By: Grant Janssen
In a recent presentation, Cassandra Ford, BTG’s Business Recycling Program Manager, spoke to a group of representatives for a hotel chain, which includes Kansas City’s Westin Hotel at Crown Center. One of the slides included a waste hierarchy graphic, which shows a set of priorities for the efficient use of resources. This waste hierarchy was new information to most people in the room, as most were used to only seeing the recycling symbol. While the group was familiar with the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and how important recycling items such as metal and cardboard is to the environment, the other R’s usually get overlooked.
It is a common misconception to believe recycling paper, aluminum cans, and glass bottles is the best way to reduce one’s waste footprint. When in actuality, recycling falls third in the pecking order of most impactful ways to remove materials from your waste stream. The ranking falls in this order: 1. Reduce 2. Reuse and 3. Recycle/Compost. While all are beneficial, there is a priority and each category has different impacts.
Reducing what you consume is the best way to reduce your overall footprint. Each consumer good used consists of multiple products and materials. Not only do the materials and products require energy to make, the end good must be transported to the consumer. Both the production and transport of the goods uses natural resources. Therefore, reducing the usage of products eliminates multiple channels of energy spent on transportation and manufacturing. Example: Buying food in bulk or from a local farmer’s market eliminates packaging waste and the resources needed to transport food a long distance. Plus, you support your local economy!
Being able to reuse goods eliminates the demand for new goods to be made and reduces the energy needed to recycle them. Additionally, reusing goods creates between 75-250 jobs for every 1 job created by throwing a ton of stuff into the landfill. Just because you are done with something in its original form, doesn’t mean it isn’t still usable in another way or by another person. Example: Donating old clothing, textiles and household goods to a Goodwill or other thrift shop allows them to find new life with another home. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure!
Once you have reduced what you buy and reused as much as you can, the next step is recycling and/or composting whatever you can to keep material out of the landfill. Make sure to consider whether the item you are buying is made from recycled content and can be recycled at its end of life. Recycling creates resource materials that can be turned into new products, sidestepping the need for virgin natural resources. Additionally, recycling creates jobs to process the recycled materials and the manufacture of new products. Recycling 1 ton of material creates 10 jobs, while only 1 job is created for landfilling the same amount of waste. Example: After you have reused all of those shipping boxes to make an awesome cardboard fort in your living room, recycle them in your curbside recycling bin or at one of KCMO’s Recycling Drop-off Centers (www.RecycleSpot.org). It can be used by a local company, Pratt Industries, to make a 100% recycled content cardboard box for Boulevard Brewing Company!
We can all implement the 3 R’s whether at home, in the workplace or on the go. But when looking to reduce your overall environmental impact, keep in mind the order of importance: reduce, reuse, and recycle.