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The Environmental Pyramid: Is Recycling the Best Option?

February 16, 2010

Do you ever get distracted surfing the internet.  For example, have you ever started out with a search for “healthy family recipes” and ended up on a page discussing the rate at which germs multiply on your toothbrush?   Sometimes it seems one thing leads to a million others and 2 hours later (while you’re serving PB&J), you might have an idea for what to cook for dinner tonight….tomorrow night!

This very thing – distractions on the internet, that is – happened to me a bit ago.  I was wanting to do some research on SEO.  I sat down at my computer.  An hour later, I’m on this website talking about eliminating waste in our society!  The site is appropriately named Zero Waste Institute. The author of the site discussed his/her ideas for how to reuse items instead of our society’s knee-jerk reaction of throwing them in the trash.  The ideas were sometimes a little off the wall, but the site gave me pause.  It made me question my noble contribution to recycling.

Until now, I’ve prided myself in my ability to (sometimes) go far out of my way just to recycle plastic and cardboard.  I felt like I was doing my part for the environment.  Checked that box.  But really, is recycling the best option?  Surely it is better than adding to the landfills, right?  But, is there something better?  Something I can hold my head even higher while I participate? (I may need to author a post on humility soon.)

Our society has begun a huge push toward decluttering over the last decade.  There are books, blogs, radio and even television programs dedicated to “getting rid of stuff”.  While I do see the benefit to simplifying life and only having what you need, I wonder how often we throw things away in an effort to declutter because it is easier than finding a home for the “stuff”.  A place where it could continue its useful life.  This act may be done out of selfish laziness rather than a real desire to better one’s environment.

I came across the following diagram on wikipedia.  It shows in pictoral form exactly where our focus should be.  Interestingly, recycling is in the middle rather than at the top.

Waste HierarchyHow will you contribute to positive environmental change by thinking outside of the pyramid?

Diagram provided courtesy of Drstuey/Used with permission.
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