Saturday, December 8, 2007

Recycling: Likely unnecessary

Willow made a very valid comment in the consolidation versus counseling thread that I just so happened to notice. My apologies for the delay in a link. You can't go wrong with financial management and food, I'll tell you what.

A couple of days I was listening to NPR during my little commute to work. The host was interviewing the founder and CEO of Stonyfield Farms, Gary Hirshberg. The corporation is a relatively environmentally concerned organic yogurt manufacturer. They're really into recycling their containers. But kind of recently they up and decided to simply stop selling their yogurts without plastic lids.

The lids were recyclable and made of recycled materials. So why would an environmentally friendly company go ahead and make the decision to stop using recycled materials?

Simple. Because even though the lids were recyclable and made wholly of recycled materials, their existence was wasteful and attached to a large carbon footprint. Confused? Let me elaborate. I'll get the cheap skate stuff in just a moment.

Whenever something is manufactured it produces something called a "carbon footprint." This essentially is the amount of carbon that was pumped into the atmosphere to produce it. This includes transporting raw and finished materials (by land, air or sea) and the actual production of the item.

So what, you think. Recycling helps the environment!

True. But only on items already existing in the environment, if it reduces production of that same item later on. It takes more carbon emissions to recycle something. You need to transport it to the recycling center, you need to process it, and you need to transport it to its final destination. And you need to do it safely. No way around it, recycling still produces pollution while attempting to reduce it.

The logic of Stonyfield Farm? Emphasize on the first R in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Not too many people realize it's in that order for a good reason. It's the cheapest, easiest and most logical order.

If you reduce your needs you're actually doing more to the environment than you are when you reuse something. And when you reuse something you're doing more for the environment than you are if you'd recycle something.

People tend to simply latch onto the recycling itself because it looks pretty. People get to see you do something helpful, and you get to feel better about yourself.

The same is true of those in unsavory financial situations.

How? Well, carbon emissions come with a price tag. Whether it's gasoline in your car, the soda in your can or your bottle of Gatorade, it's going to cost you something. A lot of people save their recyclables in the hope of cashing them in for a return on their spending. But they fail to realize they would have helped themselves and mother earth even more simply by just reducing their needs to begin with.

Let's examine some recyclables, shall we?

  • Cans: These carry one of the highest return investments imaginable. You suck the sweet, sweet nectar out, crush the can and throw it into a garbage can for the recycling center. You might make $0.02 per can. That's great, but you probably spent $0.50 or more on it to begin with.

    If you reduced your needs and instead drank a glass of water or fruit juice instead, you not only would be saving money, but reducing pollution. Not to mention it's probably healthier for you than anything that was in the can.

  • Glass Bottles: The logic for bottles is exactly the same as it is for cans. You're going to get a return on your recycling bottles, but if you had simply refrained from purchasing the glass to begin with in lieu of something else that was cheaper and used less materials in its construction you'd save even more.

  • Plastics: Depending on the grade and quality of the plastic, simply fall back to the next R, Reuse. Sure, you made the mistake of buying a bottle of water for $2.00. Instead of moping about, depressed at your own stupidity, just reuse the bottle. Fill it with tap water.

  • Paper Products: While possible to reduce (stop buying magazines), reuse (scrap paper), paper products typically wind up being unavoidable. So you're typically forced to fall back on recycling.

    This is fine. Sometimes you need a newspaper, or printer paper. And junkmail is all too common, isn't it?

    But have you considered reusing it differently instead? No, I'm not talking about scrap paper or tomorrow's luxury dinner. Pulp it and make your own.

  • Assorted bits and pieces: There are other, more complex bits that are recyclable as well. Take those on a one on one basis. Some can turn you a return on your investment.

    Ink cartridges can be returned to major retail outlets for recycling. Some providers offer discounts on future cartridges if you recycle enough. The same is occasionally true for computer equipment and cars.
While recycling can earn you a return on your original investment, try to rethink the situation. Sometimes you'll find that reducing your needs and reusing material is far more beneficial to everyone, including your wallet, than recycling.



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