It’s 2011, I’m pretty sure you know what “recycling” is. You put your papery things, your kinda plastic things, and your tin or aluminum things and you drop them into a green rectangle bucket. Then you dump that rectangle bucket into a big, blue State-provided wheely monster and you wrassle it down your curb. There polite ruffians with tattoos who have been instructed to “behave in front of the citizens” waltz up in their dinosaur-truck and steal all your precious papery, plasticy, and metally things. They then run away with the cargo, but stop! at the very next house! Where they do the exact same thing. They go all through your neighborhood, then through your whole part of town, then before you know it, they’ve stolen the whole city’s valuables. They inspect your stuff and if it meets the requirements, they chuck it in a furnace. A hot, hot furnace. The furnace melts your once-loved possessions into a gooey semblance of their former selves. These goos are then squirted into molds and cooled. Typically, the “recycled” goods are not high-quality. People think they recycle a plastic bottle and another plastic bottle is made, but typically they turn into products that become “unrecyclable,” like toys, carpeting, and sleeping bags. When you throw away a plastic bottle, you don’t just restart the life of a plastic bottle, most things can only be recycled once. Paper can only be turned into that rough “post-consumer” paper you’ll see sometimes, and after that it’s done. Aluminum can be reused more than once, but it has to me melted and formed into large metal squares before it used, so the energy expenditure to make one soda can from one soda can is not at all null-set.
The reason I harped on recycling is because people of late have begun thinking that recycling is the solution of litter, or the loophole to their overuse. They think I can drink as much soda as I want because it all gets recycled. Boom, no harm done right? But the energy reality is much more stark. When you decide you have to drink a can of soda, or buy a bottle of Gatorade, or buy multiple individually wrapped carrot snackers, you vindicate your conscience by recycling. In reality, when you recycle you still use A LOT of fossil fuels. How about that truck that drives around the entire city all day, typically coughing up black gas? What about the heating process to melt and reform your “recycled” goods? What about the process of shipping those reformed goods back out to their manufacturers and retail stores? Then the fossil fuels it took you to drive to H.E.B. and decide that (and I’ve seen this) you only drink Diet Snapple. Or you can’t stand the tap water, it has to be bottled. Or you’re trying to cut back on calories in soda, so you buy only IMPORTED ITALIAN WATER. Recycling is better than throwing things away and never using them again, but the best thing to do is reuse materials, or never use them in the first place.
Pre-cycling is essentially what you do when you use the bullk-foods aisle at any grocery store, provided you bring your own container. My typical breakfast is oatmeal with either peanut butter or honey in it. That’s what I eat almost every day. All three containers I use for those three things are refillable in the bulk aisle. I refill my Oatmeal cylinder with quick rolled oats, my peanut butter jar with organic crunchy peanut butter, and my honey (agave nectar this time) container with local, organic honey. I only need to refill them every three weeks or so, but when I do, I make literally no trash. I bring in my own containers, fill them with product that isn’t wrapped, frozen, packaged or processed, and then pay for them. Most stores have systems for paying for product like this, and you usually save money by buying in bulk, and a lot of stores give you discounts for refilling your own containers. Pre-cycling takes more mental preparation, because you have to think about what you are getting at the store and prepare for that visit. But it saves garbage from being made, fossil fuels from being wasted, and it saves your money!
The store that I blogged about a week or so ago call in.gredients is trying to capitalize on pre-cycling. They are going to sell mostly bulk food items and hope that the money they make up in not buying packaged food and not having to purchase their own processing materials will make them profitable. They urge customers to bring their own jars, containers, and bags so that all they provide is waste-free food. Hopefully, the future of American supermarkets looks something like in.gredients.