Saturday, January 23, 2010

Reducing Our Recyclables

We're told to reduce, reuse and recycle, but it seems to me that when recycling becomes too easy people forget the first two principles almost entirely. Recycling becomes automatic, especially in places where curbside recycling is the norm and little thought is required other than remembering to drag the bin to the curb every week. When it's that easy people get complacent. They're doing the right thing, and the right thing is easy, so why bother to think about it?

The problem is that recycling isn't enough. Have you ever driven through neighborhoods on recycling day and seen the mountains of stuff set out? It's appalling. When recycling is that easy there's absolutely no impetus for reducing our use of resources. If those resources come in recyclable packaging, and dealing with that packaging is as simple as kicking it to the curb, why even give it any thought? It all gets recycled. It's not as if we're creating waste now is it?

But we are creating waste, mountains of it, but because it's hidden from view (in the factories and slag heaps and poisoned waters) it's not real to us or relevant. Recycling, of course, is important, but it should be an action of last resort. We should be working towards not only zero waste in our homes, but also zero recyclables. Reducing and reusing are the strategies that matter most and have the greatest environmental impact.

One of my goals this year is to reduce my recyclables to as close to zero as possible. That means not buying anything in cans or plastic, and saving glass for reuse (which I already do). Paper is actually the bigger problem for me, which seems a bit ridiculous since it biodegrades. I could simply shred it and add it to the compost pile. My concern there is the bleach, ink, and possible heavy metal contaminants. Instead, I 'm working to reduce my use of paper. I've gone paperless for all of my bills, I get very, very little junk mail, and no newspapers or magazines, but I'm a hopeless note-taker, scribbler, doodler, and disorganized jotter-downer. I have ideas, instructions, mathematical equations, website links and a million other bits of information scattered about on fifty million pieces of paper around the house. Breaking that habit is going to be a tough one.

In most families though a great place to start reducing the amount of recyclables would be with beverage containers. That seems to be the bulk of what gets placed out on the curbs. Instead of buying cans of soda, buy two liter bottles, or better yet kick the habit entirely. Making your own beverages at home makes the most sense both financially and environmentally, since you eliminate the need for packaging and you're not paying to have water shipped all over the country. What can you make at home, using your own filtered tap water? Coffee, teas (regular and herbal), ginger ale, root beer, beers, wines and other alcoholic beverages, yogurt and kefir-based drinks, and fruit and vegetable juices. In other words, what beverage can't you make at home?

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