This will be a highly opinionated and sorely uninformed post, so feel free to ignore it.
After scanning the ‘Recycle’ Tag, I’ve realized that many people out there feel like recycling is the only way that soemone can ‘go green.’ While recylcing is always encouraged and certainly has its benefits, people always seem to forget that it is truly a last resort.
Recycling is costly, energy exhaustive, and isn’t exactly consequence free. Sure, it’s one million times better than throwing something into a landfill, where the product will sit and sit and sit for days innumerable. There’s also no denying that recycling is always done with the best intentions. I can’t express to you how very important and significant it is that people even care enough to recycle; there are still so many out there who don’t. But there are better options to resort to when trying to be ‘green.’
First and foremost we must try to Reduce. And in a world where more is better than less, getting people to reduce their use, reduce their consumption, is probably the biggest battle we’ll face. People don’t want to use less water, they don’t want to buy fewer ‘disposable’ plastics (eg. water bottles), they don’t want to cut back. But by reducing our use of certain things, like plastic bags and bottles, water and even electricity, we are thereby reducing the amount of waste we even have to deal with. By training ourselves to reduce, we have fewer things to worry about recycling. If we keep buying more, companies will keep producing more, and the damaging cycle of new product production continues. Reducing takes no energy at all, and really not much effort either, and it’s the first and best step we can take.
Reuse is often confused with Recycle. Yes, taking something old and using it for something new is recycling it’s purpose, but technically, that’s reusing. But why am I getting bothered by semantic technicaility, the point is all the same, and it’s wonderful. Reusing a product, or ‘recycling’ its purpose, either way, you’re saving yourself from purchasing a newly made product, and using the products that have already been produced to their full potential. In the case of glass products, you can use those for pretty much forever, and plastics, those too. Reusing something as something else takes almost no energy, and is more customizable to your needs and wants.
Recycling a product, the more technical meaning of the term, is more energy costly and not exactly effective. It’s great to see recycling bins next to trashcans, see symbols on shirts and bags, and see people making an effort. As I mentioned before, it is definitely better than letting a non-biodegradable product sit in a landfill for year and years, but it’s still an imperfect process, with it’s own pollutants and energy costs. It is the easiest of the three, but the least effective. While people argue that it takes less money and energy to create a product from recycled material than from new ones, the energy put into creating the original product, and the energy put into recycling it into something else still amounts to more than if we didn’t have to produce the product at all.
And even these opinions have flaws. The biggest argument is that one person’s reduction, or reuse, is not enough to make corporations stop producing as much as they do, but you’d be surprised. A company that notices product sales going down isn’t going to keep producing the same volume of products for their next quarter. It not about being one person that does something, it’s about being the one person to inspire others. Your good habits should never just be your own, they should be an example for the people around you. To be terribly cliche, I want you to be the small drop in the big pond, that makes all those ripples. Or something like that. But it will take more than just that third step.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.