Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: What You Didn’t Know About The 3 R’s
We’ve all heard the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” For many of us, we’ve heard it since we were born. It’s been around since the environmentally-friendly movement started in the 1970s.
I always understood it to mean what I assume most people think it means: If you want to be environmentally-friendly, do one of these three things:
- reduce the amount you use
- reuse what you already have, get it used, or
- recycle it.
That ‘or’ is important: it suggests that you should do one of these things. That you have a choice, and each one is equally important. The slogan implies that all of these things are equally environmentally-friendly.
They are not.
So of the 3 R’s, which is the most environmentally-friendly? Should we prioritize one over the others? Why aren’t they all equal? Let’s dive in!
The 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Recycling: The worst of the three
It turns out, that when you recycle something, you need to use a LOT of resources to do so: everything must be sorted by both machines and by people, recycling glass and aluminum require melting it down (usually burning fossil fuels), recycling paper means using a lot of water, and in all cases, it’s cheaper to just make something new than it is to recycle something old. In the case of plastics, as we are recently learning, the concept of plastic recycling is mostly a myth.