ECOLOGIC : To recycle or not to recycle

17-Jan-2020: Pavitra Sriprakash, Director and Chief Designer at Shilpa Architects Planners Designers writes a weekly column on Sustainability for The New Indian Express titled “ECOLOGIC”. This week’s article is about reusing better than recycling.

Full article below: (Also available at The New Indian Express Website)

To recycle or not to recycle 

Pongal is a time for family and draws communities together. It is also a time to start afresh. Bhogi, used to be an enviro-nightmare due to the burning of waste and old items from homes — Municipal Corporations in Tamil Nadu put a fresh spin on Bhogi by starting a Bhogi Bucket campaign. The idea is simple — don’t burn your items; bring it in for responsible disposal and take home a cloth bag or something else in return. This campaign has had massive success in smaller cities. The trend to reinvent Pongal continued this year as well.

Chennai organised a huge Reuse and Reduce Sale. The idea was, clear your home of a list of items that can be accepted as part of the sale and deposit it at the nearest drop off centre (supported by the Greater Chennai Corporation). These items can be toys, appliances, footwear, bicycles, jewellery, luggage and a lot of other things. These items will then be put up for sale or you can exchange some of the things brought in by you for items of equivalent value.

This is one massive garage sale. While this idea has been widely accepted around the world, the angle of it being sustainable and good for the environment is only recently gaining momentum. In most cases, these are hard to recycle items which wind up in landfills. Most of us think it is acceptable to toss or burn items which we have outgrown or may require minor repair, and this mindset needs to be altered.

There is a huge difference between reuse and recycle and the impact each of these have on the environment. Recycling means turning an item into raw materials which can be used again, usually for a completely new product. This is an energy consuming procedure. Reusing on the other hand is using the object as it is without treatment. This reduces pollution and waste, thus making it a more sustainable process. Examples of recycled items include fiberglass made from glass bottles, and insulation materials made from newspaper or plastic bottles. Reused items include anything that was bought second hand, often furniture, clothing appliances and other items similar to those listed as part of the Reuse and Reduce Sale.

Although recycling has been a staple of sustainable living for decades, it does have some downsides. A large amount of energy is needed to transport, process and reassemble recyclable materials. Particularly in India, recycling can still be a very expensive and hard-to-come-by process. And in some cases, especially with e-waste, it can be difficult and complex to achieve with high risks of soil pollution.

When looking into sustainability, you will come across the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. These are the core components of environmentally responsible consumer behavior. Reduce, truly, is the best way forward, because consuming fewer products will eradicate the need for them to be reused or recycled when we are done with them. If you do have to discard something, it is generally recommended to reuse before you recycle. The fact remains that recycling, while preferable to producing waste, is still an energy demanding process while reducing and reusing are not. To a year of reducing and reusing ahead!