A Love of Recycled Products, Born of a Hatred of Waste

Posted by Daniel Cain on

The recycling industry is in crisis and we need to build demand for recycled materials.  See how a healthy hatred of waste developed into a love of recycled products. Along the way I have uncovered tons of companies out there using recycled plastic, paper, and cardboard to make their products and reduce waste.

The Golden Triangle of Goodness: Save money, your health, and the Earth

It is strange to say, but somehow I was born with the soul of an elderly, depression-era, slightly cranky old man.

When I was a kid my mom used to poke fun of me and laugh to herself about some of my tendencies.  Starting 3 or 4, I began occasionally exhibiting the behaviors of an old man. One of these characteristics was an early and vigorous dislike of wastefulness.  I just never liked the idea of wasting things, partly because of another characteristic that tends to reinforce my anti-waste crusade, a healthy frugal nature (some of my family might call it cheapness, but that sounds like being a cheap-o is a bad thing?!).  

One of the things I’ve really hated wasting from an early age is money.  Now that I’ve grown up I have realized that frugalness and a hatred of wastefulness reinforce each other.  Also, there is synergy with an environmentally sustainable lifestyle too. When you embrace an environmentally sustainable lifestyle it can also lead towards healthier (both for your physical and karmic health) and financially sustainable living.  Combine them and you get what I like to call the Golden Triangle of Goodness - environmental sustainability, financial health, and physical/karmic health.

For example, bulk purchasing can be a more environmentally sustainable way to get your food since it reduces packaging waste, but it also reduces costs.  Generally speaking, avoiding the use of plastic typically means what you are consuming, such as water in plastic bottles, is rubbing up against and soaking up the nasty chemicals present in plastic.  Biking is good for the planet, for your body, and often your wallet.

Finally, most companies who are striving to follow more environmentally sustainable practices are avoiding chemicals that can be bad for your body.  They are also trying to be socially responsible through fair trade practices. Supporting those companies builds up some good karma (even if you don’t believe in karma, feeling good is beneficial for your psychological well being).  

I’ll expand upon this concept more in another blog post, but you get the idea.

Lean Six Sigma and Honing My Waste Radar

Fast forward 20ish years and I enter the federal government.  The first job I land is as a process improvement specialist. If you are unfamiliar with it, Continuous Process Improvement or Lean Six Sigma, is an approach to improving the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness of business processes, largely by wringing out the waste from each step.  

Given my hardwired dislike of waste, you can imagine that I took to it like a fish to water.  Plus, the government is the mecca of wasteful processes, so there was no shortage of work. Lean Six Sigma is like a religion of anti-waste and like the 7 deadly sins, there is the eight deadly forms of waste.  

The deadly forms of waste include the wastefulness of transporting something, of producing too much of something, over-processing something beyond what is necessary (like polishing a cannonball before it is shot off to explode or making toilet paper that is as soft as a baby seal, for more on that see here), among others.  

It didn’t take long before thinking about waste all day at work began to bleed over to my home life. I started looking at how we live and all the wastefulness of our own processes.  I mostly focused on time and money in the beginning, but then compost changed my life.

The Amazing Efficiency of Composting Changes My Life

Although I was focused on waste and frugality, I would say that for most of my life I behaved like the average American in terms of environmental sustainability, kind of like the guy in this awesome video by Steve Cutts.

About ten years ago I was introduced to composting by my amazing older sister, Meg, otherwise fondly known as the Creative Vegetable Gardener.  Meg, the owner of a gardening and lifestyle blog, is an expert gardener, food preserver, public speaker, sustainable living guru, and all around inspiring sibling.  

When Jess and I graduated from studio apartments and bought our first house in Washington DC, we began gardening in some soil that hadn’t been tilled in what seemed like 50 years.  Meg suggested getting a compost bin (like this one made of 100% recycled plastic) as a way to have a continual source of nutrients to enrich our soil.

Composting opened my eyes to the astounding efficiency and minimal waste of natural processes.  Nature deals with its waste in such an amazing way - there is no waste! Your compost bin is basically a mini ecosystem, recycling your biodegradable waste, step by step, into the ingredients necessary for enriched soil, and thus helping to grow more plants and more life.  

Throw in a napkin, a ripped up pizza box, any veggie or fruit scrap, plant-based sponges, tea bags (with the strings), and everything just magically disappears!  Except one thing - plastic.

The one thing I always found left over in the bin during my springtime routine of soil harvesting was the little plastic stickers they put on fruit and veggies in the supermarket.  It didn’t matter how long they were left in there. They never broke down. They were the only piece of true waste in all that garbage I threw in, the wrench in my little super efficient system!

As James Bond Says, Plastic and Diamonds are Forever

Ok, maybe Bond was only talking about diamonds, but composting helped me realize that plastic also lasted forever, but not in a good way.  Over time, year after year, I’d continue to find plastic in my compost and in my garden, little bits and pieces that snuck into the compost.

It was also hard to ignore all the plastic that our household was using and discarding into our recycling container.  I began wondering where all that plastic that we put in the recycling was going, and that is when I first started looking for products made from recycled material.

The first product I really remember buying that came in recycled plastic was Alba shampoo and conditioner.  But over the last few years what started as a whim grew into a slightly compulsive obsession.  Then came President Trump, a trade war with China, and a crisis in the recycling industry.  

In response to our growing trade war, China has tightened its rules for accepting recyclable material.  And guess what? Most of the stuff you put in your recycling bin ended up in China. Local governments, cities, and waste facilities are awash in recyclable material and the prices have cratered, increasing incentives to divert recyclables straight to the landfill rather than reuse it, or to cancel recycling programs completely.

Recycled and Renewed is Born

The realization that the recyclable material I was diligently placing in my bin were possibly being driven straight to the DC landfill was keeping me up at night. That's when my family made the commitment to search out and purchase as many recycled products for our household as possible.

After many hours of research I was pleasantly surprised to find tons of companies out there using recycled plastic, paper, and cardboard and trying to reduce waste. Unfortunately, these companies are difficult to find in one place (or without a lot of time to research). How were busy and environmentally conscious families ever going to have the time to wade through the thousands of products out there and figure out which were better for the environment?  And once they found them, how were they to know which of these products were good products?

That’s when the idea for Recycled and Renewed was born.

We know you care as much as we do and are as busy as we are. We wanted to try to help you incorporate good choices into your daily life by doing some of the leg work for you.

By directing your dollars to the right companies and products, you show that consumers care about how products are made.

The choices you make to supply your home and live your day to day life can make a difference in the way manufacturers source materials for their products.  Together, we can strengthen the market for recyclable material at home, as well as build demand for products that use environmentally sustainable practices.

Our missions is to save you time and help you choose more responsible products that align with your values.  We want to make being green easy and accompany you on your journey towards a more environmentally sustainable and socially responsible lifestyle.

 


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