Today, I attended an Earth Day celebration over lunch. It was fun, and nice to see people acknowledging the importance of saving the earth. At the luncheon, the organizers brought in several speakers, and gave away prizes. I heard about reducing waste, composting, and of course, saving the precious resource that is water. One thing I thought was pretty cool was that at the luncheon, all of the attendees were given reusable grocery bags that were made from recycled water bottles. And that, in turn, got me thinking about the nature of recycling as a whole.
Let's break that word down a bit. The opening is "re," a prefix used when you're doing something multiple times: re-read, re-watch, re-write. The second part of the word is "cycle." When you recycle something, you put it through the same cycle again.
For a long time, I thought of recycling as being pretty one-dimensional. You recycle a plastic bottle, it gets made into another plastic bottle. You might be reducing waste, but there's still heavy processing (and probably quite a bit of virtual water) used in the recycling process.
But what if disposable items were converted into something re-usable? They're not going through the same cycle again: they're starting a brand new cycle.
Take the grocery bags made of plastic bottles. Of course, you're reducing some waste (about two thirds of all plastic bottles are never recycled), and you're creating a bag out of materials that don't otherwise need to be produced, meaning you're probably reducing virtual water use, as well. But then, that bag can be re-used, reducing the amount of plastic or paper grocery bags that would need produced. The benefits are exponential. That's why I think of it as "mutli-cycling" rather than "re-cycling." You're impacting so many fields with one change.
Let's be honest: every product you could ever buy is going to use some virtual water. Using re-usable products can reduce the amount you have to buy overall, and using recycled reusable products only adds to the net benefit. And it doesn't just mean buying recycled products, either. I have a friend who made planters out of old milk cartons.
My tip for the week for you is this: find something you're spending money on that you don't have to. Switch from buying bottled water to buying a water bottle. Pick up some re-use-able grocery bags. Make a creative project out of something that would otherwise end up in the trash. Not only are you saving virtual water, but you're also multicycling in a way that can make a real impact this Earth Day.