Recycle, Reduce, Reuse – Why is it so hard & can we do better?

Photo credit to: Metro

By Leah Fisher, Neighborhood Planning Program Manager @ Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition

The order of this mantra and the focus on the “recycle” portion has always bothered me. Why isn’t it Reduce, Reuse, then I guess…if you have to… go ahead and Recycle. Maybe it doesn’t flow well, or maybe the creators knew the ask to recycle was easier than asking people to take the more uncomfortable action of going without. Reducing and reusing not only require sacrifice, but also messes with our emotions and even, for some, our sense of self right? Do you identify as a person with the latest technology, a nice home, fashion forward, or the ability to “provide for your kids” or other family members. It’s an interesting cultural and personal conundrum we have created for ourselves. Not to mention a logistical challenge at times as we live in a world where systems and policies prioritize new, and measure our economic success based on consumption. Kind of wild considering you’d think reduction would make life easier not more complicated. 

That said, I am aware I live in one of the most progressive cities in the country when it comes to the 3 Rs. Neighbors, governments, and small businesses are definitely setting the bar for reduce and reuse. I see at the street markets I visit, the community clothing swaps, and the neighborhoods I walk through where creative reuse on displayed in yards, through windows, and on people themselves.  We also have progressive regional and local governments that has pushed us outside our comfort zones to reduce our consumption of single use plastics, compost more and trash less through a number of policies (see policy and advocacy sections). Metro also strives for sustainable practices within their own operations (go here); they provide reused paint at a low cost to the region (go here); and also fund community collection and reuse events to help neighbors reuse and dispose of toxic and bulky waste they may not otherwise be able to dispose of in a responsible way.  

That said, I know we can do better as a region and as individuals. I know I am always trying to challenge myself to be more creative about reducing my consumption and reusing as well as understanding and complying to proper recycling protocol – and I’m always learning something new!  I’d love to hear other’s stories and experience with creative reuse, how they struggle with reducing their consumption, and yes, even recycling tips and tricks! Post it to our Facebook or Instagram anyou could win a prize