Wednesday, November 19, 2008

We Used To Recycle Everything; What Happened?

Throughout history, since the dawn of man, we have been a recycling people. We reused anything and everything multiple times before discarding of it - if there was anything left at all. When we were lucky enough to get our hands on something useful, we were careful with it so as to make it last as long as possible. Hunters used every part of an animal. Houses were made from any scrap material that could be rounded up, as it was easier than building one from scratch. Children played with the same toys their entire childhood. Things were cherished - nothing was thrown away unless it was absolutely destroyed. No one bought the “new” version of something before the “old” version was used up. How times have certainly changed…

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ed-meister

Now we throw everything away - and most of it still works! We replace perfectly fine household electronics because ours is not the “new” kind, we buy new cell phones every few months, we only keep cars for a few years (which I have certainly been guilty of!), and we are sold so many single-use items that I don’t even know if anyone knows how to use a washable mop/sponge/diaper anymore. We buy cheap clothing by the bundle and it only lasts a few months before it is either out of style or torn to shreds. Products are bought, used for a short time, and thrown away. Most everything we buy cannot be recycled, so it ends up in an overcrowded landfill that we then bury or burn, contributing to the decline in the quality of our environment. It’s a never-ended cycle that seems to get worse by the year - I am hopeful that so many people taking a newly found interest in the green movement that we can reverse the trend before we take it too far.

There are still some smaller industries and companies who do their best to recycle and reuse everything. Take a small farm for example - the farmers grow crops, which feed both them and their animals. The animals digest their food, leaving behind animal poop that is can be used as compost to regrow more crops, which feed more animals…you get the picture. And even better than that, some farmers are using the animal waste to actually make electricity and reusable water - an Alberta farm is the future site of IMUS, which is a new technology that will turn manure into a source of electricity, heat, fertilizer and reusable water – all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. And companies like Patagonia (who I buy my fleeces from) and Act2 turn old plastic bottles (and their own old garments) into clothing and consumer goods. This is very good progress, and every day more and more companies are seeing the benefits of recycling and going green, both for the environment and their bottom line!

We used to be a nation (and world, for that matter) of recyclers, but it has become to easy to just “buy a new one” because the “one” we have is out of style or has a little wear and tear. I think we need to encourage more of us to go back to the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra that we have followed since the beginning of time - even if we didn’t know it then. There is no way we can continue to buy and throw away at the rate that we are - all that stuff has to go somewhere. (Want to know where? Check out the book “Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash” which is a staple on my bookshelf.) Let’s start building quality products again so when we buy something we know it will last a very long time, and let’s start reusing what we already have access to. Enough with the single-use plastic crap that every store is full of - let’s bring back quality goods!

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