Reuse vs Recycle — Which Leads Environmental Stewardship?

reusable plastic containers

Whether they’re about supply chains or home building, agriculture or industry, discussions of sustainability often feature the terms “reuse” and “recycle” side by side. You could be forgiven for thinking the terms are interchangeable, or at least equivalent. However, the truth is the words represent very different concepts, and one is far superior to the other in terms of environmental stewardship and supply chain efficiency.

Reusing Reigns Supreme

In fact, the EPA’s Waste Management Hierarchy, which graphically represents the desirability (or undesirability) of different waste management tactics, puts source reduction and reuse at the top of the inverted pyramid as the most environmentally preferred strategy. Reusable packaging is the very definition of reuse, and thus very desirable.

As you might expect, disposal is at the very bottom of the hierarchy, while recycling falls in the upper middle quadrant.

Reuse vs Recycle – What’s the difference?

Reducing the amount of discarded material that enters the waste stream should be a key objective for any waste management program. Both recycling and reusing accomplish this by extending the usable life cycle of a variety of materials, including packaging materials used in grocery supply chains.

While the recycling process for materials such as corrugated does reduce the amount of material being discarded, it also creates waste as a byproduct, consumes energy and generates emissions. On the other hand, reusable packaging, such as reusable plastic containers (RPCs), also reduce the amount of disposed material and prevent the pollution caused by creating new materials.

However, reusable packaging like RPCs offer a host of other benefits.

6 Reasons Reuse is Better than Recycling

Reusing is the best way to manage waste for multiple reasons, including:

  1. It actually creates no waste.
  2. Less waste equates to less labor required to prepare waste for recycling or disposal.
  3. Lowers waste disposal costs.
  4. Consumes less energy than recycling.
  5. Fewer greenhouse gases are emitted during the reuse process versus recycling.
  6. Reusing material can cost less than creating and/or purchasing new.

For grocery supply chains, RPCs are the rock stars of reuse. Even if single-use packaging can be recycled — and not all of it can be — it still doesn’t measure up to the superior sustainability of RPCs.

The name says it all

Reusable plastic containers not only do a better job of protecting fragile products like eggs or perishables like produce and case-ready meat, they also help companies meet their sustainability goals. Recycling will never allow your supply chain to achieve zero waste, but it could be possible if you make reusable packaging your primary waste management strategy. RPCs are an integral component of this strategy.

“Reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment and save money,” the EPA says.

RPCs live up to that philosophy every day because they are meant to be reused again and again. Eventually, every RPC will become unusable, whether through wear or damage. When that happens, the plastic in RPCs can be recycled into other things — including new RPCs!

To learn more about how reusables can create more sustainable businesses, click here.

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