Everyone knows the symbol for recycling, three arrows in a triangular Mobius strip. It is often used to refer to the environmental mantra of “reduce-reuse-recycle.” All of these are good ideas and they all promote environmental conservation, help to protect the environment, but we shouldn’t infer from the recycling symbol that they are equal.
Recycling is better than landfilling, but it is really the worst option for protecting the environment. Recycling an aluminum beer can saves 95% of the energy used in making a can from new aluminum, and recycling a glass bottle saves 33% of the energy used in making a bottle from new glass. However, the larger amount of energy, with its carbon pollution, is still used the first time, with just a reduction in energy use the second time. The natural resources still to have collected and used, too.
This Examiner just finished reading a book called, “The Last American Man” by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin, 2002). The book is about an odd, fascinating person named Eustace Conway, who regards as his mission in life to teach Americans how to return to self-sufficiency and collaboration with nature. It’s an interesting read, but the point now is to give credit where it is due. Mr. Conway suggests two additional tactics for our recycling model: reconsideration, and refusal.
When you are about to buy something, Reconsider. As applied in this column, is that imported beer really that good? It spent a couple of months at sea, exposed to broad fluctuations in temperature. The packaging may not have protected it well, either. New Castle Brown Ale is very good if you drink it in Scotland, as this Examiner knows personally, but those clear bottles let in light that turn the hop oils to mercaptin, the same compound that gives skunks their smell. Any light will do this. Heinekin takes a beating on its trip from Holland to the United States, too.
Is that imported beer better than something made locally? If you are sure then go ahead and buy it, but if you Reconsider and aren’t sure then you can Refuse to buy it. Again, think of the packaging needed to protect the bottles during the voyage across the Atlantic, the extra carbon emissions spent during transport. Consumers vote with our money and if the retailer sees that his supply of Foster’s Lager is low then he knows that it is selling and will order more, from the other side of the world. Yes, the damage is already done by the case in front of you, but leaving it there will help to prevent the ordering of another case. You can Refuse.
The next best choice, after Reconsidering and Refusing, is Reducing the amount of energy and packaging used in your product. As a consumer, you have little choice about how your drinks reach the store, but again, you vote with your money, and you can support brewers and distillers who use less packaging. This is another area where aluminum, with its durability, is superior to glass, which needs extra, disposable, paper, packaging.
Is this something that you can Reuse? For the average beer drinker, the humble growler is the zenith of environmental conservation. You get 64 ounces in a package that will stay fresh and carbonated for at least 72 hours. When it’s empty, just clean it with a dab of dish soap and a good rinse, let it air dry, and then Reuse it.
Finally, for whatever adult beverage that you bought, please Recycle the container. You’ll save space in the landfill, decrease the demand for new natural resources in packaging, and reduce the amount of energy needed to make packaging. It’s still a good idea but it’s not the best of the options that you have.