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August 20, 2008

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle

There’s an order to things: Reduce, re-use, recycle

Yes, there is an order to things. Arguably, it’s the moments that we stray from the mundane that truly keep us from going crazy on this planet. However, there is a certain order to things that we should try to adhere to in our everyday lives. More specifically, I think that we often skip a few steps when it comes to the order in which we do things: Rather than first reducing, reusing, and then recycling, we become indignant and proud because we are so incredibly good at the third step, recycling. I am as guilty of it as anyone else. Somehow I feel as if I can purge the guilt I have of being an American Consumer (with a capital “c”) if I be sure to recycle it all. And man, since my husband and I got married, we have received all kinds of gifts, and of course with that has come more recycling. In fact, there is so much of it that we requested another recycling bin—which is free of charge if you live in Holliday by the way. But even still, we fill up both of our containers, look for space in our neighbors’ bins after the sun goes down, and we still don’t have enough space. We’ve got extra boxes and such strewn all over our back porch waiting for the day when we can get it all recycled.

And who really knows if half the stuff we are thinking we’re recycling actually gets recycled? Do your orange juice containers need to be rinsed out? The plastic rings around the top cut off? Does it matter? I’ve heard yes and no. What about styrofoam? I’ve heard yes and no—it has a six on it—does that count? I always say “Just recycle it,” even if you’re not sure. My logic is that it gets hand sorted so if it shouldn’t be recycled then someone will just pick it out—and that's someone’s job security. Idea for the creation of new jobs, anyone?

But beyond that I think we are missing the bigger picture. Not only does all of this recycling remind me of just how “good” of consumers we are (not that I’m bragging), but it also reminds me that we are forgetting about the order of things. Remember, it is REDUCE, REUSE, then RECYCLE. In other words, you’re supposed to try to reduce the amount you consume, then re-use things if you can. Then, you recycle. It seems like we and so many others we know are so proud and indignant about the fact that we recycle and are so quick to rid ourselves of the guilt of consumption so long as it ultimately ends up in a recycling bin.

Now, I am not telling anyone to stop recycling—oh no. I think that recycling can be good and a good step toward doing other things for the environment. I only think it’s a problem when that is the only thing people do and as a result feel like they don’t have to do anything else. And there are times when I hold onto stuff in an attempt to re-use, like boxes and gift bags and ribbons—I think “Oh yeah, I’ll use that again.” Then, six months or a year goes by and have I used them? No. I have not. But I keep them anyway. And my closets and extra drawers just get more and more full. Can you I imagine if we had to dispose of our own waste? Geez!

I had a friend brag to me once that she fills up her recycling bin every week. So much so that her neighbor noticed and said “Hey we don’t use our recycling bin—why don’t you use ours?” While on one hand you can think, “Wow! Isn’t that thoughtful?” But then you peel back the layers and there is more there. For example, why in the heck are they recycling so much crap every week? Why don’t they buy less crap? And secondly, why doesn’t her neighbor give a crap about recycling? I have also had people tell me that recycling is pointless in terms of the cost/ benefit and it is not worth it. In other words, the amount it costs to melt everything down that I am recycling is not worth it in the long run. And honestly, I don’t know if that’s true or not—I hope not.

And don’t even get me started about Salt Lake City and our big city trash day—you know the one: The day when the garbage trucks will come pick up absolutely anything you want them to--No guilt on your part. Seem like we are incentivised to waste more in this city rather than reduce? Hmmm . . .

And I get torn here. Because it’s not like I want everyone to feel guilty all the time. Who wants that? What kind of life would that be? But at the same time, a little bit of guilt might go a long way. And how about my friend saying something to her neighbor? We’re all so gosh darn polite. It’s like I say to myself sometimes, “No I don’t want to push my lifestyle and way of being on other people,” so in that sense I don’t want to say anything. But then at the same time, if I don’t say anything and remain silent, it really is a crime, right?

The bottom line is “yes,” I appreciate you for recycling. But please just don’t forget that there are a few other steps before you get to the recycling part. One thing that my husband and I try to remember to do is to take our own bags to the grocery store. It doesn’t kill us to have to walk out a few more times to the car when we bring in our grocery bags (it acually is probably good for us to do a little extra walking). And boy, do we like the confused looks on the clerks’ faces. “Oh we don’t need any bags,” we say. And the clerk says with a puzzled look, “Are you sure?” Although I do appreciate the gesture and it is something that they can offer me, it amazes me how entrenched we all are in our way of thinking that we can’t see that people may not want/ “need” (let’s not get started on the meaning of that word) a bag. We’re also trying to get into the habit of taking Tupperware containers with us when we go out to eat for our leftovers. Rather than using the Styrofoam, we just put it in our own container. Although we get strange looks, we do get s sense of satisfaction when we walk out with the containers in our hands. One time we used them at a local Mexican place and the server said to us, “Your own containers! What a great idea.” It seemed as if she had never thought about that as an option before (and probably many people don’t). So in moments like those it makes me feel good. I think, “Maybe we just made a difference.”

Maybe I don’t have to preach to other people all the time (because I am sure that eventually that will also work against you—people will get sick of hearing it). But I have to remember that it is sort of a luxury to even worry about these kinds of things. You know, I’m sure that there are some single parents out there (some of my friends actually) who are trying to makes ends meet that are not necessarily worried about recycling all of their cardboard or taking their own containers to dinner. Heck no, they are more worried about where they will get the money to pay for their groceries and that their kids actually get fed. So what do you do?

You know what I say, “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.” And try to talk to people about it sometime. We all have to do our part to try to embed things into our everyday lives and make it a part of our routine. So remember the order of things: Reduce, Re-use, recycle.

And things to think about . . .What do you do to try to reduce the impact of your own consumption? What small things like taking your own containers to dinner do you already do on a regular basis that can make a difference? What other small changes can you make to get better at the reducing and re-using part?

~Autumn Garrison


Nicole said...

What a good idea to bring your own containers to restaurants to carry out your extra food. I always feel so guilty when I bring my leftovers home in those giant styrofoam boxes. That is such an easy and simple solution...I'm surprised I didn't think of it.

lilli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jill said...

Great idea with taking your containers to the restaurant. As an avid vermicomposter, maybe I can convince them to fill mine up with fruit and veggie scraps for the worms.