times we justify things because it can be recycled. The first R, though, is Reduce! Good tips.

Lisa said...

Great ideas and reminders! Recycling should be the last R for sure!

Robj98168 said...

My R's are Reduce Repair Reuse then Recycle. How I Reduce is like you said no to plastic water bottles, (I like my stainless steel ones- reusable, No to disposable coffee cups (I have a variety of mugs, including my famous MUGGSLY. Use all the food! I have two dogs so this makes it easy! And Think... usea shopping list so not to overbuy and lose food to spoilage!

Christy said...

i have been quite aware of this problem recently. With curbside pick up for recycling and composting I've patted myself on the back for only filling the garbage can 1/2 full on pick up days. But the blue recycle box is overflowing! Definitely not very green. I try to buy in bulk, but my biggest shopping mistake is Costco. Yes, here are fewer trips to the store Bc we buy in volume, and I love the ever increasing number of organic options, but there is SO MUCH PACKAGING! I'm having g problems kicking my Costco habit.

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