• Jenny Hill

Why "Reduce" Instead of "Recycle?"




November 18 of this year was the 25th anniversary of Use Less Stuff Day, traditionally the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Use Less Stuff Day was started by Bob Lilienfeld and self-described “garbologist” Bill Rathje. The two collaborated on the book Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are. Americans have never been keen on using less, which probably explains why recycling has been a popular way to overcome guilt about over-consumption.


The Limits of Recycling


For a long time, we have relied on the idea that things we use can be recycled. More and more evidence points to the complications of that mindset. Cass County, Minnesota, does not accept these items for recycling: plastic bags, styrofoam, shrink wrap, food packaging or film, plastic cups, plastic plates, plastic utensils, automotive or pesticide containers. Recycling containers can become contaminated when items are not cleaned or sorted properly. News media frequently features stories on the cost of recycling--that it takes all kinds of resources to run a recycling plant. A recent video from National Public Radio lays out the argument against recycling.

The “Rs” for Our Time


A fundamental part of Happy Dancing Turtle’s mission to Grow Good Stewards is to use resources wisely. As our Reduce-Reuse-Recycle video promotes, the first, and most important part, of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle is “reduce.”



That video is now a decade old. Who could have predicted how much more time we would all be spending at home since March 2020? But since we have been, I bet any number of us could have predicted that our homes would start to feel cramped as rooms started doing double-duty as offices, conference rooms, break rooms, school rooms, stay-cation destinations.


So it would feel good to reduce. But if recycling has its drawbacks, how are we ever to get rid of stuff we no longer want or need? Does Reduce-Reuse-Recycle go far enough? It’s an interesting question. There are other “Rs” out there, such as Rethink-Refuse-Repair-Repurpose and Rot, each supporting a different end.


Start Where You Are (R)


It’s easy to get overwhelmed with a lot of theories about how to use resources wisely. It’s also easy to make resolutions at certain times of the year (Earth Day, New Year’s Day...er...Use Less Stuff Day) and harder to sustain them during life’s busy days. So consider starting small, starting where you are. After reviewing some of the resources in this blog post, what is one reasonable action you’d like to try in your daily life?


Talking about the “Rs”--adding new ones, amending old ones--feels key to discussions about sustainability. Because of that, we will revisit this topic from time to time on our blog. What is one small change you’d like to make? Which “R” words seem relevant to your daily life? Please share in the comments.