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Is it Better to Reuse or Recycle?

Despite the assumed similarity inspired by their names, there are many distinctions between the act of  reusing a material to that of it being recycled.

Both acts can be distinguished by their definition as well as the inherit impacts resulting from each one.

For starters, reuse can be viewed simply as using an item on multiple occasions, rather than disposing of it prematurely after a single use. Reuse can also include employing a material for multiple purposes.

Recycling, on the other hand, involves the melting down and re-manufacturing of a material. This requires significantly less energy than manufacturing virgin materials; taking only 5 percent to recycle an aluminum can than is used to produce a new one.

However, recycling does consume more resources re-manufacturing materials, which may not have needed to be discarded, than would be the case if you were to hold on to materials until their useful lives have diminished.

For this reason, many people are considering ways in which to reuse an item before they place it in the recycling bin; either by utilizing its talents elsewhere, or giving the material to a reuse center or thrift store. This is another improvement to shipping an item off to be recycled; as most new and recycled items are manufactured in factories overseas, where one cannot be sure whether humane working conditions are being instilled.

By contrast, reuse centers and thrift stores are often local and therefore contribute to a strong, local infrastructure.

In addition to saving and reusing old items, you can further reduce waste by buying materials and appliances second hand.  Buying second hand furniture actually has the benefit of releasing fewer fumes in your home than newly made furniture, having already off-gassed before your purchased it.

This isn’t to deface the reputable successes of energy saved from recycling; but it is important to evaluate the energy used on a case by case basis.

Recycling one ton of paper, for example, can save 7,000 gallons of water and the equivalent of 17 trees; while recycling glass saves only 30 percent of the energy used producing new glass items.

An improvement, yes, although not nearly as resourceful as washing out a used glass jar for other household purposes.

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