BY: DUSTIN BATTY
Many of us remember “The 3 R’s,” the song sung every year at elementary schools to celebrate Earth Day. Though Jack Johnson’s lyrics, “reduce, reuse, recycle” are an ear-worm that has plagued many of us for the past decade, we often fixate on the third of these R’s and forget the other two. Recycling is a beneficial environmental practice, but only compared to throwing waste materials into the trash. While recycling merely decreases the environmental impact of consuming goods, reducing the number of goods purchased and reusing or repurposing those goods can eliminate the environmental impact entirely.
Recycling is the main method by which most of us contribute to solving the environmental crisis. It is advertised almost everywhere as a benign, ecologically neutral process, and its practitioners are portrayed as heroes by the mainstream media. However, the recycling process still produces chemical waste and pollution. It simply does so to a lesser degree than the manufacturing of goods from raw materials. For example, the processes used to create recycled paper use only 64 per cent less energy than the creation of original paper, and it produces only 35 per cent less water pollution.
The only true benefit to recycling is that it allows people to feel like they are being environmentally conscious without noticeably reducing their quality of life or their ability to consume goods. It perpetuates the capitalist, materialist narrative that pervades our society, rather than truly helping solve the environmental crisis.
A much more effective method by which we can help reduce the impact humanity is having on the environment is to simply reduce the number of goods that we purchase. On a grand scale, cutting back on purchases would cause a correlative reduction in the production of those goods. Thus, instead of causing only a 35 percent reduction in pollution, the waste materials resulting from the production of these goods would be reduced to zero.
To further reduce the number of goods we purchase, we can reuse those which we do buy rather than discarding them after a single use. From water bottles to bread bag clips, many items are easy to use more than once. Items can also often be repurposed; a chipped plate can become a bird bath, and a broken shovel handle can support a beanstalk or tomato plant.
Despite our society’s obsession with recycling, our small personal contributions to solving the environmental crisis will be much greater if we simply buy fewer goods.