Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Recycling is good right?

Don't be fooled by all the promotional campaigns that suggest recycling will solve all environmental issues...especially if it is a public service announcement from a plastics association.

When we look at the responsible waste hierarchy, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle", recycling is at the bottom of the list."The aim of the waste hierarchy is to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste." The real kicker is that it takes energy to recycle all the disposable products we use. They have to be transported and processed. Less than half of the items that can be recycled actually are recycled so the other 50% or more is destined to a long life in the local landfill.

Just how long will that pop can take to degrade? The Lawrence Journal Herald says about half as long as it would take that plastic water bottle you just tossed out. The water bottle will take about 450 years. What about that glass beer bottle? That will live for millenia in the dump if not recycled.

Tim Lang, Sustainability Coordinator of the University of Toronto, notes that many people think of the concept of Reduce, Re-use, and Recycle as three equal options, but they are instead meant to be a hierarchy, in order of importance. “This distinction is lost on many people. They focus on recycling, but recycling is meant to be the last of those three options. Recycling only comes into the equation when you have something you must dispose of,” he says. “If you don’t generate the waste in the first place, then you don’t have to figure out how to deal with it. Many people forget that if you reduce the amount of waste you produce, or re-use it, then you will have also less material to throw out or recycle.”

Top of the list: Reduce! You can cut way down on the number of disposable items you use a year. For example, if you don't need a disposable shopping bag, refuse it at the store. For those quick trips when you purchase one or two items a bag isn't really necessary. For your weekly shopping trips, make a simple change: the smartest choice is a durable, reusable bag. Buy in bulk to reduce packaging. Buy items that are simply packaged.

Waste disposal technicians have added a 4th R to the hierarchy: Re-think. Re-think before you buy. Do you really need it? Do you already have something that will fill the need? Can you buy it used? Better yet, can you borrow it from a friend if it is something you only use occasionally?

Recycling is good. Reuse is better. Reduction of disposable items in our environment is best. Most importantly, re-think how you do things.

Tim Lang states this well, “A lot of people associate sustainability with big fancy initiatives, but sustainability is really an attitude and an approach that we can build into our everyday lives, and there are many little things we can do that make a difference.”

Tips from for making your recycling greener, and yes, it does involve some re-thinking about reducing, and reusing too! Recycling Statistics in the US How to recycle practically everything

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