A recycling and trash bin sit on North Campus in Athens, Georgia, on Wednesday, November 1, 2017. (Photo/Kristin M. Bradshaw) 

It’s been a common mantra since childhood: the best way an ordinary citizen can improve the environment is to reduce, reuse, or recycle their waste. Of course, the practice is valid since it stops already used waste from entering landfills or fragile ecosystems. There’s a reason there are so many recycling bins around campus, after all.

However, the best way to improve the environment is to refuse the products that have the most environmental impact. Outright refusal is the best way to avoid supporting these industries at all.

We often think that if you place your plastic bottle in the recycling bin, you’ve done the right thing and everyone is happy. This is not always the case.

While it’s true that most plastic products will be recycled in Athens Clarke county, not every bin is guaranteed to be recycled. Let’s say you put your plastic bottle in the same bin where someone threw in a bunch of non-recyclable products, such as film bags, styrofoam and all sorts of other things. This bin has now been contaminated in the recycling center’s eyes, and would be more costly to pick out and sort than to simply throw away, so the entire bin, including your bottle, gets thrown away.

We often think we’re doing the right thing by recycling, but most of the time other people don’t recycle correctly, so plastic, aluminum and glass enter landfills anyway.

Thus, the best way to reduce plastic, aluminum and glass waste is to not necessitate recycling in the first place. It’s touched upon by the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle,” but even reduced usage still means usage.

By forgoing the products that need to come in bottles, you’re preventing a piece of plastic from entering the world and needing to be dealt with. This prevention mitigates the need for post-consumption management, which leads to less errors causing the waste to enter landfills.

You don’t need to refuse every product in your life, but take stock of what wasteful thing you can live without. Often times, if it’s packaged excessively like soda bottles, candy wrappers and other food products, you don’t need that actual food. For the most part, the most natural, healthiest foods come in natural, biodegradable packaging and will lead to better health benefits for you and natural ecosystems.

Think the next time you go to the grocery store, vending machine or restaurant. Often times you can live without your most luxurious wants. Your wallet and the environment will thank you.

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