09 January 2012

The Totally Wrong Philosphy of Reusing

Recycling is the established step for our further ecological development. Even more important though is the philosophy of reusing because while recycling employs energy, time, transportation and fuel, reusing saves all these.

Reusing is not only the act of finding second use for products but also redistributing to people who need them. In contrast to recycling, which recovers materials for processing, reusing recovers the original product. From old metal cans, plastic bags to furniture, books and appliances, there are many ways to find a second life for simple items around your home by reusing them.

The major motivation for reusing though, can be explained with the lack of financial welfare. The level of reusing in the developing world is higher than you can imagine. Rising wages and consumer demand for the convenience of disposable products has made the reuse of low value items such as packaging uneconomic in richer countries, leading to the demise of many reuse programs. Every year hundreds of thousands of tons of useful items in perfect condition are thrown away around the world at an unbelievable cost to taxpayers and businesses. 

Thankfully, the growing environmental awareness is slowly but surely changing attitudes and regulations, and yet there is so much to be achieved!

Image: kanelstrand

What I see as wrong in the philosophy of reusing is the opinion of the voices behind the green movement. After having read interviews and point of views for months I see compliance with the masses instead of true ethical vision, I see the same consumerist approach directed to another field of interest. I am starting to feel greenwashed by those who should be my collaborators.

Pick a green activist, read their blog, read an opinion piece, read an interview - the major appeal that will resonate will inevitably be something along the lines of:
The Earth is our only home.
We don't have a spare planet.

Now let me ask you:
  • What if we had a spare planet? 
  • Would then dumping this one be easier? 
  • Would you carelessly ruin your home because you have a second one? 
If your answer is yes, then you are the same old mainstream consumerist, as far as I am concerned. Stop fooling yourself and put your disposable plastic dishes back to use.

The said approach is plain transferring of the disposable culture's ideas into a philosophy as ethical as keeping the Earth clean. This will lead us only to the point we have already reached and no further.

The point of reusing lies inside, it should be part of your everyday, an approach to life and can be seen in every conscious or subconscious action. But if there are people who try to convince me that you get tired of living a green life, or that it is important to reuse because we don't have a second planet, then the only thing I understand is that if it depends on us, we are going to lose this planet.

Gluttony, vanity, disregard and disrespect are of prime importance to humanity. If we don't deal with them we will never get to honest reducing, reusing or recycling. 

And while we're at it, I dare you to sign the Simple Living Pledge. The challenge starts on February 1st.


  1. "Gluttony, vanity, disregard and disrespect are of prime importance to humanity."
    Totally agree.
    People I have worked with in the past have been all "ew, i would never buy anything second hand." and after sitting on a hearth swaying "It was time to throw these pants on the garbage anyways, I got them like six months ago." I wanted to stand up, point and yell "Waster!" at that person.
    But I didn't because we have been taught to disregard the behavior of our 'betters', those more affluent and influential than the nothing I consider myself to be.
    The way I figure it, reducing is the biggest R and the one most overlooked because then people can still waste away under the pretense of "oh I'll just recycle it".

  2. Twyla, I totally agree with you. Reduce is the most important and most overlooked of our actions. When did frugality become obsolete and why?

  3. A family member is going to Europe for a couple of weeks this summer, and since it's through her school, she's only allowed to bring certain luggage with her to save space. One of my other family members actually suggested that she "buy a bunch of cheap clothes" and then throw them away when it's time to come back. That way she'll have plenty of room for souvenirs in her small suitcase.

    I flat-out told them how wasteful and ridiculous that was. The person didn't seem to care, which is even worse.

  4. Paige, the story you shared amazed me. I guess I am not as thick-skinned to over-consuming because it's kind of different in Europe.

    Don't people have any respect for their own efforts and time? After all, they need to work to have the money to buy those clothes, however cheap they are!

    Thank you for your honesty!

  5. Thank you Sonya for another thought provoking post and another hauntingly beautiful photo. This photo, like your dream photo, give me goosebumps!

    The gratest reuse shock I have had was when my mother died. We called an organization that collects furniture for the needy. We wanted to give her things. They came to our house and told us that they couldn't take her things. The couch was too worn. They couldn't take the TV and wall unit. No one uses old TV's anymore. Everyone has flat screens!

    Can you believe it? We were outraged and insulted! They couch may have been worn, but had my mother lived longer, she would have kept it. And the TV? They want us to believe that all needy people have flatscreen TV's?

    We did find some people who were happy to have the items for free, but we, as a society, don't make it easy to reuse. It's much easier to call the city and have them cart things to the dump. What does that say about us??...

  6. I think the urges that we need to save the planet because we don't have a spare is the result of moral relativism. People feel uncomfortable insisting that there is an intrinsically moral position and even less comfortable asking people to act based on a moral value. Consequently they attempt to appeal to self-interest. Unfortunately, I think for many, if not most, people, the self-interest in this case is to abstract to be an effective motivator.

  7. Humanity is a bit of a mess right now. I have to say that I could do better when it comes to reusing. Sometimes life gets so fast-paced that it is easy to reach out for what is quick. Great post as always.


  8. I appreciate and completely concur with your approach to the truth here. Thank you.

  9. Great post! Thank you for sharing that information, and reminding everyone the importance of reusing verses throwing things away.

    I am a big fan of reusing items as well as not having more than I need. I think as a society we accumulate far more then we need which in turn creates more unwanted items in our trash.

    Everyday Inspired

  10. I applaud you for challenging the "green norm" and speaking up about this! As you know, I've had an eco-friendly clothing label for many years. I used to constantly travel to eco festivals and green events to vend and discuss environmental awareness with my colleagues. Even at these events, there was so much greenwashing. I became disgruntled and have even taken a step back from my company on some levels, because there are so many other eco-clothing labels to compete with who use greenwashing to market their products for much cheaper. Now I focus on myself and making sure to reduce as much as possible (then reuse, then recycle as a last resort) in my own life and home. I agree that it shouldn't matter whether this is our only planet - it shouldn't be abused regardless.

  11. Well said Sonya, direct and to the point. In my constant and vigilant effort to keep my life simple I am constantly getting rid of things because as hard as I try "stuff" is always making its way into my home (Christmas is a biggie!). Donating it makes me feel great. It's all still in perfect condition, and I know that someone somewher will benefit from it all. Several years back we also started shopping at a local thrift shop and hit the jackpot! I can cloth myself and the girls, a shopping cart full, for minimal money, it's really amazing. Some of this stuff still has the original tags on... It (reusing) might not be a person's first thought when they think of green living, but it does make a huge and positive impact. :)

  12. I agree with Sarah's comment. If we could save the world based solely on morals than it would be a lot easier to change the behavior of the masses to reuse. However, the majority of people wont; and sadly, we the non-greenwashed bunch are too small to save the world alone. We need the majority, and to motivate the majority we use whatever tools, be it self-interest or doomsday one-planet lines, we have to change as many people as possible. In the end, what is more important: many people changing their behavior regardless of the reason, or only people with the moral drive changing their behavior?

  13. Sarah in Indiana, you are right, self interest is way too abstract when applied to a planet, be it the one we are living on. And isn't it ironic that asking people to act based on their moral values is uncomfortable... in our lifetime, when all kind of moral and ethical perversions are considered normal!

    Erin Chin, I appreciate your opinion so much because it reflects the reality. I would like to comment your question "What is more important: many people changing their behavior regardless of the reason, or only people with the moral drive changing their behavior?" and say that if we try to "trick" people into "saving the planet" we will be forever stuck in "curing" the outcome instead of "curing" the reason for it. So, even if we get away with ruining the planet, later there will be another similar problem...

  14. first of all ..love the photo! I recycled when recycling was "cool" the first time around :) yes I am that old...you will always have both camps ...just keep working at it!!

  15. "We don't have a spare planet" is what always gets me, because it's totally true - if we destroy our planet, we don't have anywhere else to go. By refusing to be eco-friendly, we're basically self-destructing.

    Reduce, reuse and recycle should be something we all do without even thinking about it, because if we don't then we're not going to have anywhere to live.

    "Gluttony, vanity, disregard and disrespect are of prime importance to humanity." Totally true! Very good post, Sonya!!

  16. This made me think about a documentary I watched on product design a couple of years ago. Karim Rashad was one of the designers interviewed. He said he often thinks about electronic waste. Take cell phones, for example, there's really no reason why the housing (the plastic parts that hold the electronic components) can't be made entirely of biodegradable materials. They are making materials with a similar feel to plastic right now out of corn and all sorts of stuff. It doesn't last forever, but then, most people get a new phone every five years. So, it doesn't really need to last FOREVER, and that's exactly what our phones do now sitting in landfills.

  17. "and say that if we try to "trick" people into "saving the planet" we will be forever stuck in "curing" the outcome instead of "curing" the reason for it. So, even if we get away with ruining the planet, later there will be another similar problem..."

    I guess it is a matter of how you view it:'tricking' people or using targeted global sayings (propaganda if you will) to get as many people to 'save the planet'. For me, I would rather use whatever means necessary to save the planet NOW, so we HAVE the LATER to persuade people to change their morals. It doesn't matter later if we don't have a later.

    ps. I really enjoy reading your blog :-)

  18. Thank you, Erin, I really enjoy your comments!

    I guess your approach is the more realistic one and mine is like the artist's - it's either perfect or you throw it away.

    Changing millions of peoples' minds is almost impossible in the short run, isn't it?

  19. So many items manufactured now have built in obsolescence. Things don't last as long as they used to.
    I am surprised by:
    Some people put out tons of trash and recycle little or none. (How can people produce so much trash in ONE week?)
    When some people don't want things anymore they throw them out! Imagine! How hard is it to donate to a place like Goodwill? My brother found a bag of brand new shirts with the tags still on in a dumpster.

  20. This is a great post Sonya. In our community, some people dump very good articles in the trash container, some will put them next to the bin so people can pick them up if they are interested: toys, books, clothes and furniture... What amazed me is how it is easy to buy then throw away unwanted stuff and forget about it. We have recycling bins that some days look like a regular trash container, this is depressing. "Show me your trash and I will tell you who you are"...

    1. Show me your trash indeed... I am appalled at the buy now pay later campaigns that are so hip in Norway now. They encourage people to buy things they don't actually need and then a year later all the stuff is in the trash. At the same time people are getting more and more in debt...

  21. This post is so timely for me because I'm going to be on a panel at the ReUseConex in Portland next weekend talking all about reuse and how to create a culture of reuse. I'll be on the lookout for that kind of rhetoric. But here's the thing: I doubt that most environmentalists who use the rationale that we only have one planet would start wasting if we suddenly had another planet. I think they use language like that because we actually don't have another planet... that's not a possibility for the near or probably even distant future... so it's safe to appeal to people in that way. Do you know what I mean?

    1. Yes, Beth, I know what you mean! I am sure that you too know what I mean :) and I also know that you will make more people think twice before using plastic because your enthusiasm is contagious! Good luck at ReUseConex!

  22. I think the point about rhetoric in any form is so poignant. We, environmentalists, use it to further a cause we believe in for the good of everyone while others use opposing rhetoric to discredit us. We all ought to consume less and yet the U.S. economy is based on consumerism. Want to be a Patriot: buy, buy, buy. Want to protect our resources and future: conserve, reuse, buy less.

    And I will tell you the truth that environmentalism often feels like a fight, and fights are tiring. Doesn't mean we give up, bus sometimes we might need a substitution. I am thankful for the community for that. We have to keep fighting the good fight for all the right reasons and then some.