Recycling is good, waste reduction even better

Everyone’s heard of recycling. We’re all familiar with the value of putting recyclables into our designated containers for haulers to pick up once a week.

It deserves our interest and participation. Any way of reusing a product, more than once whenever possible, helps to keep those materials from taking up valuable landfill space where they take many years to decompose.

A certain amount of satisfaction should go with having weekly contributions to worldwide recycling efforts. That certain amount needs to be something short of complacency. We shouldn’t walk back inside with a mindset that once again we’re helping to make the environment as healthy as possible.

As valuable as recycling has proven to be, even more is attainable with daily grass roots decisions aimed at waste reduction, ones that limit the amount of disposable material being discarded in the first place.

Sometimes I’m amazed when I see a household garbage can and recycling container by the curb and both of them are pretty much overflowing.

I’m impressed on occasions when a see someone drop a bag about the size of a basketball into a garbage container right before taking it to the curb for collection. That might be three or four days worth of garbage, possibly even a full week if it doesn’t include any odor-causing material that had to be taken out sooner.

That standard is realistically not possible for a family with children. As a smaller household, I can’t hold myself up to any degree of excellence by making a comparison. It does, however, indicate that it’s worthwhile for everyone to consider the potential of having low overall volumes, both with garbage and recycling.

Garbage collectors, processors, and end users of recycled items don’t make enormous profits from their environmentally friendly roles. Instead it’s more a matter of having an adequate return that compensates for operating costs.

Overseas locations have been important as markets for recyclables. In the past several years the trend has been toward stricter standards about recycling loads, with refusals to accept ones that contain unwanted non-recyclables that have to be sorted out.

Waste reduction takes all of those factors out of the equation. It can mean using the same tools, utensils or supplies over and over again rather than needing a continuos household expense.

Likewise with food, a little more preparation time and creativity can lead to substantially less packaging that has to be thrown away immediately. It adds up, or to be more exact it doesn’t add up as much, even within the span of one or two days.

That doesn’t necessarily mean a lower quality of life. When you think of driving time and waiting time, it could actually be faster to already have all the necessary ingredients or to have what’s needed for simple household projects.

On the historic Great Plains, no one wanted to run out of food to the point of having to hope for happy hunting. It was equally vital to have truly dependable supplies and equipment.

The whole process was spelled out beautifully in the “Oregon Trail” computer game circa 1980, one of the first computerized simulations of a survival situation. It all depended on making good decisions at the right time. Someone was bound to arrive in Oregon City with a balanced approach to trading posts, hunting, eating moderately, and going forward at a manageable pace.

Although survival is more of a figurative concept in 2019, it’s basically the same in terms of thinking about both short range and long term objectives.

The idea of consuming less often isn’t popular with either the consumer or supplier. It sounds better when phrased in the context of consuming wisely, maybe making due with a little less at the moment in order to be in better shape for steady consumption.

In the long run such an approach can become more economically sustainable. If the wheels keep turning, everyone keeps coming out ahead.


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