Posted by: UrbanGreenGirl | November 18, 2008

Why recycling is not the answer

screenshotThese days, many people believe think that being “green” means recycling. Don’t get me wrong, this is good, but it should be the last resort in the green solution.

Consumption = (extraction, production, distribution, consumption, disposal)

Remember in elementary school when we learned about the 3 R’s, (reduce, reuse, recycle)? These are the 3 steps in solving our waste management problems. However, before we even start the consumption cycle, we need to rethink our actions and how they will impact the environment. If we rethink our actions, we possibly eliminate the need for waste management in the first place.


For those of you who have seen the Story of Stuff, good for you, for those who haven’t, watch it, it will literally change your life. This has become my environmental bible as it gives an excellent ‘big picture’ of the world in which we live.



We drastically need to rethink our purchases and reflect on the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’.  Do I really need to upgrade my cell phone and computer every 2 years? Do I really need to buy brand new furniture or could i buy second hand?  The objective of ‘rethink’ is to see if we can avoid generating waste.

Ex. Instead of buying liquid hand soap, why not buy bar soap?  By purchasing bar soap, we reduce the need for the 3 R’s (waste management), because we no longer have any packaging to throw away.


The objective of ‘reduce’ is to use less of the products we buy, thus reducing our consumption.

Ex. Vinegar is an excellent cleanser, degreaser and disinfectant. By buying 1 bottle of vinegar, you could reduce your consumption for at least 8 bottles of commercial (toxic) cleaners.

  • disinfectant spray (Lysol)
  • window cleaner (windex)
  • hardwood floor cleaner
  • drain declogger (Drano)
  • degreaser
  • metal cleaner
  • coffee pot cleaner
  • carpet cleaner


The objective of ‘reuse’ is to reduce our consumption of products by reusing them. Before sending something to the recycling bin, or worse the landfill, could this ‘item’ still be of use for either myself or someone else?

Ex. Computers, TV’s, furniture, clothing, electronics, cell phones, cooking equipment, dishes, home décor etc. All of this can be donated to so many organisations that exist in your area. Do a google search. Myself personally, I reuse the plastic containers that soup or salads come in as Tupperware.  You just have to make sure you hand wash them as they can’t go in the dishwasher (Low grade plastic).


This is the last step in the waste management hierarchy. It reduces the inputs (energy & raw materials) needed for production and reduces the amount of waste for disposal. Recycling gives us one last chance at diverting waste from landfills which is unsustainable and environmentally harmful.  However, not all recyclable items can be recycled indefinitely. Paper will still need a percentage of wood fibres due to the degradation of the recycled fibres. Not all municipalities recycle and some don’t even recycle what is picked up which is a big shock for residents.  Recycling still uses vast amounts of energy and water to recreate new materials and it still keeps us active in the consumer society without questioning our actions.

There is no doubt that in an urban society, it is not possible for us to grow our own food, make our own homes and reuse what we make, like tribal societies who have an extremely small carbon footprint.  We can’t make our own cereals so we our dependant on buying them, only able to recycle the cardboard box and so many of us depend on frozen meals because we simply don’t have time (or even know how) to cook. Thus we need to be able to recycle. But let us not forget to rethink our entire actions and see if we can divert from waste management in the first place.


We live on a finite planet meaning we have a limited number of resources so we cannot keep on consuming the way we are presently in a linear fashion. The only reason it currently works is because the majority of humans on the planet are poor and are not a part of consumerism. But India and China are waking up and we are nearing a crisis for the need of resources to keep up with Western levels of demand. The only chance we have at diverting a catastrophy and ensuring our kids future is healthy is to RETHINK.


  1. Great article! I love the introduction of ‘rethink’ into the equation. The environmental movement has long lived by the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra but we all need to ‘rethink’ our consumer habits too and stop buying stuff we don’t need.

    I’d be delighted if you’d like to share your ‘rethink’ policy with other people on our ’10 things you can do to help save the planet’ article. Thanks again for a very helpful post 😉

  2. […] York, Washington DC & Phoenix, still no public recycling! As I’ve written before, recycling is not the answer; rather, the focus should be on reducing waste in the first place. However, in certain […]

  3. I couldn’t have said it better!

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