Reduce, reuse, recycle
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Date: 21 October, 2011



'Don’t forget to look at how products are disposed of after reuse.'


Suzanne Elvidge wonders if recycling is still really the best route to be planet-friendly

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We are encouraged to recycle, from the labels on drinks cans to the recycling bins in the supermarket car parks. However, is recycling really the best route?

Plastics are degraded when recycled, and can only be downcycled (see The A - Z to Eco: C & D, and paper and cardboard can only be recycled around 4-6 times until the fibres become too short.

The waste hierarchy is to reduce, reuse, recycle, so perhaps by focusing on recycling we are starting at the wrong end.

Practical reusing

The glass milk bottle is an icon of reuse – on average, each milk bottle is reused 24 times, and the added advantage is that it’s brought to your door, so you don’t have to make a special carbon-guzzling car journey to go and buy milk.

Don’t have milk delivered? Try FindMeAMilkman to find your local milkman (or milkwoman).

You can reuse envelopes by sticking labels over the addresses; reuse plastic bottles as plant watering systems or bird feeders; reuse milk containers as hanging baskets or storage containers (and lots and lots of other things); make coin purses or baby toys from juice cartons; the uses for things we otherwise throw away are almost endless.

If you can’t find a way to reuse something, pass it on to someone who can through a re-use group like Freegle - anything from a chair to a plant and a baby dress to old walking boots... and more.

For a great example of reusing, students at MIT and the Liter of Light project have created a light tube from a soft drinks bottle, water and bleach that directs daylight into dark buildings, so that electric lights are not needed during the day.

The water refracts the light into the building and the bleach stops algae, producing the equivalent to a 55-watt bulb.

Don’t forget to look at how products are disposed of after reuse – can they be reused again, or recycled? If not, they then, unfortunately, will still become part of landfill.


So... an even more radical thought – what about reducing instead?

Think before you buy – do you really need it? If you do, do you really need to buy it new?

Reduce packaging by buying from local markets and farmers’ markets, or by buying in bulk or buying concentrated forms

Reduce paper use by writing or printing on both sides (and reduce printer ink by using a low-ink font)

Use reusable mugs rather than plastic cups

Buy good quality clothes that will last rather than cheap ones that will fall apart and clutter up landfill

Buy multipurpose (and preferably green) household cleaners rather than one for every purpose

Stop junk mail

Waste less food

Suzanne Elvidge is a freelance writer and Surefish Ethical Living Editor



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