The problem with recycling

Recycling is not the answer. By itself, recycling does little to make the world a cleaner place. It must be preceded by the much more important acts of Reducing and Reusing. Together, they form the Three R’s.

So you can call it Part III of an answer, but you cannot say that recycling is the way to save the Earth.

The tripartite answer needs a new graphic symbol, because repurposing the universal recycling symbol (three arrows in a triangle) is confusing. Are all three equal? No. The Reduce arrow should be large, the Reuse arrow should be medium, and the Recycle arrow should be small, to represent priorities. One attempt was the pyramid of “waste hierarchy,” but I’m not buying the graphic symbol or the name.

“Waste hierarchy” offers a good idea in bad packaging.

Waste hierarchy? That is a clunker.

Three R’s is mediocre as a name, so maybe we can rechristen them “The Rees.” That name could use a theme song, performed by the Ree-rees, and they could use the new graphic in the same way that Prince once tried to change his name into a symbol.

I’m seeing two circles nested inside a large circle of Reducing. Or a pair of scissors with blades Reduce and Reuse and handles of Recycle? Help me, the graphically challenged.

I’m not saying to stop recycling or to stop fighting for recycling bins next to every trashcan. But I am saying to drink water from a tap instead of from a plastic bottle; use real plates instead of paper ones; and don’t print this article, because that piece of paper generates unnecessary waste, and the cold fact is that very, very little waste gets recycled.

Did you see actor Jeremy Irons sitting on mountains of trash? His documentary Trashed offers revolting images of garbage in places far away from the U.S. “Does anyone know what happens to it all?” he asks.

No. We don’t. So let’s not pretend that we can recycle our way out of this mess.

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