Reduce vs. Reuse

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Reuse soccer ball

We’ve all heard the term reduce, reuse, and recycle before. It has become the new language of many waste management companies around the world, especially the companies who want to convince us as tax payers or as business owners that the right things are done with the waste we produce.

It is the problem of a wealthy nation: where do we leave the waste materials of our consumer driven economy? It’s one thing to fuel our growth by purchasing what are, in many cases, useless products, but by that same spending our environment has become polluted on every level. It becomes our problem when it costs more to remove the materials we purchased than the materials themselves.

We might not feel the direct impact of these costs, but I am certain many under-developed countries are.

The statics are astounding! For instance, that over 70% of China’s fresh water resources are polluted, and are responsible for creating a new form of villages, called “Cancer Villages”. As North Americans, we often critique the fact that the manufacturing of our useless products is outsourced to these countries, but now these same countries are facing pollution crisises that are unimaginable to us. I am not suggesting the factories producing our “wants” are the direct cause of such pollution, but I am certain no one would argue the fact that they are a considerable contribution to the same.

We often do not think of the consequences when the direct impact is not felt by us. We are told, every day, of the impact that it has on the next generation, but even to that we are often naive. As certain as I am that reusing materials is a great contribution to the environment, I am just as certain the impact that the reduction of purchases, un-necessary driving, overheating of our homes, irresponsible spending, and many other types of reduction will have an even greater impact on us and the environment.

We believe that the reduction of purchases is entirely negative, due to the fact that our global media fuels the idea that the more we have the better off we are. What is missed entirely is that often the less we have the much happier we are with the things we do have (and at that point probably own). Through my travels, I have seen the joy one soccer ball can give a dozens of children. Our kids aren’t satisfied if they don’t have a basketball, soccer ball, volley ball, hockey puck, tennis ball, and the list goes on and on.

I have seen communities come together and celebrate for evenings on end over a potluck in the centre of the village, and some of us are concerned if our barbecue doesn’t meet the standards of our neighbors. Unfortunately, how often do we enjoy the company of our neighbors around that same barbecue? Not often, we are too busy paying off the credit card that paid for it!

I encourage us all to re-think our reduction. Avoid seeing it as a negative, begin to think of it as way to start to have a greater appreciation for the things that you have. Now of course I understand that in the context of reduce, reuse, and recycle, it is primarily the reduction of “waste” that is eluded to, but therefore I say, go beyond.

1 thought on “Reduce vs. Reuse”

  1. Having just moved house and donated / disposed of any number of toys whose heyday lasted for the two days after they were bought, I couldn’t agree more in principal. But when I read these arguments, they’re short on numbers. How should I quantify the environmental impact of not-buying-something, compared with recycling it later? How should I compare the cost of (say) car travel vs rail travel vs air travel – and how do these compare with the benefits of recycling? Any pointers to quantitative studies would be much appreciated.


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