The 3rd R – Recycling – from Refuse to Resource


Gabbing about Recycling – the 3rd R in “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”. Recycling is a gateway to greener living and often the first action that leads to others, and springtime is a great time to clear out the clutter and get started.

In St. Louis county where both Tony and I live, single-stream curbside recycling is offered for the entire county. Years ago, when curbside single-stream recycling was first introduced, I’d fill up my bin every week and watched as my trash got smaller and smaller. The neighbors started asking how I was getting so much into recycling and less into trash. I’d researched what could go in our recycling bins and was putting in everything I could. As neighbors asked, I’d share with them what I’d learned and before long the other recycling bins starting filling up too.

green-gab-play-ghc-300x300Actually recycling has been around for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I’d go up and down our street with our wagon collecting newspapers for newspaper drives to raise money for some cause or group. Paper has been recycled for a while and is relatively easy to recycle. Wood and its by-products, including wood pulp, are used a number of different ways as wood and paper products. Manufacturers are more frequently finding ways to use by-products (rather than waste) of one process for another product or process. When Tony was working in the cabinet industry they would sell their sawdust to a garage where it was used in clean up.

In William McDonough’s book Cradle to Cradle, in nature there is no such thing as waste. Every output of one process is an input for another. This is a good model for manufacturing, as well as our consumption of stuff.

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So, when you throw something “away,” where is “away?” In our minds away is just gone. In reality,  “Away” is a dump or a landfill site, which are filling up too fast. If you haven’t been to a landfill or dump, I recommend you go to one to see firsthand where “away” is. Away is a place, that takes up land and uses processes, people and labor to deal with our discards. The more we can find ways to not throw things “away,” the better. This is contrary to our lifestyle of convenience and throwing things away when we are done with it. Disposable is convenient to us since we don’t have to deal with it, someone else does. In this same line of thinking, it appears that many products are designed for obsolescence rather than repair – electronics, appliances, cars, etc. If we were to make things repairable and/or recyclable, we could extend the lifetimes.

“if it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production” Pete Seeger, Folk Singer and social activist

Just remember to reduce first, then reuse and then recycle.

And just because a disposable item can be recycled, a reusable item is still almost always a better choice. Little steps add up! For what we do need to recycle, we need to make it easy to do. Typically, single stream recycling is a great fit for household everyday use stuff – paper, cardboard, aluminum and tin cans, most plastics (number in triangle), glass in many communities.

Then there is the hard to recycle stuff – printer cartridges, electronics, plastic bags (grocery bags, cleaner bags, etc.), CFL bulbs, batteries and more.  In many areas, schools are collecting some of these hard to recycle items as fundraisers. Many big box stores and electronic stores offer recycling for electronics, CFLs and other hard to recycle items. Grocery stores collect plastic grocery bags and other film plastic bags. Hazardous products like paint and motor oil need to go to a collection center. Tires are typically recycled by the shop replacing tires. A great resource for hard-to-recycle stuff is Earth 911. This site offers a comprehensive search tool for recycling just about anything. There are lots of articles on recycling and green living too.

If you can’t recycle something, at least reuse or re-purpose it. Ask if there is somewhere to recycle it. At minimum, donate it. Get creative about keeping stuff out of the landfills as much as possible. Take a moment and think about ways to get something out of your possession without throwing it away.

And the quote I heard often growing up from my grandmother is actually a New England proverb

 “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

A mindset change may be in order. Changing from the mindset of disposing of things when they no longer work or are no longer needed to a mindset of repair and longevity. Whenever possible, look to buy items that can be repaired or at least reused, repurposed or recycled.

Recycling not only keeps things out of our landfills, it also saves material, energy to produce it and often water used in production. It almost always takes more (of everything) to produce anything from virgin materials. Starting with a product or material that is even partially processed, saves steps and energy in producing new items.

Buying recycled items helps to drive manufacturers to offer more recycled products and at better prices. Oftentimes, “traditional” products are subsidized making them less costly than their recycled counterparts.

We agreed that the easiest stuff to buy recycled is paper products, including paper towels and toilet paper. And yes, I’ve found a good recycled toilet paper too.  (side note – check out The Great Toilet Paper debate in the comments of blog To Buy Recycled or Not to Buy Recycled – A New Perspective on Toilet Paper) Many products you already buy are recycled and you may not even know.

Our kids are doing it – recycling – with or without us, so we may as well get on the bandwagon.


Seventh Generation Toilet Paper

Recycled Rubber Door Mat

Earth 911

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Top 10 Items to Recycle

Buy Recycled

Recycling and Energy

Find Recycling Centers

Hazardous Waste Disposal

Recycling Old Appliances

For more information about green homes and green living, check out

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