Why ‘recycling’ should be avoided

Because the two alternatives don’t get enough attention

Badri Sunderarajan


The word ‘recycle’ has become a buzzword. Companies advertise their recycled paper, recycled water-bottles, and even plastic bags that could potentially be recycled!

But how many of those products actually get recycled? And how much energy and resources does it take to actually do the recycling? What about the logistics of getting the recycled material to the correct place to be recycled?

Of course, recycling has its benefits. It reduces the amount of useless waste piling up on the planet, and it’s often more efficient, resource-wise, than getting new product materials from scratch.

But we can do even better.

The word ‘recycle’ seems to have been popularised with the slogan ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’. What’s often missed is that we should try to ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’ in that order.

First, reduce. Buy less. Have less. Win less free-gifts. Before you get something new, ask yourself: “Do I really need this?”

Supermarkets and shopping-centres arrange their products in such a way that you always tend to buy more than you intended. They put essential items like groceries at the back, so you have to walk past all the shelves, full of products waiting to grab your attention.

Along the aisle, the items you’re looking for are arranged down below, or high up on the shelves, leaving the eye-level space for stuff they want to tempt you to buy.

If you’re going shopping for something big, try going once to check out the products, and then once again later to actually buy them. That way, your mind has time to switch out of ‘shopping mode’, and have a proper think-through about what you want to buy.

You can make a list, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting something.

Or you could be like Socrates, who used to often walk through the marketplace, but never actually bought anything at the end of it. When his friends asked why, he said,

“I love to go there and discover how many things I am
perfectly happy without”

‘Reduce’ doesn’t just mean buying less things, however. It also means choosing and using those things wisely, and reducing your impact on the environment.

If you have a choice, pick locally grows fruits and vegetables instead of ones shipped in from far away. Indirectly, you’ll be reducing the amount of packing and petrol used to get the food to where you are.

Avoid items with plastic packaging, because that plastic will eventually have to be thrown somewhere. Even if it’s recyclable, there’s a limit to how many times a piece of plastic can be recycled: eventually, there will come a time when it has to be dumped.

(Biodegradable plastics are a different matter, of course.)

When you can’t reduce, reuse. Make the maximum use of things before throwing them away.

First and foremost, carry your own shopping-bags. If you go shopping once a week, and use just four bags per trip, that would still save over 200 plastic-bags a year!

Some places like Karnataka have biodegradable carry-bags instead of regular plastic ones. But that’s on excuse for leaving yours at home. While the store-provided bags don’t cause as much long-term pollution, there’s still a lot of energy that goes into making them — energy that could be avoided if you reused your old ones.

(Yes, that’s a sort of ‘reusing’ too. They’re both kind of connected.)

Aside from shopping-bags, try to choose reusable versions of other products, too. If you’re buying a new appliance or gadget, pick one that will last long, and that can be repaired when it stops working.

Nowadays, disposable’ appliances are getting more common, but even they can sometimes be repaired at home if you’re inclined that way.

Of course, you can’t do the same with food: you have to eat it. There’s no question of ‘repair’. But what if you plant some seeds from your food and let them grow? And then end up with more of it later? That could also be called ‘reusing’, in a way!

Another kind of reusing is when you don’t want something any more. Is it recyclable? Great, then you can throw it away with a clean conscience…or can you? Maybe not.

Instead of throwing it to go through the whole process of being turned into something else, why not first see if there’s someone who’ll want it as it is?

Join a group like Freecycle, where people find new homes for their unwanted possessions — and there’s always OLX or eBay if you want to make some money in the process.

If you’re too attached to something to give it away, at least try lending it out. That way, other people won’t have to get new things when they can borrow them from you instead. It’ll be ‘reducing’ for them and ‘reusing’ for you. A win-win situation (assuming they’re reliable at taking care of and returning your things, of course).

When all the options are exhausted, and you can’t ‘reduce’ or ‘reuse’ any more, then you can recycle. By all means, go ahead and do it.

You can either recycle it yourself, by making use of it in a creative way, or, if that’s too hard, then send it off to someone who’s in the business. It’ll depend on the level of recycling, of course.

Before I end, let me reiterate that I’m not against recycling. Should we recycle less? Not at all. On the contrary, let’s continue with our recycling — but let’s try to reduce and reuse more as well!



Badri Sunderarajan

Books reader, Websites coder, Drawings maker. Things writer. Occasional astronomer. Alleged economist. Editor@Snipette.