Though Practical, Recycling Should Be the Last Resort
Recently, while visiting a friend in her home, she was scrolling through Facebook as she rummaged around in her refrigerator. Suddenly, she looked horrified and said, “disgusting!” I was expecting her to pull something moldy out of the fridge. Instead, she turned her phone so I could see the image on the screen. It showed a beach covered in garbage.
She then pulled a plastic water bottle out of the fridge and began to drink. It had bothered me before that she drank from single-use plastic bottles, but I didn’t know her well enough to say anything. Her disgust about that beach inspired me to take the opportunity to mention it.
“So, if that grosses you out so much, don’t you think you should do your part to use less plastic?” I nodded in the direction of her bottle.
She looked at it and answered with confidence, “But it’s recyclable. I recycle.”
Her response is part of a mindset that continues our environmental crisis. She is certainly not alone in her belief that recycling is the most important green act she can do.
Recycling is not the answer. Recycling merely mitigates the problem of creating “necessary” waste. The greenest behavior any one person can engage in is to reduce consumption of goods.
Why? Because when you buy a soda at the gas station, you are not only creating waste in the form of the bottle that you throw in the recycle bin. That soda has far more waste attached — emissions from production of the bottle, emissions from production of the soda, emissions from shipping the soda, and waste from packing the soda for shipping.
When you think about it, is that amount of waste worth a bottle of soda?
Now multiply that waste to every single item you buy. Food products, clothes, electronics, appliances, and all the other physical items you own.
On Earth Day in elementary school, I remember learning about the 3 R’s — the concept of reduce - reuse - recycle. The bulk of the lesson was about how to properly recycle. They showed us the bins and talked about using them correctly to ensure that our waste was recycled.
I went home that day and told my parents that we were going to start recycling. I told them what I learned in school and we became a recycling family.
For as long as I can remember, I have always made an effort to practice environmentally friendly behaviors. I always strive to do my part for the planet. And one of the most important things I’ve realized is that the three R’s are listed in order of importance. 1 — Reduce. 2 — Reuse. 3 — Recycle.
When my parents joined me in the recycling craze on Earth Day, they were probably humoring me at first, but it didn’t take long for them to realize the importance of recycling. And that’s great. But, I think back on that lesson and wish the teacher had a better grasp on the purpose of the first two R’s.
I loved Earth Day (for several years, I celebrated it by cleaning the empty lots around my neighborhood alone because none of my friends would pick up trash with me).
If the teachers had emphasized the importance of the first two steps — reduce and reuse, I’m certain that I would have happily clung to that. I would have told my family that we were going to make purchases with less packaging and quit using single-use plastics. They probably would have humored me until it became a habit, just like recycling.
But my elementary teacher that day and many people still have the importance reversed, so much so that reduce and reuse are often forgotten about entirely. It’s time to remind everyone why reduce and reuse are the most important steps for greener living.
What efforts are you making to reduce and reuse?