The three R’s: “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” is a saying that was popu- larized in the ’70s, according to the Smithson- ian. This saying is a reminder that we should reduce the trash that we produce, then reuse what we can and recycle what is left. In the
U.S., the amount of waste, trash/ garbage and recyclables made has been steadily increasing since the 1960s. According to the Environ- mental Protection Agency, in 2015 the amount of waste produced per person per day was 4.48 pounds, and has only increased since then.
This increase shows that as Amer- icans we have forgotten the three R’s. Moreover, we have forgotten that the R’s have an order for a reason. They are listed in logical order to show that we need to reduce, then reuse what we can and what is left after that should be recycled. Currently, we are focusing too much on recycling, when we need to be focused on reduc- ing the amount of waste that we pro- duceinthefirstplace.Thereisthis ideathatit’sokaytousesingle-use plastic as long as you recycle it. This is a frustrating and broken mentality because when recycling, the waste is still being produced. Recycling does not decrease the amount of waste being produced. Yes, it is better than throwing out the waste, but it is still producing waste.
A good example of this idea is the use of cold drink cups to serve smoothies, iced coffee, etc. on campus. These cups are made of compostable plastic which means that they are not recyclable. Because of this, these cups go in the trash, but there is some argument that these cups should be changed to ones that are recyclable. However, as a campus we have an alternative to these plastic cups: the reusable mugs that actually save you flex dollars. So instead of trying to come up with a way to make these cups recyclable, the better solution is to just stop producing the plastic in general and use the reusable mugs instead.
The cycle of waste production goes from producer to consumer and then to the trash. When waste is re- cycled, it addresses the over-produc- tion of waste at the last step. Reduc- ing, on the other hand, deals with the waste before it is consumed or pro- duced,whichisamoreholisitcsolu- tiontothewasteepidemic.Recycling only deals with the waste as an after thought instead of thinking about waste production before it is created. Products need to be designed with the amount of waste they produce in mind. An alternative to this is that as consumers we only use products that use minimal single use plastic. However, this is an incredibly privileged idea that involves having ac- cess to food and products that are not plastic wrapped, which tend to
be more expensive. With these two ways the amount of waste that is produced will decrease before it is even made.
In writing this viewpoint I worry that people will have the takeaway that recycling is bad and that they should just stop recycling. I am not suggesting that recycling is a waste of time, but only that there is a bet- ter solution to decreasing waste production. Recycling is not the sole solution to the increase in waste production; reducing waste produc-
tion should also be remembered. The mentality of “oh, it’s recyclable so it’s okay” and “it’s not bad if I re- cycle it” is broken and needs to be addressed. The focus should shift from recycling to reducing waste.