Living Less Unsustainably: Rethinking Recycling

May 18, 2020

Credit Love Cross / KLCC

We are participating in ordinary activities in different ways now, and have adapted to new circumstances.

An innovative attitude could help us waste less and live more sustainably too. The discussion over the virtues and foibles of plastic versus paper grocery bag recycling led to a better solution; re-usable bags. 

Washable re-usable face masks are already making shortages impossible. Once you have two, you are good to go

Did you hear the key word in our new way of viewing sustainability?  I'll use it again. Re-usable.

Our well-intentioned desire to recycle things results in more waste sometimes.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality analyst David Alloway looks at waste and came up with a better set of questions.

Not "Can it be recycled?", but "Should it be recycled". My training as a master recycler makes me shy away from the "Should" question. But recycling an ounce of Styrofoam involves a trip to Portland that, even for a whole truck full, uses more energy than it saves.

The bigger questions Alloway asks is how can I avoid needing the product in the first place, and when – gasp-is it better to throw something away than try to recycle it.

Styrofoam is a perfect example. Deciding whether to use it is easy- and hard. Don't buy Styrofoam products and you won’t have to recycle it- unless it’s the best product for the job, and the job needs doing. Bring your own cup and take out container - when we can again. And use foam for building insulation where it will save far more energy than it takes to make it.

The plastic wrapper on a block of cheese is a throw away for now, but it keeps that resource intensive product from spoiling and wasting the embodied energy, is lower energy than wax. Changing the way we think about recycling is hard- harder than recycling sometimes.

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