Recycling as a Last Step

Eva Lewandowski

Up until about a year ago, I lived in an apartment complex that did not provide recycling to its residents. This is an all too frequent occurrence for people who live in apartment buildings in the Twin Cities Metro. While some cities or counties require that all residents be provided with recycling facilities, many, especially in the suburbs, do not. As a result, those of us who choose to recycle are forced to take our recyclables to a county facility.

Living in a place with no recycling was frustrating for me, but I think it ended up being an overall positive experience. Because the county recycling facility was a somewhat long drive from my apartment, I only went two or three times a year. As I filled my storage closet almost to overflowing with my paper, bottles, and cans, I was really struck by how much I was recycling. Looking at the amount of recyclables that I accumulated over the space of several months made me take action to reduce the amount of recyclable waste I was producing.

We have been constantly taught over the last few decades that recycling is good, but there is a reason that recycle is the last step in the old “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” refrain. Using materials that can be recycled is what we should do when there are no other options available. We should first take steps to reduce our consumption and waste, then reuse as many items as possible, and only then resort to recycling. The reality of recycling is that it is not a complete solution.

Many materials can only be recycled a set number of times before they begin to break down. Others are recycled into products that are likely going to be thrown away rather than recycled. When that happens, part of what you recycled might end up in a landfill eventually. Because of this, it is best to reduce our consumption and waste generation as much as possible, and only then turn to recycling.

After seeing the amount of recycling I was generating, I changed many of my habits. I started purchasing products with as little packaging as possible, even if it was recyclable. I also took steps to eliminate the amount of mail I was receiving (much of which ended up in the recycling bin) and began reading more online news instead of traditional newspapers. I now live in a place with recycling onsite, but I continue to follow these steps. Hopefully some of you will too!

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