When talking about sustainability I often hear…”I recycle plastic grocery bags…I use them as trash can liners or as lunch bags.” I respond, “Oh…that’s great!” But what I am really thinking is; actually you reuse your plastic grocery bags. The fact that you don’t throw them into the trash is the most important part of the conversation but I want to make sure everyone understands the difference between the terms reuse and recycle.
Unfortunately, in our everyday vocabulary we use the words reuse and recycle interchangeably but they have very different definitions. Reusing an item means just that …to use the same product over and over again. The goal of reusing an item is to lengthen the life of the product, to make it last as long as you can. Examples of reusing are buying and selling used items, renting DVD’s, “hand me down” clothes.
Recycling requires a great deal more energy and involves a physical change. The goal of recycling is to make a brand new product. Examples of recycling include using old tires to resurface roads or breaking down old cans to make new cans.
Reusing is also better for the environment because it prevents new items from entering the waste stream and it does not create pollution like recycling can. The most important part of the recycling vs reusing issue is that you’re consciousness of the importance of the 3R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle). So no matter how you describe your efforts I would describe them as commendable!