Recycling - Missing the Point?

It goes Reduce, Re-use and THEN Recycle

Feature by Jon Seller | 15 Jun 2006

There are now a lot more recycling bins – ones with blue lids (for paper and magazines) and ones with green lids (for general packaging materials), these have removed any excuses of inconvenience for those not convinced by recycling. Prior to such facilities, recyclable waste was piled up in various vessels around the kitchen until overflowing with pizza boxes and good intentions. When the time came for a recycling trip, a great deal of effort was then required to get these oft-split bags and boxes into the boot and down to the supermarket with bin juice trickling down your arm. So what difference will the new recycling bins make?

First, consider this definition: waste is doing something with more resources that which can be done with fewer. By this definition recycling is not just the act of putting your papers in the bin with the blue lid, but involves all the resources required to do this (e.g. cleaning the product and driving to the recycling point). Perhaps we're barking up the wrong tree.

There are a number of undeniable facts that have informed the recycling debate for many years. Firstly, there is no question that we are excessive in our use of the world's resources. Secondly, these consumer habits, especially amongst the West, are not sustainable at a resource or a waste level. Finally, as the global population increases and as the demand for the Western lifestyle spreads, both problems will get worse before they get better. However, the easier the recycling process seems, the more removed the requirement for thought becomes on our part. If we were to take a step back and look at our rubbish we would see not only a mixture of materials, but also a mixture of ease with which they can be recycled.

Recycling, like many environmental issues affecting the world today, is an issue requiring individual action on a global scale. It is only when people properly appreciate their role in making a change that recycling will find its place. What needs to be understood is that recycling only represents a fraction of a mindset that needs to be instilled before the actions of the informed makes a difference. Recycling is the bottom of an environmental-awareness hierarchy, topped by reduction and re-use. Although a most morally laudable of buzzwords, recycling should remain lower down our list of priorities when we try to tackle our global waste problems on a local level; If we use less, we'd produce less waste, and if we'd re-use more, we'd produce less waste.

So, keep on recycling, but cut down on your demand for resources by employing more conscientious consumer habits and wherever possible, re-use. It's all in the 'R's'.