Saturday, September 27, 2008

Reuse vs. Recycling

Recycling is certainly an important activity when it comes to conserving our resources and decreasing our negative environmental impact, but I believe that all too often, people forget about reuse. If we reuse our materials as much as possible before recycling them, then we will get even more mileage out of our limited resources. But just what is the difference between reuse and recycling? I find a lot of people use the terms interchangeably, so I thought it would be worth defining the words and pointing out the differences.

In their book Choose to Reuse, Nikki and David Goldbeck outline the differences between reuse and recycling in their introduction. The following is an excerpt from that introduction:

Reuse is often confused with recycling, but they are really quite different. (Even those engaged in reuse frequently refer to it as recycling.) There are two types of reuse: primary and secondary. Primary reuse is the reutilization of an item for the same purpose--for example, retreading a tire. Secondary reuse involves employing an item again for a different purpose--for example, using the tire to construct an artificial reef. Recycling, on the other hand, is the reprocessing of an item into a new raw material for use in a new product--for example, grinding the tire and incorporating it into a road-surfacing compound.

So, while both reuse and recycling involve using a particular material again rather than sending it to the landfill, the difference lies in the fact that recycling involves reprocessing the material back into a raw material, or building block, from which new products can be made. Reuse is simply using the material over again without breaking it down into building blocks again. If you reuse a sheet of paper that has only been printed on one side, you're not altering the original piece of paper--just flipping it over to use the blank side. If you recycle that paper, you tear it up, mix it with water, make pulp, lay it into new sheets and dry the new paper. So, if you reuse something BEFORE you recycle it, you're conserving more energy, water, fuel, labor, etc.

So by all means, keep recycling, but when possible, reuse first!

No comments: