Reality+of+reuse%2C+reduce%2C+recycling

Noah Buscher (Free to use under the Unsplash License)

Reality of reuse, reduce, recycling

When children first enter school, they are taught about the reduce, reuse and recycling system. As they get older, it’s assumed the concepts would be taught more in depth, yet environmental impacts from three these processes still remain unknown to many teens and adults. 

There are three components that make up the golden rule of sustainability. Although the least effective, recycling is largely discussed but not thoroughly examined. Sorting their ‘trash’ into blue or gray bins is the extent most people go into the recycling process. A mystery still remains as to what happens next and why it isn’t solving the climate crisis.

Recycling is the process of turning manufactured goods back into their raw materials to be made into another item. The supply goes through collection, transportation, classification, and cleaning, and processing into materials that can be bought and sold in manufacturing markets. This benefits the environment by minimizing deforestation, pollution, habitat displacement, and managing improper waste disposal. Surprisingly, most materials are recyclable and it’s only a matter of processing them properly. 

Using virgin materials to make new products is far more energy intensive than beginning with pre-existing components like paper, plastic, metal, and glass. Greenhouse gas emissions are lowered when the need for drilling, mining, or sourcing new materials is eliminated. The method of recycling also keeps waste out of landfills and hence produces less methane. However, filling these landfills is cheaper than going through the entire production of recycled goods and cities can take advantage of that.

States and cities have individual recycling programs meaning that laws and restrictions are completely incongruent. The lack of standardization and education is causing the recycling process to become inefficient. According to 2018 research from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a small fraction, 69 out of 300 million tons of waste produced that year to be exact, went into recycling. Government reform to solve this discrepancy could be achieved if businesses were prioritizing the betterment of the environment instead of profit. Recycling could easily be made more efficient with higher levels of regulation which then in turn would increase the percentage of waste arriving at recycling plants across the country.

Recycling comes last in the motto “reduce, reuse, and recycle” because it is the least effective out of the three practices. American buyer culture feeds into overproduction and mass consumption of manufactured goods, meaning more materials are being churned out to meet the demand. Reducing the amount being consumed would lower the demand for these items, causing companies to lower the supply, decreasing the environmental toll. If these items weren’t made to begin with then there wouldn’t be a need for reusing or recycling them. Making old materials into new products will not solve the current climate issues by itself. 

Reusing and repurposing materials helps minimize the amount of waste a person produces which would have ended up in landfills. It’s a cycle that goes on and it always leads back to helping the environment, hence the three continuous triangles on recycling symbols. However, this cycle starts most importantly with the reduction of manufactured goods being consumed.  

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