Sunday, January 24, 2010

Applied Sciences: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Matter can neither be created nor destroyed. This is a principle that we all learned in high school, but so few of us understand how it relates to the practical world.

A few weeks ago, on Clinton Avenue, I looked on as sanitation workers loaded a perfectly sound couch into a garbage truck. Although watching the truck's compactor snap this huge piece of furniture in half was pretty cool, I was troubled that anyone would consider a seemingly pristine and functional couch disposable.

When I had to part with a beloved hand-me-down loveseat because it wouldn't fit in my new apartment, I made sure it had a home at a friend's place. When he no longer needs it, we'll find it a new home, provided his cats haven't torn the poor thing to pieces. I guess it's equal parts fanatical pack-ratism and responsibility to ensure that that loveseat lives out its useful life.

My guess is that whoever threw out that couch on Clinton Avenue gave little thought to its ultimate destination. Out of sight, out of mind. But that couch was trucked to a marine transfer station, tipped onto a barge and shipped to a landfill, where it will sit -- providing comfort to no one -- for many, many years, when it could have been reused by others or disposed of in an environmentally responsible way.

Wasteful behavior is a mix of ignorance, denial and laziness, and we all have our weak moments. But there are ways to make responsibility for the environment fun. For instance, yesterday, my friends hosted a clothes swap party, where I unloaded a few impulse purchases and snagged myself a super-awesome NY Jugglers t-shirt. The party hosts donated the remainder of the clothing to the Council on the Environment’s textiles recycling program. Our unwanted apparel will be redistributed to those in need or, if deemed non-usable, recycled for use as insulation or even car upholstery.

So next time you edit your wardrobe, replace a working appliance or part with a couch, think twice about taking the easy way out!


  1. Thanks for the shout out! Next time it's going to be an electronics swap party.

  2. maybe the couch was full of bedbugs?

  3. O: It was super fun! We'd have plenty to contribute the the electronics swap! Do you need a scanner?

    D: I'd thought of that too. Ick. But it's the bigger picture!