Recycling Is Outdated

Recycling is outdated: its time has passed.  I’ve been thinking about this for about the past year, that recycling is outdated.  I know that might seem a crazy statement to some.

Yet we really have to encourage ourselves to reuse, and reuse again, and there are so many creative and inspiring ways to do so.

To-Go Containers

I’m often surprised in my office when people get lunches to go, how many containers go in the recycling.  I quickly pull them out.  Many of these are solid containers which can be used again 100 times.  We actually probably never have to buy Tupperware.  These containers can be reused for a leftover, half-eaten waffle from our breakfast, to a four-portion meal remaining from a dinner party.  Many of them are durable, safe and strong enough to go in the dishwasher.


I also see the same thing with tinfoil.  Sometimes when there’s a catered lunch at the office, large swathes of tinfoil cover the main entrée, or even a side dish.  This aluminum foil can be washed down and dried, and reused multiple times.  50 times, I’ve found.

I’ve stopped buying aluminum foil.


Now this might sound crazy to some, but I am making sure that I am not “throwing out” water.  In our kitchen at home, we have a hot pot which heats up our water.  If it’s half full in the morning, I often dump it out, and refill the whole container.  And yet, I’m throwing away precious water.  How many countries across the world—how many millions of children—would die for those two cups of clean water?  How many are?

I’ll answer it for you—two million people are dying annually due to lack of clean water.  Most are children.

So we can drink it.  Or we can water our plants.  Or we can use it to scrub down the basin, clean the bathtub, scour the shower, or dampen a cloth when we’re wiping down the kitchen table.  Let’s not waste something that actually sustains other people’s lives.

As the expression says, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I think we have to change our mindset completely…don’t throw out the baby…and don’t throw out the bathwater.  Both represent life.

9 thoughts on “Recycling Is Outdated

  1. T. Caine

    Hey Pamela,

    I’m not sure that I agree. I’d argue that recycling is actually approaching it’s prime and we still have more work to do. Sometimes it seems like recycling has been around for a while, but in many ways a lot of people are just catching on. Even today, once you get away from the coasts recycling is not the given we enjoy. Cities are finding much more success with places like New York at 34% of their waste stream, while standouts like Los Angeles and San Francisco boast +60% and +70% respectively.

    I would agree that recycling is no longer the endgame. Upcycling is really the model that we should be shooting for–not just reusing a material before it gets trashed, but focusing on processes that break down product waste back into raw materials that can be used again with no degradation to their inherent value.

    Recycling should be made mandatory in more places around the country in order to really nudge our supply chains to embracing the system. I think we need to still get more people on board before we call recycling yesterday’s news.



    1. Pamela Hawley Post author

      Dear Tyler,

      Thank you for your wise email, and of course you are right. I was a bit tongue-in-cheek by saying that recycling is over… what I was trying to alert people’s attention to is that there are many other things we can do with recyclable materials before we throw them in the recycling bin. Often this point is missed, and we think we are doing a great thing by sending it off to a processing plant. True to your point, we still need to get much more access to recycling in all parts of of the world, and segmented appropriately with glass, paper, plastic.

      It’s the same thing with compost. We have lunches here on Tuesdays at the HUB called “Super Salad Days,” where we make salads, tofu and other natural foods as a community. Afterwards, the leftover food used to be composted. But now I gather it up and take it to homeless people and to elderly housebound people, who enjoy and appreciate it very much. There’s an important step before composting which values the food as a resource in a much better way, then simply tossing it in compost.

      Both are good; one is better.

      My main points are “The Steps In Between.” Perhaps that’s a better title for the future!

      Thank you again for your sincere comments.



  2. ProjectUpcycle

    I agree that plastic bottles need to be reused, and that companies should offer a discount on products if you trade in your empty bottle [like the good old days with glass bottles! remember that? Probably not, I don’t 🙂 ]

    Another thing that gets vastly discarded is building materials that didn’t make the cut. All of them can be used to build housing for the homeless or less fortunate, or someone that wants cheaper housing in general. That is what I’m doing with Project Upcycle:

    Today we are going to pick up a ton of wood from a house that had been taken down. For every 120 pounds of wood that we reuse, we save 1 mature tree, 412 gallons of water, 4.7 cubic feet of landfill space, 5 gallons of oil, and 241 KW of electricity. up-cycling rocks!

    Thanks for the good read!


  3. Pingback: Recycling is Outdated « Project ↑pcycle

  4. Jennifer Ward-Pelar

    First off, LOVE the quote from Gandhi. It’s so, so true.
    You must live in the West. Most people (I’ve found) simply do not recycle at all. When you wrote that the people at your work threw the to-go containers in the recycling bin, I was shocked and thrilled. Most places we’ve been stationed, those would go in the trash. And I would be the one pulling them out. OF THE TRASH.
    I LOVE that you don’t buy tinfoil. When I got married, my husband looked at me like I had ten heads because I reused tinfoil and Ziploc bags. I have not bought either since 2008.
    We do the same exact thing with our water. In the bathroom sink and the kitchen and then water our plants with it or flush the toilet. Our water bill hasn’t gone down much, but I like to think we’re making a difference. I have yet to do a post on that one. I’m sure people will think we’re “crazy” but doesn’t it just make sense? If you can use it more than once?
    It makes me so happy to hear there are others who think like we do, because all I get are the weird stares and the “Really? Why do you do that?” I want to shake people. Where is the education?


  5. toysarefun

    In WI we cut recycling, it costs money and landfills like to be filled. Towns and counties have to pick up more of the tab so to speak. Nobody really works together real well on recycling, I guess some do, but bigger solutions and ideas seem to be lacking. I have a great job, but I still like junking and do it about one day a week, mostly I’m just collecting stuff off the curb before it goes to the landfill, and then bringing it to the recyclers. I would do it more, but really, the city is a junkyard. I pick up more plastic than anything though, before that one piece of plastic turns into a million little pieces. All you have to do is take a little walk, along the way you’ll find a walmart plastic bag, fill it up. No solution is easy, I worked at a salvation army and believe it or not, even the hungry in this country throw food away. Tinfoil: Our local recyclers will not take it, they say trash it, (solution: I don’t use it), bottle caps, again they won’t take, so quit buying things with plastic caps, good luck. SO YES, recycling is pretty outdated. Still, it has to start at home, and some of us crazy recyclers literally do not have to take the trash out, we recycle or re-use just about everything, or find a way to do so.


  6. treehugger

    I believe that what you are doing by reusing aluminum foil and lunch containers IS recycling, in a more localized, personal way than you were thinking about it.

    People have been doing what you advocate for many years. Folks raised during the Great Depression did this out of economic necessity. Some of these people (my parents, aunts and uncles) taught their kids to do the same. I grew up saving empty mayonnaise bottles in the basement, because you never knew when you would need one to clean out a paintbrush or put some flowers in to give to a friend.

    Now that the economy is terrible, perhaps people will learn how to be less wasteful again.


    1. Jennifer Ward-Pelar

      Amen to that treehugger! Sometimes I think the folks from the Great Depression are the only ones who grew up not wasting. Because they didn’t have a choice! My grandmother taught my mother these things who taught me. And you can be sure I’m going to pass it down. What I don’t understand is the gap that happened somewhere for the ones who weren’t taught. They are the ones suffering right now. Seems unfair for them. We’re not suffering at all. We’ve been saving our mayo jars all along too. Being green and saving money goes hand in hand—most of the time. And who doesn’t need to save money this day and age?


      1. Pamela Hawley Post author

        Dear Jennifer/GreenMilitarywife,

        What a right on post. Love it!

        Good to hear that you are taking your stand regardless of the examples before you in society. Keep it up, keep it up we must.. and soon it will become the norm so that we won’t even think about it. At least we can hope; at least we can keep trying; at least we can keep being an example.

        I would love to see the day where a part of everyone’s day is to search through our garbage. And be a part of saving our earth.

        Let’s hear from you again!


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