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  • Writer's pictureAlex Eaves

Recycling Is Overrated: We've Been Misled

On a recent visit to the recycling center, I was looking around at all of the people putting their paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass in the right bins. These people were surely feeling good about the choices that they were making; doing something good for the planet and keeping things out of the landfill. But the whole time I was wondering, "How much of this is actually going to be recycled?"

Alex sitting on a mountain of recycling stored in a warehouse

If you grew up anytime between the 1990s and now, you surely have heard that recycling was the solution to our waste problem. Instead of people throwing things to that magic land of "Away," recycling would actually do something with the waste. The waste would be broken down and made into new products. But unfortunately, as we have learned more and more with every passing year, recycling has not been the godsend it was cracked up to be. But through that same time, and for hundreds of years before, there was a waste solution with a positive impact that could be immediately seen. And if we're going to want our planet to endure for hundreds of years more, it has to increase exponentially. And that solution is reuse.

Before anything else, I want to define the two terms "reuse" and "recycle". Many people tend to consider them one in the same, but this is something that I always try to clairfy for people. And like I exemplified in my first film, there is a simple and drastic difference.

Still from REUSE! Because You Can't Recycle The Planet.

Let's look at that difference a little closer, though. I always use a glass bottle as an example because that's what I've been using for water for years. I think in terms of juice bottles, but for this example, you can pretend it's soda, beer, whatever you prefer. So, if you have a glass bottle, here are the steps for recycling it:

  1. Put the glass bottle in the recycling bin.

  2. A truck will come pick the bin up.

  3. The truck will drive the contents back to the recycling center.

  4. Machinery will break the original bottle down.

  5. Machinery will turn the broken down glass into that same glass bottle again.

  6. The bottle will be filled with liquid and a new label will be put on.

  7. The bottle will be put in a package and shipped to a store.

Now, let's look at the steps for reusing a glass bottle instead.

  1. Wash the empty glass bottle

  2. Use it again

  3. Repeat

Isn't the difference clear? With reusing just one bottle instead of recycling it, you're saving a lot of time, natural resources and money; for both you and others.

Glass juice bottles reused for years instead of recyclable single use bottles

Now, before I go any further with this 4-part series on recycling (yeah, I have a lot to say), I want to say that I am not "Anti" Recycling. I am just "PRO" Reuse first, especially when it comes to the mass amounts of stuff that's already here. But I can only reuse a piece of paper so many times and sometimes my glass bottles break.

Like many of you reading this, I grew up thinking that if there was excess paper, plastic, aluminum, or glass, it was best to put it in the recycling bin. But I also grew up in a house, where little beyond that was thrown away. There may have been loose screws, old chimney pipes or broken desks, but my dad saw potential. He always had plans on how to reuse things. And that was a message that really stuck with me. But I didn't realize it until I came face to face with a worldwide waste problem in 2004.

Talk to you next week.



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