Reuse Before Recycle
The story of waste:
The upsurge in economic growth following World War II resulted in an increase in the amounts of waste we generated. Historically, the vast majority of household waste consisted of organic food waste as most packaging was designed to be reusable at that time. With the Second World War came fast developments in new types of packaging aimed at reducing food waste. This was particularly important when food shortages were an issue. This is how packaged food quickly became the norm.
Go into any store nowadays and there is an endless array of products & packaging types. The one thing that all of this packaging has in common is that almost all of it is designed for single use.
Today in Europe, packaging alone represents 36% of municipal solid waste.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
In our world of finite resources, there is a consensus around the benefit of recycling. Recycling our waste has been a staple of sustainable living for a long time now but it does have its downsides which are often overlooked. Amidst all the hype of recycling, we appear to have forgotten something; reuse is far kinder to the environment than recycling. Reusing is better because it saves the energy that comes with having to dismantle and re-manufacture products. It also significantly reduces waste and pollution because it reduces the need for raw materials, saving both forests and water supplies. It can be expensive to recycle products and in some cases impossible to recycle them due to the mix of materials used to manufacture the product in the first place.
In addition, reusing and re-purposing can encourage a shift toward more conscious consumption and also encourage companies to produce more durable and long-lasting products that can endure as many cycles as possible.
While recycling collection rates seem to be high, these do not account for what is actually being recycled. In Europe, in 2013, only 10% of plastic packaging was recycled, and only a small portion of that (2% of all plastic packaging) was recycled in a closed-loop, with remainder being downcycled.
These problems, along with increased consumer awareness around plastic pollution on beaches and in oceans, have led to a gradual increase in a focus on reuse.