How are the Rs”, as in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, working out for us?

by Michael Smith

First of all as far as I am concerned there should be at least one more “R” namely that or “re-purpose” or “rework”, that is to say making things from the trash that otherwise would be destined for the recycling bin or, the gods forbid, the landfill. In addition to that “R” another one or two more might be considered too, and we will come to one more further on.

When it comes to “recycling” anyway now we are in trouble in the developed world. China is no longer buying as much of the recyclable materials from the our waste stream these days. There is no need for them to make products because we are not buying them at the moment. This is resulting in recyclable waste backing up at the recycle broker 's locations in the USA, the UK, and elsewhere in the developed world who rely on sending their recyclables to China. In the UK brokers have already asked for exception from safety rules and such so that they can store the materials in locations that might otherwise never have been approved for this purpose.

But let's face it, there is only that much that the brokers will be willing to store anywhere, especially as stage is costly too. Therefore, if this keeps up, when they run out of space and reserves, those waste brokers will likely send into the landfill everything that you and I have been striving to recycle.

Hence, my usual message: think reuse, then re-purpose and rework before even sending it into the recycling stream.

What also gets to me in this is why do we send the recyclables thousands of miles away to China broken up (where this term might be appropriate) and then to be reprocessed. I really have a problem with the fact that the material is shipped across the globe to China (and other places) instead of being processed and reprocessed at home.

So how is that message of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” working out for us now? For reasons of the economic downturn we reduced consumption, which I personally think is a good idea, but that now has caused the “Recycle” to be in trouble.

The problem here is that we, or better the powers that be and industry, have turned recyclables into a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder and such and sent abroad to be reprocessed rather than too be used here, at a local level.

When the economy is in full spate it is normally the environment and social equity that suffer and this seems to get worse still when the economy does a downturn toward recession and depression. Now, because we have reduced no one is buying and no one needs to make much and therefore all that stuff than can be recycled and that we do send to recycling piles up in yards and warehouses and, obviously, it cannot stay there indefinitely.

The fact is that we may, indeed be headed foe a depression rather than a simple recession and it that is the case then we are in trouble and the recyclables will end up in the landfill again, as all those glass bottles did some years ago when the bottom fell out of the marked for recyclable glass for a while.

The Boy Scouts used to go from door to door every year collecting the old phone books for recycling. Paper that they could sell for the association to the recyclers but, again, the bottom fell out of that market a while back too and those collections never resumed. And this all was years back.

Then, it would appear, all went up again in the market of secondary raw materials, as this was called in the old German Democratic Republic, and money was being made, mostly though by the brokers and resellers rather than by those that collected the materials.

Meantime we have been told to “reduce” as the first “R” in the collection and we have done so, primarily now because of the economy and the downturn of the same and now, because we have reduced, as I have already said, the market for recyclables has taken a downturn and everyone ends up sitting on mountains of the stuff. In the end, unless the market is going to go up very soon, and this is something that I am beginning to doubt, we will end up with much of the recyclables going into landfill for lack of another outlet. Therefore, on that level incineration in CHP plants should be considered so that, at least, we can reap the benefit of heat and power from it.

On the other hand, as I have said already, and not just here, we must look at recycling and recyclables from a different angle and perspective and look at making the things into resalable items at home rather than shipping the stuff all the way to Asia and elsewhere for processing into the base materials again from which to make new plastic, or whatever.

Retailers and stores in general report that consumers are buying what they need rather than what they want. In this way the credit crunch and the downturn are having a very healthy benefit.

There is also lately the voice of Common Sense heard calling from the far side of WWII. “Hey! How many of those do you need anyway? Eh? You just bought one last year and the year before. Give one to somebody who needs it.”

Maybe we must add yet another “R”into the equation, the “R” for Relate; in other words to give it away to someone in need.

Maybe we should open up to the idea that while we could keep this or that of which we have too many, someone else might actually need it. Reduce, Reuse, Re-purpose, Rework, Recycle, Relate. It just might be what we need, though not necessarily in that order.

Some suggestions for the other “R” for Relate:

You could place items by the curb for a day or two with a “FREE” sign on it. Though suggest you check with your local authority and housing association and other relevant places as to whether this is OK and acceptable.

You could also offer items on or on places such as Greenopolis' Free N Exchange

Call your church or any church, or synagogue or temple, to ask if someone needs what you like to give away

Listen to people talking and you may hear that someone says they need such an item as the one you wish to part with

Donate it to a charity or a Goodwill Store. In the UK we are quite fortunate to have all those many Charity Shops in our neighborhoods, often, and who are also willing to come and pick things up in many instance.

© M Smith (Veshengro), March 2009