The First R

Posted in: ELNews, Recycling | 0

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about recycling in Lethbridge – recycling bins, recycling depots, curbside recycling.

Perhaps the recent decision by Lethbridge City Council to reject curbside recycling in Lethbridge should be a reminder that recycling is intended to be the last of the 3 Rs with reduce and reuse leading the way in how we manage our garbage.

In our efforts to do the right thing, it’s easy to forget that recycling is the last best option. In fact, recycling should be the thing that we do after we have exhausted all other possibilities, after we have thought about our need to buy more stuff, after we have reused and repurposed and composted then we should recycle as the best alternative to filling up our landfill.

Without question, recycling is necessary if we wish to be efficient and thrifty with our renewable and non-renewable resources. Recycling extends the life of raw materials such as wood fibre, oil, and aluminum and increases the longevity of our landfills. However, recycling uses resources as well. Additional energy and water are required to recycle products, not as much as are required to make them in the first place, but new inputs nonetheless.

In a recent article in the Guardian newspaper, the Head of Sustainability with Ikea, a company that is arguably not known for making long-lasting products, suggested that the western world was approaching peak stuff, leading many to make jokes about peak curtains and peak lamps. For a company such as Ikea, that thrives on consumer purchases, peak stuff is probably not music to their investor’s ears. As a result Ikea is approaching this challenge by piloting an in-house repurposing program where customers can return used or worn Ikea items for store credit and the items will be repaired and resold.

While it is important and worthwhile to see a company such as Ikea offering its customers options that will extend the life of its products, the first R is once again left out of the equation.

So why do we skip past reducing and head from the store to the recycling depot? Partly because reducing is harder than recycling. Reducing requires us to both think about the things we buy and to be disciplined in the ways we spend our money. Reducing is more personal than recycling, it makes us uncomfortable, makes us feel like we are not doing our part to support our community’s economy. Reducing is often portrayed as buying less, but perhaps what we need to do is to buy better. We can all contribute more to our economy if we buy quality, locally-made products instead of disposable ones. Buy better quality, buy local, buy what you need.

Recycling is always better than throwing usable resources into the landfill. But best of all is to be thoughtful about what we buy in the first place. If we take the time to make better decisions about what we buy, perhaps the lack of curbside recycling will be less painful to bear.