Reduce vs Reuse vs Recycle

  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Most of us are pretty familiar with the three R’s. But perhaps there’s a little more to learn. Firstly, there’s a big importance to their order. It is preferred to reduce the overall amount of stuff we consume or resource being input to create a product. Once consumption is at a minimum - we want to get the most out of the stuff we do have. Reusing products repeatedly is preferred to disposable one-time-use products. Also, we can repurpose a product for secondary uses at the end of it’s first use. Lastly, when a thing has been made only because it was needed and used as wisely as possible, then we can recycle the materials into other usable products. The end of the life cycle is hopefully as an input to another product. What cannot be recycled (recycling can be seen as including nature’s organic composting) is most commonly buried, diluted or incinerated - ie., thrown “away”.

    Often recycling becomes the catchall phrase for the three R’s and many marketing promotes recycled or even recyclable content as the best option. Sometimes they are the best or only option. But sometimes they are not. Look at reusable moving boxes as an example. A durable reusable plastic moving box (such as a FROGBOX) take 8 times the energy to produce as does a comparable cardboard moving box. But whereas cardboard typically only gets two or three reuses at best, a FROGBOX is part of a system that ensures a life of 400 uses. This is a fairly simple analysis, but still we can see the value is clear. A responsibly reused product is a better option.

    Do note: a durable product that will not get reused is not a better option. For example you wouldn’t want to buy a new reusable coffee mug every time you go to Starbucks. They take many times more energy than paper cups to produce. If you have one, take it with you wherever you go, but you need to use it hundreds of times to ensure that it is the better choice than a paper cup.

    Some cardboard recycling facts:

    1. Energy and Water Use. The pulp and paper industry is the third largest consumer of energy, using 11.5% of all energy in the industrial sector, and also the largest industrial consumer of water in the US.

    2. Limited Recyclability. Cardboard can only be recycled about 5-7 times before virgin pulp must be added to provide adequate strength to the material.

    3. GHGs. Cardboard decomposition produces methane, one of the most potent Greenhouse Gases. And, according to the EPA, about 20% of the corrugated collected for recycling in the United States is exported, mostly to China.

    4. Water Pollution. In addition to the chemicals needed as an input to process recycled pulp, the sludge from a cardboard box can leach inks, coatings and fillers into the ground, poisoning waterways and wildlife habitats.

    We hope you found this informative. Thanks for reading! And here’s to happy moving!

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