Reuse vs Recycle

Everyone knows the three R's of environmental sustainability: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But did you know they appear in order of importance on the EPA solid waste management hierarchy?

Reducing how much we consume and shifting our consumption to well-designed products and services is the most preferred level. Use less stuff. According to the EPA, "making a new product requires a lot of materials and energy: raw materials must be extracted from the earth, and the product must be fabricated and then transported to wherever it will be sold. As a result, reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment, and save money."

Reduction and Reuse is the best option per EPA guidelines. That's about giving your "waste" materials a second life. For instance, recycling toner cartridges by sending them to someone who collects them to be remanufactured for reuse. That's the approach at Evolve Recycling, and it's an important reason why responsible businesses call on us for toner recycling instead of working with the major manufacturers, who often turn the cartridges into scrap (see below). (Plus, when you consider the substantial cash paybacks for recycling print cartridges with Evolve, going the reuse route makes even more sense.)

Recycle and Composting is ranked lower than Reduction and Reuse because it involves reducing items into scrap material, which is formed into brand-new items. Compared to reuse, this can be a more energy-intensive process and can also generate more pollutants. But for the end-of-life laptops, cell phones and other small electronics, it is still the greatly preferred alternative to landfilling.

Through a balance of all three principals we can easily shrink landfill-destined waste.

What can you do?

Reduce. Print only what's essential; share information electronically instead.
Reuse. Send recyclables to companies that put them back to use, not to companies that take them out of circulation. This is a strong reason to work with Evolve when recycling toner cartridges. Unlike the major manufacturers who destroy those returned empties, Evolve remanufactures them for reuse—a greatly preferred approach.  (see article).
Recycle. When electronics reach their end of life, put them in a recycle bin not a trash can. Raw materials can be used to manufacture new products, saving natural resources, energy and landfill space.

Reuse vs. Recycle

Waste Management Hierarchy

Levels of the EPA's solid waste management hierarchy

  1. Source Reduction and Reuse
  2. Recycling/Composting
  3. Combustion with Energy Recovery
  4. Landfilling and Incineration without Energy Recovery

US Environmental Protection Agency, Waste website: