I don't recall when I first heard about the three R's: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. I remember thinking they were all equally good things. Thanks to the Master Reycler class, I've gained a better understanding about the hierarchy and I'd like to climb up on a soapbox for a few minutes and share...
But first look at this pile of garbage at the dump (Metro transfer station in North Portland). I admit I've never been to the "dump" before. I let the haulers take my trash each month, blissfully unaware of where it ends up before being landfilled. I won't begin to describe the stench. In this area, it was mostly dry residential garbage, so not too smelly. There was a big heap of really stinky messy rotting "wet garbage," and I'll spare you the picture of that. What's scary is there's a bunch of stuff here that seems perfectly reusable. Lots of it recyclable. Bless the people who work here, because they do sort through and pull out what is recyclable and reusable. Part of their mission is to recycle or reuse 17 percent of what's thrown away. The sad thing is this was a pretty slow day, with a low level of garbage. But I kid you not, I watched a couple pull up in a truck and throw some very normal looking chairs and a bike, yes, a bike on the heap. The bike appeared to be in working order, more or less new. This happened right before my eyes. I was waiting for a lighting bolt to come down out of the sky, and sad to say, it did not happen.
After they pick through and glean the recyclables/reusables, there's still tons of work to be done. On average, 80 semi trucks a day haul the Metro region's waste to the Arlington landfill, 140 miles away from Portland. That's a horrifying amount of waste and an even scarier amount of gasoline.
Next, here's a mountain of glass at KB Recycling. It's breathtaking how large it is. Glass is infinitely recyclable. It's actually cheaper to make glass from recycled than raw materials. So that's a good thing. What a lot of us don't think about is the cost and resources it takes to recycle all of this on a regular basis. Don't get me wrong. Recycling glass is very good. But reducing the amout of glass we purchase and reusing the glass we do have in our possession is much, much better.
So, I've got a bunch more pictures, but I'll save them for another post. The point I want to bring home is this: when you purchase something, really think about it. Think about how long you'll really use the thing. Think about the packaging and waste stream it creates (and what you'll have to deal with and pay for down the line). Think about how much it cost to get it to your point of purchase (are cheap trinkets from China really so cheap?). Think if there is something you can reuse instead of buying new. Find out if there are similar products made from recycled materials, so that you can support businesses that invest in recycling. I hope this helps explain the hierarchy of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The higher up you stay in the cycle, the better, overall, it is for the environment.
OK. I've climbed off my soapbox. It is now safe to read the rest of the blog.