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Reducing and reusing are better options than recycling

Recycling is not the answer to our environmental problems.

I know I talk a lot about recycling, and I love recycling. Don’t get me wrong — it is very important. But recycling more and more is not the answer.

We can’t just keep buying more and more things and then throwing them in the recycle and forgetting about them. Just like throwing something away doesn’t mean it’s gone, throwing something in the recycling doesn’t mean we’ve taken care of the planet. We still need to think about what happens to our stuff after we put it in the recycle bin.

Recycling is something we came up with as a stopgap measure because we knew we were making too much waste and something needed to be done about it. Recycling treats the symptoms, but it doesn’t fix the actual problem — our over-consumption and waste of materials.

We wouldn’t need to recycle things so much if we were more thoughtful with our purchases in the first place. If we bought items in reusable containers or that weren’t packaged at all, that would be a step in the right direction. What’s even better is taking a hard look at what you buy and making a decision to not buy something at all.

Sometimes I get complacent because I know I’ll make sure the packaging on something winds up in my recycling bin. If I’m not thinking about the environmental impacts made to create things for me to buy, or what happens after the packaging goes in the recycling bin, it’s easy to think, “Why not just buy it?”

It feels like by recycling, I’m doing a virtuous thing and it’s good for the planet. But that’s not really the best way to think about recycling.

Things don’t just get magically recycled; it takes energy and resources to recycle items and that energy isn’t needed if I just reduce my consumption or reuse my items. We really need to be thinking long term about what we use and strive to purchase items that can be reused. In a previous column (July 23), I wrote about different ways you can decrease your waste, including buying milk in glass jars and using cloth diapers.

One cool way to reduce consumption I’ve seen lately is with shampoo bars. Instead or buying shampoo in a recyclable container, you can just buy a shampoo bar. Some of them come just wrapped in paper so instead of sending plastic bottles to the recycle you just have some paper and when the bar is gone there is nothing to throw away or recycle.

I am eager to try a shampoo bar, though I am still using my baking-soda-and-vinegar combo and it’s still working well for me. I know that alternative isn’t for everyone, so I think shampoo bars are a great alternative to regular shampoos in bottles.

I also think the shampoo bar would be great for traveling. While I love my baking soda and vinegar at home, it is much more difficult to take that show on the road. I’m glad to have an easy eco-friendly alternative when I’m in a hotel or staying with family.

If you have used shampoo bars or have other ways you are reducing your waste and limiting how much you have to recycle, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at amandawheelerphoto@live.com.

About Amanda Wheeler

Amanda Wheeler is the children and teen services librarian at the Lincoln County Public Library. She has a master's in zoology education from the University of Miami and has taught as an educator at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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