Monday, July 9, 2012

The Other 'R's In Recycling

We hear big pushes for recycling, it's always, recycle, recycle, recycle.  In most Asian countries you can see recycling bins next to every trash can, some recycle all types together, others separate them up.  You'll even see them at McDonalds and Subway.  Recycling is good, right? Well, you can find Penn and Teller's video on YouTube where they debunk recycling, but that's not really what this blog post is about.

The Three R's

We've probably all have heard this at one time or another, but how many of us remember these three?  How many of us that remember them, actually try to put them into action.  The Three R's are to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  In today's world of over sized soda's and triple cheeseburgers the first R seems to just fall by the wayside.  We like our disposable everything that we have nowadays, from razors to electronics.  It used to be that when the toaster broke down, you fixed it, now it's go to WalMart and buy a new one.  There was the time when we would pick up the fan and move it to another room, now we just buy another one to go with it.
    The only thing some of us seem to have improved on is recycling stuff.  We know newspaper and cardboard go in the recycling, and we feel good about doing our part to protect the environment.  But the truth be told, without the first two R's, the third one isn't really doing us a lot of good, and as Penn and Teller have pointed out, most of that ends up in a landfill anyway, we're recycle so much we don't know what to do with it all.


It seems like the people who thought up this triplet put in a lot of consideration over the order of these three R's, with reduce being the first R seeming most suitable and appropriate.  If we reduce what we need to use, we then won't need to use as many resources to begin with, therefore creating less waste, and because we reduced what we were using we also don't have as much to recycle.
    Reducing can sometimes be the hardest one at times to do.  We spend so much time focusing on recycling, nobodies really taught us how to reduce what we use.  I'm struggling with this as I type it up.  I can only really think of a couple examples of reducing, particularly as it has to do with water and electricity, but in this day of electronic everything, most of us just sort of accept the electric bill as something that we can't control.  Nothing motivates us more than our pocket books, and fads.  The latest thing out right now are High Efficiency washers, which use much less water per load than conventional.
    Another example is similar to what we were taught in middle school about turning off the faucet while we aren't using it, like while we are brushing our teeth.  Some people do that also while showering. Water is a valuable natural resource, and it does tax the land and environment the more we have to use.
    One of the hardest I find is car pooling.  I would love to start car pooling, but it seems as if I can't ever find someone with the same hours and lives near me.  If everybody car pooled, we could cut traffic in half, and reduce our dependency on oil, foreign and domestic.
    If anybody else can think of examples of reducing, please leave them in the comments.


Now here is where the conspiracy theories start coming into play, I'll let down a couple of my ideas that I have thought about over the years and we'll see what the readers think about them.  Back in the day of the revolutionary and civil wars, or going further back to even the Vikings, we see armies with beards or moustaches of all shapes and sizes.  But with the advent of toxic gases and chemical warfare coming to play during the world wars and up into the Vietnam war, there was a necessity for gas masks to be worn and to be flush against the face, which a beard would not allow.  A company called Gillette came up with a disposable razor that would allow soldiers to not worry and spend so much time shaving, and was cheap also.
    Fast forward a few more decades and slowly everything has become disposable.  Step in WalMart and other big box discounters and we find that people can live the life of luxury for much less than it used to cost.  The real cost behind though is quality.   Do you have an old dresser that your grandfather made?  Perhaps a hutch that has been passed down through the past hundred years?  Now think of anything recent that you have bought that you might pass on to your children?  Not thinking of anything, drawing a blank.  Exactly.  Things are made cheap, break easily, and manufacturers like this. If you made a bookshelf that could last 100 years, they would run out of business.  Gillette likes to sell you $15 of blades every month for the rest of your life, WalMart likes selling you a $10 camp chair this year, and next year, and the year after.  Sometimes it seems like we are so into getting a "deal" on something that we just forget about quality and think of the now and not the next year, decade or century.
    When I lived in Taiwan, there isn't much in the way of second hand stores.  Why is this?  People there use things to the point of not being able to use them any more.  Moreover they will repurpose it and use it until there is no  way to repurpose it again.  This is the ultimate form of reuse that is able to save the environment.  If we can't reduce the things that we use (e.g. drinking water) we can reuse what we do use (porcelain cups vs paper cups).  I even knew someone who's parents would take a shower and save the water to dump in the back of the toilet.  Same with the handwashed laundry water.  Reduce, and reuse what you can't reduce.


At this point we finally arrive at where we need to recycle.  I'm not going to spend much time on this topic.  We have cut out any thing that isn't necessary, and reused what we do have.  Now there are the scraps left over afterwards.  There may be little distinction sometimes between recycling and reusing, but perhaps we could use the standard of recycling being something that you give to a recycle company.  We'll leave compost to the reader to decide if that is recycling or reusing.  With the above being done correctly we can reduce the amount of recycling that we have, meaning that less of the so-called recycling ends up in the dump.


By living the first two R's the third will come more naturally.  We will find out that a larger investment in finer, high quality items, may actually mean quite a bit  of savings down the road.  When your neighbour has bought their fourth set of lawn chairs in six years, you'll still be on your first.  You may have paid twice as much up front, but now you have more cash to spend on the other items you would like to enjoy.  Live frugal, spend wisely, and enjoy life.  Enjoying doesn't have to be wasteful, splurging on everything and not caring about the excess.  You'll find that it's much more cost effective to first reduce, then reuse before you recycle.
    If you like this article, share it with someone else and come back each week for more.  Feel free to leave suggestions for future topics in the comments or email me at

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