Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reduce and Reuse

'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' is an oft quoted phrase. Unfortunately, I think that when many people hear it what actually goes through their heads is the equivalent of 'Recycle, Recycle, Recycle'. The phrase is so connected with recycling that plastic companies brand their products with the ubiquitous three arrows (which I think stand for 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle') to show that the products are recyclable.

What many people don't get is that there is an order to the phrase.

First, and most important, is reducing our consumption. Having less stuff, needing less stuff, leads to wasting less stuff. Companies (who want to sell you things) are not keen on emphasising that part of the phrase.

Then comes reusing things. When you need something, it's important to reuse it. Unfortunately, this society has been called the 'Disposable Society' and the 'Throw-away Society' because of the amount of waste we generate. Again, companies encourage you to use something once and throw it away so you will buy more of their products. Another way of encouraging you not to reuse things is what's called 'Planned Obsolescence' where companies design products to only work or be desirable for a short time so that you will run out and buy a replacement.

Is it any wonder that the recycling part of the phrase is what is drummed into people? When you recycle a thing, you can feel good about it not ending up in a landfill, and then go out and buy more of whatever. One thing that is often not taken into account is the amount of energy that goes into recycling an object. While it is usually less than what's involved in making the object from scratch, recycling is a lot more energy intensive than if you reused the item--or just decided you didn't need it in the first place.

Simple living is all about reducing what we need. (See my post of 9/24/08 for more on Simplicity.) Sustainability is best served by reusing things. (Again, see my post of 10/14/08 for my take on Sustainability.) Reduce and reuse. Less energy, less pollution, less waste, less climate change. Reduce, reuse, and remember to do it again and again.

Quote of the Day: "'Reduce' means using fewer resources in the first place. This is the most effective of the three R's and the place to begin. It is also, I think, the hardest because it requires letting go of some very American notions, including: the bigger the better, new trumps old and convenience is next to godliness. ...
"Reuse. Before you recycle or dispose of anything, consider whether it has life left in it. ... Reusing keeps new resources from being used for a while longer, and old resources from entering the waste stream. It's as important as it is unglamorous. Think about how you can do it more." - Sheryl Eisenberg

No comments: