We Need to Reduce and Reuse, Not Just Recycle

As our environment suffers more each day, we as a society need to get our act together. This means maybe making some tough calls. We’ve all heard the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” when it comes to helping the environment. Yet, society focuses on the recycling part much more than the other two, which is problematic. There are three parts to the phrase “reduce, reduce, recycle”, and of those options, the least impactful is actually recycling. 

there is no planet b Photo by Li-An Lim from Unsplash Before I start, I want to acknowledge the privilege around sustainability. Many people lack the access/money to use sustainable practices, this article is not targeted towards them. As a society, we need to do the best we can with our current circumstances and not shame others. The fact that sustainability is hard to access is another problem that needs to be addressed. 

recycle only VanveenJF While recycling seems like a better alternative to trash, it’s not that simple. The majority of recycled materials like plastic actually still end up in landfills. National Geographic explains that only 9% of recycled materials is actually recycled. Obviously, the recycling system is flawed if this is the case. There are also rules to recycling that many people don’t know which will make their efforts be in vain. Those numbers in the triangle actually have meaning! They describe the type of plastic used and if it is recyclable. In general numbers 1 and 2 are recyclable while the rest have exceptions. If you do use plastic, check the number and see if it can be recycled. Additionally, you need to clean out objects like yogurt cartons before you recycle them or else they will be useless. Many people are unaware of these facts and this sadly means their efforts were wasted. Now don’t me wrong, please still recycle but know that it’s not enough to make an actual impact. So now that we know recycling is not a perfect solution, let’s discuss why reducing and reusing are much better alternatives. 

sustainable fashion support Photo by Cherie Birkner from Unsplash We all remember the war against plastic straws after seeing that turtle video which made people buy reusable straws. This was a great educational moment about how we need to reduce single-use plastic and find reusable options. Especially today, there are so many reusable alternatives to single-use plastic like mugs, shopping bags, makeup wipes, etc. As I stated earlier, there may be reasons why someone needs to use plastic and that’s okay! There is no need to shame. If people have the means to use reusable alternatives, then they should. It will also end up saving you money in the long run. Reusing is better than recycling because you know it will be used again vs taking a chance with recycling. You end up buying less waste (which will probably end up in a landfill if we’re being honest). 

You can also think of reusing those “recycled” materials like cans and cardboard. The odds of them getting recycled are slim, so why not repurpose them? Maybe you know someone that loves crafts and could use them for that. Glass bottles are also hard to break down and recycle, so you could turn those into plant pots or decorative vases. Pinterest and youtube have hundreds of DIYs you can try out with those materials!

person planting a green plant Photo by Rommel Diaz from Pixabay Out of the trifecta of sustainability, there is an unsung hero...reducing. In the media I see an emphasis on recycling and more recently reusing, but not really about reducing. In actuality, reducing is the most sustainable of the three! Reducing unnecessary purchases is the simplest of the three and makes the most impact. There is this trend especially in the fashion industry where brands are being “sustainable” (which usually means greenwashing) or advocating for thrifting, instead of just wearing the pieces you already own. Obviously, if you need to buy new clothes for work or your clothes get ruined, this is understandable but for the average person, it is unnecessary. There is a serious greenwashing issue that pushes for people to still buy new things under this, usually false, guise of sustainability. This continues the capitalistic cycle of consumerism and makes people never feel satisfied with what they already have. 

The best way to help the environment with your consumption habits is to not spend the money! By reducing your shopping habits, it reduces waste and tells companies that they need to change. We all know the biggest sustainability offenders are large corporations and the only way to make them change is to harm them financially. Although it will still be a while before we see large-scale changes, your individual impact will help the environment over time. Reducing waste is always better than hoping it gets recycled, too! Many stores have waste-free sections that you can shop from if you bring your own bag. You can even combine reducing and reusing. For example, you can turn an old pair of jeans into a pair of shorts, so you don’t have to buy a new pair. 

Valley of Heroes, Tjentište , Bosnia and Herzegovina Nikola Majksner The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is important but we need to focus on all three, not just the last part. They are all meant to be used in order to save our environment. I know it might seem intimidating but it’s never too late to start your sustainability journey. You can always start slow and build up from there. I hope this article explained why recycling isn’t enough anymore, and society needs to rethink what sustainability is and how to achieve it.