Reduce, reuse, recycle: you know, that phrase that’s been ingrained into your mind since elementary school. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t forget the holy trifecta of the 3 R’s. What if I told you that one of these options is a little overrated?
It’s not reducing, because most of us can make do with a little less. It’s not reusing either. So that leaves recycling. Now, let me explain.
I am a huge fan of recycling compared to the landfill or incinerator alternative. In fact, I have a visceral reaction every time I have a piece of paper or plastic soda bottle and there’re no recycling containers in sight. By this point, recycling is second nature for most of us. But we can’t forget the battle doesn’t stop there.
It’s easy to think that by recycling, we’ve done our Earth-saving task for the day. Many people even justify buying single-use plastic water bottles by knowing that they will recycle all of them later. The unfortunate reality is that recycling isn’t enough, because the lion’s share of the environmental impact of things comes from making them, not getting rid of them.
We need to reuse things more. So instead of buying single-use water bottles, why not just invest five dollars into a reusable water bottle? These are much more durable, leak proof, and come in millions of designs and colors.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. In the MPCA’s (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) Solid Waste Policy Report, they highlight the finding that “Minnesota’s approach to managing waste focuses too narrowly on recycling, rather than on the full range of waste management activities.” The often overlooked sector called reuse offers job opportunities and supports local businesses. And right here in our home state, we have the chance to bolster this sector and become national role models yet again.
As the rapper Macklemore says “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” What, you don’t go to Macklemore for all scholarly advice? By now, most of us are sick of hearing “Thrift Shop” play a million times on the radio. But what we learned from this large man who spent a whole music video riding around on a tricycle in an oversized fur coat is that the reuse movement has a place in pop culture and our everyday lives.
Younger generations now scour Goodwill and search thrift shops for old records, oversize sweaters, and original Ray Ban glasses. It’s time the rest of us do the same, and push the private sector to do so as well.
The best ways to support the reuse movement are to shop reused and to support ReUSE MN, which works to connects businesses and communities to local, thrifty, and eco-friendly goods and services. There are countless benefits to supporting the reuse movement, specifically, the reduction of pollution from harvesting new materials, energy savings, reducing landfill and incinerator numbers, and using products to their full lifetimes.
To secure these benefits for our communities, we must do more with what we already have, right here, right now. This means working to decrease the mindset that we can produce more as long as we recycle old items.
So, what can we do to support ReUSE Minnesota? As outlined by the MPCA, as citizens we can and should voice our support to the Legislature to establish goals for all tiers of the waste management hierarchy, not just recycling.
Specific items that the Legislature should act on:
- Continue to quantify environmental benefits of reuse, specifically in Minnesota.
- Establish a progress tracking system for counties and the MPCA for reuse goals.
- Provide funding and support to reuse advocacy and networking organizations.
After voicing your support to our local government, you can help expand reuse networks by informing local businesses about opportunities like ReUSE MN. And you can join the voice of ReUSE MN as a member. It seems the future of a sustainable planet is going to come from a different trifecta: reuse, rent, and repair. Moving away from items with planned obsolescence and disposable parts, we will instead reuse what we have already in new ways.
Minnesota has always been a trailblazer for change, thanks to its highly active citizenry. It’s time to continue this trend and support an effective reuse system and model.
Annie Pottorff is an incoming senior studying political science and environmental sciences, policy, and management at the University of Minnesota.
Support Black local news
Help amplify Black voices by donating to the MSR. Your contribution enables critical coverage of issues affecting the community and empowers authentic storytelling.