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  • Writer's pictureAlex Eaves

Recycling Is Overrated: Reuse Is The More Effection Solution

As I wrote about in my previous posts, recycling is an overrated solution to our waste problem and this is not a big revelation. People have been seeing this for years. It's just been heightened recently, especially after China's ban on importing recycling from the U.S. Like writer Katie Klear stated so well, "your recycling bin at the end of the curb is not a golden miracle for the Earth or a way out of the climate crisis." Fortunately major organizations like Green America and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are on board that reuse is the more effective solution.

As I make sure to point out, I’m not saying that we should not recycle and that I personally do not recycle. What I’m saying is that we should look to reuse existing items first and whenever possible. Reuse is a 2 for 1. You're using something again that's already here and reducing the amount of things that need to be made. With reuse, we don't need to figure out what to do with all of the stuff in recycling bins. We don't need to wish-cycle and hope things actually get recycled. Why spend all of this time and energy with recycling, when we could be knowing the impact that we’re making by reusing. And listen, I get it, single use items are convenient. Use something once, toss it in a bin and forget about it. But I'll say this until the end of time: our planet is not single use and that's the most convenient thing that we all share. So I go back to the same position.

Billboard with man holding a reusable mug, sitting in a carboard box, saying that reuse is the way to recycle right.
2017: Billboard for #LetsRecycleRight of Alex showing that reusing is the way to recycle right.

So, I want to look at some of the most commonly recycled items and share reuse alternatives or how to avoid them in the first place. These ideas will not only save resources, but also time and money. Some of these may seem like no-brainers, but we're all at different points in our journey. And let me know in the comment section below if you have some solution ideas.

  • Cardboard Boxes - It's amazing how many essentially brand new boxes are just recycled, when they could be used multiple times; especially with so many purchases being made online. If you ship packages (or know someone who does), flatten them and store them for personal use. I once saw a store in California that was just used boxes. Imagine if every city had a leave it and take it area for boxes at the transfer station? And here's an example of an online shop for used boxes geared towards moving.

  • Food Packaging (Paperboard boxes, Plastic containers, etc) - A lot of food packaging is mixed paper and plastic and hard to recycle to begin with. You can avoid a lot of this packaging by buying things in bulk and / or at refill shops. Here's a list of refill stores in the United States. Farmer's Markets and the produce section of grocery stores are other great places to avoid packaging with healthy food too.

Using a reusable glass mason jar to fill with bulk goods at a California refill shop.
Alex using a reusable glass mason jar to fill with bulk goods at a California refill shop.

  • Glass Jars - Buying items in bulk will avoid acquiring more of these. But if you buy items in glass jars, why toss them in the recycling bin, when there are endless amounts of uses: canning foods, storage containers, bulk food purchases, etc. I've even used jars as fun "gift boxes."

Still from the documentary REUSE! Because You Can't Recycle The Planet.Recycling fact: It takes more energy to recycle than it does to reuse
Still from REUSE! Because You Can't Recycle The Planet.

  • Paper - Use both sides of sheets of paper before you recycle it. Save scrap paper for personal use, like printing in-house, note paper, drawing, etc.

  • Paper or Plastic Bags - The majority of plastic bags are never recycled and just become landfill. This is why paper bags have become popular again. Sure, paper bags are better than plastic bags, but they're still single use bags that don't have to be made. Reusable bags are always the best option. And you don't have to go out and buy new canvas totes. Use any bag. After all, you're just bringing things home to put in your fridge and cupboards.

A man with a reusable shopping bag at a grocery store.
Alex with a reusable shopping bag at a grocery store.

  • "Paper" Coffee Cups - Most of these are not actually recyclable, as they have a thin plastic lining inside them. You can avoid these by bringing your own travel cup and at most shops, you'll get a discount too. If you're drinking coffee inside the shop, ask for an in-house mug. Most people would agree that drinking out of a ceramic mug is more comfortable than a paper cup.

  • Plastic Bottles - Unfortunately, the majority of drinks these days are in plastic bottles. You can avoid these by bringing your own bottle/cup/jar to refill at water stations and soda fountains. In most cases you'll save money, especially when it comes to water. And the more we call for change, the better. Our cohorts at Story of Stuff are currently leading a "Bring Back Refill" campaign to change just that.

Now, I know what many people are saying. "A piece of paper can only be reused so many times." "Jars break." "I don't have a refill store near me." For all of those reasons, I agree that we cannot be perfect with this. And again, I'm not saying that we should never recycle. I just know that my place here is to encourage reuse as much as possible and in as many different ways as possible before it gets to that point. The more we reuse, the less congested recycling will be and there is a possibility of recycling actually working.

As individuals, we have so much untapped power when it comes to bettering the planet. With reuse, WE are in charge. We don't have to play the guessing game of recycling. WE use something and WE can use it again. WE see first hand that WE are doing a good thing for our planet. That is an empowering feeling for us and reuse is an effective solution for our waste problem.

Thanks for hearing me out on these past few posts. Here's a fun, quick video I made to show how reusing is better. And as I mentioned above, let me know in the comment section below if you have some solution ideas. Cheers.


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