The real R's of waste management

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

We keep hearing the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” but they way most people seem to perceive it, due to government brainwashing, is as “recycle, recycle, recycle”.

All talk is about that we must recycle more, and more, and about recyclability of products and so on. Reducing waste to start with and then reuse (and repurposing) never gets a looking in and a mention. But, the governments, central and local, cannot make any money from us reusing things now, can they. Only recyclables that they collect from the curbside and businesses can be sold to processors.

We do not so much need recyclability in products but we need repairability of products and people who can fix those products if and when there is something wrong with them.

The problem is, however, that even if a product if repairable it is more often than not more expensive to repair it or getting it repaired, with the parts being prohibitively expensive not even to talk about labor costs.

Recyclability for one is becoming a great get out as the very fact that so many products can, now, be recycled is, paradoxically, feeding consumption.

Buying recyclable and recycled has become the “in thing” and is giving people a false sense of making a sustainable choice.

While products now often are considered to be recyclable, that is to say they can be broken up into their components and then the bits recycled, they still have a factored-in obsolescence of three years or less and that factored in obsolescence, in itself, is causing our problems and recyclability is changing not one iota here.

Recyclability is, in fact, now fueling consumption as people think that it does not mater if they toss their laptop, smartphone, or what-have-you, out after less than a year because they want to upgrade. “What's the problem”, they say. “It can be recycled”.

We must start with Rethink: That is to say we must rethink our consumption and what we really need rather than what we are told that we need.

Do you really need a new cellphone, a new iPhone, for instance, after you have just got a new one a few months ago simply because there is a new one out. No. It is not need but want.

And we often mistake wants for needs because the way advertising and marketing suggest to us that we need those things to make us happy, or make us feel part of a group, or whatever. But many of those things are not need, they are but wants that we need not fulfill.

The second R to look at is Respect: Respect for what we have and for the resources that went into the products that we already have. This respect was once known as “looking after out things” and especially our younger generation needs to learn this again.

As children when we were given, say, a knife or a bicycle or whatever, we were also told to look after it and taught how to look after it. Which reminds me that I really have to give my bicycles – yes, more than one, but all rebuilt ones – a good looking over and service and repair them where necessary.

The next to consider is Refuse: Refusing to buy into the consumerism that we are told, including by our governments, we should do to “grow the economy”.

Reduce is a very obvious one and it means for us to do not just one form of reducing but more than one. The most obvious is to reduce the waste that we produce; the other to reduce our consumption of things we do not really need.

Now we come to the most important of the R's, namely to Reuse: Reusing of everything, almost, was the way of our parents and grandparents and their parents. Tin cans, glass jars, etc., all were reused for other purposes, which is already the other R of Repurpose.

Other ways of reuse were that clothes that the children had grown out of were passed on to younger siblings, cousins, etc., or simply to children of the neighbors.

Repair is the next one when it comes to products that we own when they develop a problem or to clothes and shoes when they come apart or get torn.

Most people, however, today cannot even sew on a button let alone repair a tear in a garment, or patch a hole in a pair of pants or such, and patching is definitely something that most have not got the slightest idea of.

When it comes to the repair of footwear the problem is also that most so-called shoe repairers in fact cannot do much more than glue a new sole or heel on a shoe or boot. Reattaching the upper to the bottom is something they have almost no idea of at all.

And the other issue is that most of our products today, as already said, can either not be repaired or, if and when they can, repair often costs several times more than a new product, thus giving the consumer, that is you and me, no other choice but to buy new and thus carry on the onslaught on the environment and resources.

Only after all has failed and as a last resort there comes Recycle: Recycling is presented to us as almost the be all and end all of waste management and how we should treat our rubbish but it should never be the fist choice. Alas, for many, even in the green movement, it is.

Instead of reusing a tin can as a pencil bin (and yes, I have arrived at that peeve of mine again) they toss the clean can into the recycling bin and go out to buy a recycled steel pencil bin. Duh? And the same goes for glass jars that are tossed into the recycling and then they go out and buy recycled glass storage jars where the ones tossed, like the tin can, would have done the same duty, for free.

Recycling is the last resort and that simply because it is costly, to our municipalities and to the environment.

The curbside pickup costs money and also costs the environment by way of emissions, that is to say pollution from the diesel trucks. The recyclables then go to the plant to be broken up and then made into products again, though, don't be deceived, your glass jar or bottle tossed is not going to become another bottle or jar. In fact a whole industry has sprung up creating new products using the materials created by heavy use of energy, such as “bricks” from the ground up glass, or road aggregate.

The steel from tin cans does become steel again and the same is true about aluminum from soda and beer cans but that is not the point. All of it costs a great deal of money which, if those items where not waste in the first time, and glass bottles and jars, for instance, cleaned, can be used time and again until they finally break. Only then should the glass be recycled.

Look at every item of waste that you do, after reducing, produce as to whether it may have a new use in one way or the other. With the right mindset those uses can and will be found.

Be frugal and live frugal. Use various kinds of small glass jars as drinking vessels for various drinks, larger ones as vases, and others as storage jars for dried foods, coffee, tea, etc. It saves you money and prevents things going for recycling or into the landfill.

Look at some of the old books as to how the people in the last century of your grandparents' and their parents' generation reused items of “waste”, and here especially those that had very little.

Make this into a philosophy and a way of life and both your wallet and the Planet will benefit.

© 2013