Throwing things away so they’ll end up in landfills pollutes. No two ways about it. Not using something in the first place doesn’t pollute. Recycling feels like it’s roughly in the middle. If you only have two comparisons and no objective scale, how else can you compare something in the middle but roughly in the middle.
Since I wanted to feel better about myself, I probably thought of recycling as closer to not using something in the first place. Reusing polluted even less. Here’s how I thought of the pollution scale of throwing things out:
This belief fit the phrase “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” They all seemed better than throwing something away and mostly related to each other.
You can pollute a lot less than recycling
Years ago I started composting, where you decompose plant waste like apple stems and peach pits to make more fertile soil with. Composting reduced my garbage and changed my perspective. It seemed less polluting than even reusing, which still ends up with something in a landfill. Moreover, it changed my picture of the pollution scale.
April’s experiment not buying food where I would have to throw away packaging after got me to cut down my garbage by maybe 75%. I take weeks to fill a garbage bag now.
I’ve only opened one can of food since then. I’ve started to look at cans as weird ways to store food, asking myself why I pay for people to dig aluminum ore out of the ground and melt it—what do you think aluminum’s melting temperature is?—just so I can have a few beans. Cooking dry beans takes energy, as does life, but less than melting aluminum. Then after you use the can, recycling it means melting it again.
Now I have more points on the scale. In this light, recycling looks a lot more like throwing stuff away. Here’s my new scale:
I recommend trying a week of not buying any food with packaging to throw away. Even if you don’t make the week, I predict you’ll learn more about foods, eat healthier, save money, and find more tasty food. What do you have to lose?
Read my weekly newsletter
Subscribe for a weekly update of musings on leadership, the environment, and burpees.