Reduce Vs Recycle: Do We Have The Wrong “R” Focus?

Reduce, reuse, recycle: the environmental mantra of the ages, and yet, only that last piece seems to get the spotlight in the mainstream. 

And that’s starting to become a problem. 

Is it more important to reduce or recycle?

Don’t get us wrong: recycling is great! But it often comes at the end of a very emission-heavy and plastic-rich lifecycle, and even the best recycling efforts struggle to balance the scale. 

For decades now, we’ve tried to get people to believe that recycling is important—and now they do! However, the sight of those big blue bins can make people feel like they’ve done their due diligence when there’s still a lot of work to do. It removes that sense of urgency. 

(Not to mention that even the most avid recyclers face a steep learning curve. Do you know where to put plastic bags? How about disposable coffee cups, or light bulbs, or aluminum foil? There’s rarely a clear-cut answer, and it can vary depending on the capabilities of your community. 

It’s not that we need to recycle LESS—we just need the other two parts of the equation too!

How can we embrace “the forgotten R’s”—aka reduce and reuse?

We can embrace the forgotten “reduce and reuse” portion of the phrase by:

✅ Banning single-use plastic products or restricting their usage, like in many U.S. cities

✅ Creating items from recyclable materials

✅ Leaning away from “fast-fashion” and other wasteful industries

Reducing waste generation tackles the problem at the source, rather than trying to fix it at the finish line with recycling. This means changing from a consumeristic, “one-and-done” culture to one that prevents the creation of that waste in the first place. 

Interested in putting those forgotten R’s into practice?

Want to be part of a community dedicated to sustainable materials management? Become a SWEEP member today! Reach out at or visit membership page to learn more and to sign up today!

1 Comment

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