Recycle as a last resort

If you feel a little bit green every time you remember to put your waste paper in the recycle bin, I’ve got bad news for you. It’s not good enough. Recycling is only “a little less bad” than pure wasting. It takes carbon based fuels to recycle paper. Only a small percentage of paper, for example, is converted back into useable paper. Every time you recycle, you actually suck technical nutrients out of a product, lowering its quality. In the book Cradle To Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, call this downcyling. What do you think recycled recycled paper would feel like? How thin and easily torn would it be?

This is the fallacy of thinking that recycling is a magic bullet. Often, we take so much comfort in knowing that we religiously recycle, we print out a phone book worth of stuff a week. “After all”, we sigh, “It’s going to be recycled AND I use recylcled paper to begin with!” There are actually studies and papers that demonstrate how much wasted energy goes into moving scrap items down the supply chain to be recycled, then hopefully redeployed later.

We’ve got to get out of the mindset of using too much in a socially responsible way and focus more on wasting less. Ray Anderson at Interface Floor has a brilliant definition of waste, “anything that does not produce Customer value.”

Remember the old adage; “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”? Don’t think of it as a set of options, think of it as a sequence of alternatives. In other words, recycling is a last resort if reduction and reuse fail to eliminate waste. Let’s stick with paper as the example. The greenest thing you could do is redesign your information intake from paper to plastic (I mean computer). Face it, you hit the print button far too often to facilitate convenience in taking in information you find important. You see a good article, print. You get a long email with attachment, print ‘em both. You print out power point presentations, maps and a gaggle of useless google results that you could just read on screen, save and avoid printing. The reason we do this is because we think that it is easier to read something on paper than on screen. That’s a design issue. You’ve decided that you prefer to read that way, so you print then hopefully recycle.

Redesign today by making every print job beg for its life. Develop folders on your computer desktop to hold articles you used to print. Scan more, print less — pass it on.

Read this study: (Is Recycling Good For The Environment)