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Refuse, Reduce, Refill, Reuse, Recycle, Reconsider – Why the recycling mantra has grown

Carolyn Nolan rsm, Patricia Powell rsm and Ann-Maree O’Beirne rsm show us how it’s done!


In 1841, the last year of her life, Catherine McAuley encouraged her Sisters in their commitment to their vow of Poverty – a commitment with parallels to today’s “Voluntary Simplicity” movement – when she said: “Let us never desire more than enough”. At this time of excessive consumption and waste, when the recycling mantra continues to grow, Catherine’s message of simple living could not be more relevant.


There has been a history of recycling, not out of concern for the environment, but because resources and money were scarce. World events like war and depressions meant people had to live cheaply and simply.


Some examples of early recycling efforts which grew out of deprivation are the first Australian paper mill in 1815 using recycled rags to make paper and BHP recycling industrial steel scrap back in 1915. The ‘Bone Man’, with his cart and horse, collected newspaper and other items from households in Australia in the 1940’s. Charities have been recycling household goods and clothing for over 100 years and community groups like the Scouts, collecting glass bottles and aluminium cans.


It was in February of 1975 that Canterbury Council (Sydney) became the first Australian municipality to use magnetic separation to recover steel waste, including cans from homes, on a commercial basis.


Recycling was once seen as an inconvenient request our local council made – we had to separate the ‘waste’, that we had become accustomed to simply throwing in the rubbish bin, into a separate container. Today recycling is a part of our everyday lives and it’s expected to happen at home, in the office, shopping centres, restaurants and hotels.


While it’s great that we have now reached this point it isn’t the end of the road – our new focus must be on reducing the volume of waste we create in the first place. Like Catherine, we can ask ourselves if we desire “more than enough”. We can start to reduce the amount of waste we create by incorporating these 6 tips into our daily lives:


REFUSE – Say no to plastic bags at the supermarket. Australians use up to 4 billion plastic bags a year! Take your own from home. Refuse excess packaging.
REDUCE – When shopping, buy items with the least amount of packaging. Choose to purchase items that are more easily recyclable, such as glass (it can be recycled again and again without degrading).
REFILL – Utilise reusable drink bottles to avoid plastic bottle purchase. Try shopping at places where you can refill your own containers (to save money and time!). Often smaller, family owned businesses let you take your own container (your local butcher, green grocer or café, for example).
REUSE – If you can’t reuse it personally, maybe someone else can. Is there a national recycling program that could turn the item (or parts of it) into something new?
RECYCLE – If you have to purchase packaged items, try to buy items that are more easily recycled, like glass.
RECONSIDER – Do you really need the item you are considering purchasing? Can you borrow, purchase second hand or repurpose another item?


Coming soon – Recycling Guide for everyday items


Messages to: Leah Moulden, Rahamim Ecology Centre