Everyone knows the saying: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” but what some people might not know is that “Recycle” is listed last for a reason. While certainly an important component of the overall waste management strategy, recycling is considered the last line of defense before an item is sent to a landfill. A more positive impact on the environment and waste stream can be achieved by reducing consumption of disposable products and packaging or reusing these items for another purpose. Recycling is an option after these others are exhausted – much better than the landfill, but worse than not generating the waste in the first place.
It’s easy to focus solely on recycling. It steals the spotlight of most marketing campaigns and public outreach efforts. Even the universal symbol for the three “R’s” – three looping arrows – are sized equally, visually placing equal weight on each, but residents should re-imagine this symbol like a food pyramid, with “reduce” making up the largest portion of their waste management “diet.” Purchasing recyclable items (made of recycled materials) and properly recycling them are important components of the war on waste, and the City’s recycling program is here as a last line of defense. However, by first prioritizing waste reduction and reuse at home, a more sustainable future can be achieved.