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Why Reuse Trumps Recycling and Reduce Trumps ‘em Both, Part 2

By Scott Gordon, Director of Sales, HelioPower

So it seems clear that while recycling is ok and clearly better than tossing refuse into a landfill, it’s not exactly an environmental panacea and may in fact promote the very behavior it’s intended to eliminate – egregious wastefulness. A far superior alternative is Reuse. Why not take something in its present form and reuse it? This concept seems like common sense, but every year billions of pounds of perfectly good stuff ends up in landfills: kitchen cabinets, windows, doors, sinks, tubs, tile, paint, wood beams, countertops, paneling, office furniture & supplies, appliances, ad infinitum. This waste could build thousands of new homes and shelters without the costly energy input of ‘recycling’ it first. It’s this very niche that Materials Matter has carved out for itself, and is why to date Materials Matter has diverted over 75 million pounds of building materials destined for the landfill to construction projects benefiting other non-profits.

Keeping the material away from the landfill or recycling process is important, but equally important is the cost savings beneficiary organizations realize when they use recovered building materials in their construction projects. Unlike recycled products that often cost more than their ‘new’ counterparts, reused materials can often be had for pennies on the dollar thereby significantly reducing construction costs for cash strapped agencies. Often, these materials are reused in the very same communities where they are recovered further reducing the environmental impact.

Even more compelling is the fact that a lot of this recovered material is brand new. That’s right, brand spankin’ new. Let’s say, for example, that you order some custom blinds for your home, but the order is messed up so you send the blinds back. What do you think happens to those blinds you sent back while you wait for the factory to make you new and hopefully correct ones? Landfill? That used to be the case. Fortunately, more companies are teaming up with organizations like Materials Matter to find homes for their unwanted or mis-measured wares. In addition, more homeowners are deconstructing or eco-demoing their remodeling projects as they realize that a charitable tax deduction beats paying a contractor to rip out and throw away perfectly good kitchen cabinets and bathroom sinks.

Without Materials Matter and agencies like it, our society would miss out on a significant opportunity to reduce our collective ecological impact. Reuse trumps recycling at every turn, but we can do even better.

I mentioned earlier that one could make the argument that recycling encourages the wrong behavior, wastefulness, and while it’s good we’re conserving natural resources by recycling them over and over again, we’d be far better off if we recycled less – literally. Less packaging, fewer bottles, fewer bags. Imagine if everyone refilled the same water bottle or coffee cup every day. Imagine if everyone used canvass shopping bags, bought concentrated cleaning products (which use less packaging), cooked whole foods (again less packaging), and generally consumed less. Less consumption equals less recycling. Less recycling equals less waste (energy). Less waste equals less want.

My grandmother used to always tell me when I wouldn’t finish my dinner, “Waste not. Want not.” As we waste, there are multitudes that want. Materials Matter fills a crucial societal role by wanting the waste and wasting not.