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.
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:
- 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.
- 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...
- 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.
- 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!