It’s been years since I attended my first compulsory Earth Day assembly in which we young students were instructed in the virtuous ways of “reducing, reusing, and recycling”. Well it seems that the ideal of recycling caught on. In college some student group would put on a big show once a year about recycling, emptying the contents of a trash dumpster on the lawn to show how much of what we throw out is actually recyclable. Every household on my street diligently puts a recycling bin out next to the trash can to be picked up separately.

The concept of recycling has always struck a chord with me, not because of the environmental implications, but because I don’t like inefficiency. The idea of throwing away and burying or burning various commodity or processed materials en masse just strikes me as terribly wasteful and thus inefficient. Of course this is considered aside from the relative replacement costs versus the recycling costs.

And despite its eco-hipness, recycling is extraordinarily costly… compared to reducing the material used or simply reusing it at the consumer level. Recycling should be the capstone of an effort to reduce waste. I should think that with few exceptions it is far cheaper and easier to simply reduce the amount consumed. This is an old philosophy that seems today most heavily espoused by the crunchy set, and in that context fits into a broader philosophy of consuming less of everything because consuming less is per se good. There’s something to be said about reducing, but it’s a pretty big fish for this pretty small fry pan. I’m just concerned with the material goods and the commodities.

So my thinking is focused on the imperative to reuse. How much of what we throw away or recycle could be directly reused? Which means in this case that its used for a similar purpose, in order to differentiate it from recycling. Containers from food, boxes… all “Heloise obvious”. Recycling should be the step that takes place when a good cannot be reused and/or the cost of reusing is greater than the cost of recycling. This is probably the case, in so far as “cost” internalizes convenience.