Is Recycling Enough?

December 8, 2009


By Jonathan Merritt

FreecycleHolidays at the Merritt household would make Henry Ford proud. Every occasion from Independence Day to Christmas manifests itself in the same structure: a winding assembly line of food. This Thanksgiving was no different. My mom worked the drink station and was filling red plastic Solo cups with sweet tea as fast as she could. When it was time for me to grab a drink, I opened our cupboard and reached for a reusable glass. “Don’t worry, Mr. Green,” a friend of the family cracked. “The Solo cups are recyclable.”

I tried to explain to her and everyone else who was now agreeing with her that recycling is good, but it is even better not to use disposable goods if possible. After all, it still takes raw materials to make recyclable goods and much of the material is lost in the recycling process. No one seemed to care. I hear this argument a lot: If you don’t feel like washing a dish, grab a disposable plate or cup and recycle it after you’re done. Unfortunately, there is more to sustainable living than just recycling.

Deron Beal of reminds us what the bigger picture looks like in a recent article in TIME Magazine, “The Power of One.” Beal has created a “cybercurbside,” through a website that allows people to connect with each other and share things that they no longer need.

“The lightbulb went off the day I realized that while recycling is great, if someone is able to reuse the stuff you no longer want, like your old sofa, you’re keeping not just a 100-lb. sofa out of a landfill but also 20 to 40 times that in the raw materials needed to make a new sofa,” says Beal.

Today, freecycle moves over 24,000 items per day through its nearly seven million members. Does that make a difference? They keep 700 tons of materials out of the landfill every day! As freecycle proves, recycling is good. Reusing is even better.

Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer and speaker whose book Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for our Planet will be published in Spring 2010.

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