On my travels and while reading articles around the reducing waste theme, I came across a great article yesterday in regards to the difference between re-use and recycle. And to be honest its not really something iv’e thought a great deal about. However, I think that with everything else i’m learning, the difference here is vital as we often mistake one for the other, which below you will see is a terrible thing.
In no way is the following my own research or words, and of course ill cite the original article below-I just want to put the information together in my own way so I (and hopefully you) get a better understanding of the concept.
We often mistakenly call re-using something recycling, for example when you use a plastic container for a second time we may call that ‘recycling’, that isn’t the case though-we are instead re-suing the item. And while a simple mistake, it has some pretty big consequences…
Recycling is the process by which items are collected, melted, smashed and broken down into their basic raw materials to be able to be re-made into new items. Recycling is a fab way to reduce waste by creating less need for virgin raw materials, as well as reducing the impact on the environment of landfills, air pollution and energy consumption. The process of recycling, while appearing to be a great advantage to us conscious consumers, doesn’t actually get to the main issue here-being the normalization of single use-disposable products. Therefore recycling is still a form of waste production.
“As an industrial process, it necessitates expenditures of energy and virgin materials, and produces pollutants, greenhouse gases and waste. For example, recycling paper involves using water and electricity to separate paper fibers which must then be de-inked, a process that results in toxic sludge”.
Another issue is that recycling is not a closed loop system, as much effort as we put in there are many more items than can be recycled that are thrown into landfills anyway. And on top of that, products which are made from recycled materials or “down-cycled” tend to be less robust that their originals, and in fact, the chance of a recyclable product being recycled twice in its life is less than 1%.
On the other hand, re-using is the process of taking items and using them again, either for their original purpose or for something new. For example re-using glass jars to store food items and spices. This process challenges the normalization of disposable and one-use items, over consumption, and industry supported ‘environmentalism’ (from recyclable/green products). Re-using items means no new raw materials are used which in turn reduces waste and energy consumption. It also gives us the opportunity to get creative by re-purposing items and turning them into something new.
Becoming a reuse culture– the large-scale institutionalization and normalizing of reuse– instead of a throw-away culture perpetuated by guilt-free recycling would include changing the practices of production and consumption. There would be no more single-use items.
If we start caring about stuff, and having everything for a purpose, and own items that are made to be durable, long lasting and repairable we can make a move to a culture where we get back to basics. We can reduce the amount of waste we produce and consume, as well as reducing the energy required from recycling. I know it feels good to recycle, and leaves that guilt-free feeling of ‘oh this item is going to get re-used’, but the actual fact is that it probably isn’t, and unless we make a change on a large scale to own and use items that are always re-usable, then waste will continue to build up in landfills/oceans/forests unable to break down.
I know this post is a little heavy, but I believe by ensuring we get our terminology correct is an important step in understanding what we can do as individuals to make a difference.
Adapted from: http://discardstudies.com/2016/03/09/the-politics-of-recycling-vs-reusing/ (Original article by Max Liboiron)