(California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle))
This post is part of KQED's Do Now U project. Do Now U is a biweekly activity for students and the public to engage and respond to current issues using social media. Do Now U aims to build civic engagement and digital literacy for learners of all ages. This post was written by the following students from Bridget Trogden's "Fall 2016 Honors Program Seminar" class at Mercer University: Trent Bateman, Anna Dillon, Erica Duncan, Timothy Hood, Jessica Lee, Jessica Lewis, Faith McColl, Winter Overby, Molly Parrish, Emily Robertson, Moriah Roycroft, Nidhi Shashidhara, Bryan Shin, Lindsey Smallwood, David Stokes III, Shannon Tho, Mason Thornton and Katelyn West.
Featured Media Resource
VIDEO: KQED Where Does Your Recycling Go?
This video follows the path of recyclable goods after being collected and shows the process of sorting the different kinds of recyclable materials.
Do Now U
Is it more important to you to reduce, reuse or recycle? #DoNowU3Rs
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Learn More About Reducing, Reusing and Recycling
In modern culture, the “three R’s”—reduce, reuse and recycle—are known as key techniques used in attempting to create a sustainable environment. However, in the mid-1950s, single-use items were touted for their convenience, and the era of “throwaway living” began. This lifestyle created a destructive societal model. People began producing excess waste by only using items once, creating a need to curb the amount of waste being produced. Conservation and environmental issues became more prominent, prompting the first national Earth Day on April 22, 1970, new laws and new awareness campaigns. Around this time, the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” was born. Citizens were encouraged to reduce the amount of items they were consuming, reuse some items and recycle others.
Although personal choices are important, larger-scale business initiatives often focus on reduction of the use of natural resources as preferable to simple reuse or recycling. Sustainability-based practices in the corporate world save businesses quite a lot of money, and data shows that consumers prefer environmentally-friendly businesses. The main way that businesses utilize the three R’s is by reducing the use of resources. This topic also has global ramifications, as production-based countries suffer from higher air pollution rates than consumption-based countries. The U.S. Energy Information Administration believes that we have enough liquid fuel to meet our global energy demand through 2040, but finding new, eco-friendly energy sources and reducing energy usage is crucial for the future.
There are downsides to reducing, reusing, and recycling. In fact, this could even be a trade-off. Data is not clear that practicing the three R’s is better than consuming new goods. For example, some may think that continuing to drive an older car or buying a used car is a good illustration of reduce and reuse. However, newer models of cars are more fuel efficient than their predecessors, thus buying new cars helps to reduce fuel usage. On the other hand, newer cars are often bigger and heavier, requiring more resources for their manufacturing and also leading to increased rates of road degradation. Reuse in general seems like a good strategy, but each circumstance is different. Continuous use of some plastic bottles can lead to health risks if they are made with cheap plastic or if harsh chemicals leach out of those containers with increased use.
The act of recycling is also expensive. The cost of recycling rises and the benefits decrease as cities transition from recycling just paper and metals to the practice of recycling plastic, food waste, and glass as well. Customers prefer single-stream recycling, but about 25% of items in those streams end up going to landfills anyway, cutting the profit margins of any municipalities using these strategies. Prices for recycled materials have plummeted as a result of lower oil prices and a decreased demand for them overseas. This has even caused some recycling companies to shut down and cancel plans for new technologies.
The ways that consumers interact with a myriad of items each day is complex, but increased awareness and analysis of one’s choices is increasingly important for a crowded planet. The following question can guide not only individual choices, but also larger discussions about our attitudes and behavior: Is it more important to you to reduce, reuse, or recycle?
KQED Do Now U is a biweekly activity in collaboration with SENCER. SENCER is a community of transformation that consists of educators and administrators in the higher and informal education sectors. SENCER aims to create an intelligent, educated, and empowered citizenry through advancing knowledge in the STEM fields and beyond. SENCER courses show students the direct connections between subject content and the real world issues they care about, and invite students to use these connections to solve today's most pressing problems.
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