Reduce and re-use, but don’t just recycle

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

In 2008, each resident
of Quebec threw 810
kilograms of waste into dumps.  Only 36% of waste materials were recuperated, and weren’t included
in the 810 kilograms of

Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

In 2008, each resident
of Quebec threw 810
kilograms of waste into dumps.  Only 36% of waste materials were recuperated, and weren’t included
in the 810 kilograms of
residual waste. This made Quebec one of the provinces with the highest per capita waste in Canada. The Quebec government decided that, by 2015,
the amount of material
entering the dump should be reduced to 700 kg per capita; this reduction would be attained by increased recycling. But is this the best, or the only way to reduce waste materials entering landfill dumps?
First, recycling is an expensive operation. The different waste materials must be sorted by type, which can be very demanding; there are over a dozen different types of plastics that must be sorted. And there must be an economical means of reprocessing the materials. Again, for plastics, the relatively low cost of producing new plastics from petrochemicals makes recycling less economically rewarding; much plastic intended for recycling ends up in a dump.
Recycling does not eliminate environmental issues. Recycling is a manufacturing process, and like all manufacturing processes, creates its own pollution. Recycling paper products can bring about its own special concerns. Paper comes from trees grown specifically to be turned into paper;  recycling reduces the number of trees required, so the land will be put to other uses, thus reducing the number of trees absorbing the
carbon dioxide created by human industrial activity. 
In general, aggressive recycling programs can result in a thirty to fifty
percent increase in the cost of handling waste materials. So, what is the answer? First recognize that
recycling is not the complete solution. Reduction at the source must occur: wholesalers and retailers must be encouraged to use less packaging; and consumers should be informed of ways to reuse materials.  We must become less of a throw-away society where our garbage bins are full of materials that could have a useful second life. Success in this will depend, in some measure, on the materials used in the design, manufacturing and packaging of products. Is the product designed so that, if broken, it can be easily repaired? Can the packaging materials be used in the home? Can they be easily
recycled?
The solution to the waste problem in Quebec and elsewhere requires more than just government targets for recycling; it requires a whole new approach to purchasing and using the many
products that make our life comfortable. Reducing and reusing can be as effective a solution to the waste
problem as recycling.