Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The importance of reuse and recycling

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Recycling, reuse and saving are terms that resemble each other and which certainly have to do with the virtuous management of waste and the resources at our disposal. But do we really know what are the connected activities that hide behind each of these actions?

The difference between the terms ‘reuse’ and ‘recycling’ is substantial: we reuse an asset that has not yet become waste and we recycle what it already is and which apparently is no longer functional to the purpose for which it is been produced. It sounds like a play on words, but it’s much simpler than we think.

The reuse of an asset involves immediate action. It means restoring, in some way, the function of the object to prevent it from becoming garbage. For example: I drink all the contents of my bottle of water and instead of throwing it I find a way to use it again. Maybe something alternative and completely different from the function for which it was born. And there are dozens and dozens of ideas that can be adapted to the purpose, some very creative.

“With the plastic of 10 bottles you can make a fleece sweater”.

A plastic bottle can become a container to grow aromatic herbs along a wall and create a small hanging garden; it can be transformed into a multifunctional object holder useful for reorganizing a space; it can become a bird feeder to hang from a tree branch; it can also be transformed into a decorative object for the garden or home, or into a pen holder to put on the desk. And many, many other things …

Recycling , on the other hand, implies that I have already thrown that bottle away, but that the material it is made of is transformed to produce something new, similar or very different to what it was originally used for. The PET from the bottles is used industrially to produce new containers for detergents, or transformed into yarn and bows  to make blankets , T- shirts , padding, cushions, sofas , carpets, etc. With the plastic of 10 bottles you can make a fleece sweater, did you know ?!

The ‘5 r’s’ rule

Whether it is recycling or reuse, in hindsight, the aim is always the same and equally important: to give a second life to everything that passes through our hands and to the objects we use in everyday life. And to understand how fundamental this cultural approach can be for safeguarding the planet’s resources, it is enough to measure oneself with the figures of our waste .

Just to stay on the subject, we think that 22,000 bottles per second are thrown around the world .  The time it takes for nature to dispose of a single plastic bottle varies  from 100 to 1000 years . For us, however, less than a second would be enough to spare the environment such a chore. Without considering that reusing and giving new life to such a massively used material should be a top priority for producers and consumers.

The provision that had the merit of introducing the theme of sustainable waste management for the first time in Italy was the Ronchi Decree in 1997. A law that has gone down in history as a strategy of the 5 r’s of waste that is still very useful today to understand the importance (and simplicity) of living with zero waste . The 5 r ‘s rule includes: reduction, reuse, recycling, collection and recovery .

“The 5 r ‘s rule includes: reduction, reuse, recycling, collection and recovery”.

After 20 years, today more than ever, these five actions should become a mantra , enter the classrooms and be the fulcrum of our daily life, as well as policies oriented towards environmental sustainability . Yes, because if it is true that reusing goods and objects means limiting the production of waste, it is also true that there is a whole series of virtuous habits which, in a synergistic and systematic way, can give even more significant results.

  1. Reduction : it is the strategy considered ‘winning’ in the long term. It consists in the concrete reduction at the origin of waste, both in everyday life, at the level of the individual citizen, and in the political sphere through the adoption of appropriate decision-making and legal lines.
  1. Reuse : as mentioned, it consists in the new use of the asset, as it is. In more general terms, it can be considered a lifestyle, a mental and cultural attitude that takes shape in everyday life through apparently insignificant gestures. All these small gestures are transformed into a real economic activity that aims to relocate and reinvent products that are still reusable.
  1. Recycling : is the transformation of waste materials and waste into new resources or goods through more or less complex industrial processes. To work, it needs the separate waste collection system to be rigorous, shared and efficient.
  1. Collection : the undisputed protagonist of this action is the citizen through the differentiation of waste, its proper delivery to the appropriate bins and with the different collection methods (door to door, road containers, ecological islands) prepared by local administrations. The goal is to reduce the final volume of waste destined for landfills and to save raw materials and energy.
  1. Recovery : in addition to matter, it mainly refers to the recovery of energy from waste. Most of the non-reusable or recyclable waste materials can be transformed into thermal or electrical energy through waste-to-energy plants, the alternative places to landfills.

Activating an economic model based on these 5 rules and making them become a lifestyle is not easy, but it is certainly urgent and necessary. It is the abc of what is now called the Circular Economy which is strongly opposed to the economies of scale – born after the Second Industrial Revolution – and to the rampant culture of throwaways that has taken over our habits.

Reuse vs disposable

We understand that the culture of saving, reusing and recycling is activated by paying attention to every single object we use in daily life. Before becoming a ‘waste’, every good should be carefully  evaluated  and subjected to a mandatory question: Can I still use it ?”. Several commonly used objects, in fact, lend themselves to  new functions and purposes even after being used over and over again. For example toothbrushes, old brushes, towels and sheets that are a little worn can become rags and useful tools in household cleaning. To manage consumption in a sustainable way e low-cost  could be useful to adopt some simple stratagem, for example to have a small  survival kit  made up of a series of  objects that can be reused countless times : a glass bottle, fabric shopping bags, jars, a few empty bottles for detergents and etc. These objects are  a concrete alternative to disposable , reduce packaging and save money, time and space.

“Every asset should be carefully evaluated and submitted to a mandatory question: Can I still use it ? “.

It is a way of life that is built day after day and that spreads in society only through concrete actions and initiatives, such as ” M’illumino di Meno “, the energy saving day that the  Cooperative Credit Banks have been supporting for years in the main Italian cities and small provincial towns. A commitment confirmed also with the creation of the  BCC Energia Consortium created  to allow each branch to reduce its energy expenditure and to place itself in the area not only as a community bank , but also as a savings and clean energy bank.

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