The waste hierarchy prioritizes how we should handle our waste – preventing and reducing waste is the best choice, and throwing things away is the worst environmental choice:
Most people are familiar with the simpler three R's - reduce, reuse, recycle - but often we skip straight to recycling. Although recycling items instead of throwing them away allows the material to be turned into something else, recycling everything isn’t the end goal for our waste. Reducing the amount of waste you produce overall – whether trash, recycling, or compost – will make the most impact for the planet.
The City of Kirkland has goals both for the amount of waste our community produces overall (waste generation), as well as the portion of our waste that we recycle and compost (waste diversion). Both are important because it's possible to keep the same diversion rate while increasing waste generation:
|6 pounds recycling
6 pounds compost
6 pounds garbage
|9 pounds recycling - 50% more
9 pounds compost - 50% more
9 pounds garbage - 50% more
|67% diversion rate
18 pounds total waste
|67% diversion rate - same
27 pounds total waste - 50% more!
Simply aiming to recycle the majority of our waste is not enough because recycling has a monetary and environmental cost, not everything can be recycled, and many materials have a physical limitation on how many times they are able to be remanufactured into useful goods. Composting food waste produces a useful soil amendment, but it's much better to eat food because composting cannot reclaim all the water and energy that went into growing and transporting the food. Recycling and composting waste is cheaper than throwing it away in the landfill, but is not without cost.
To reduce the amount of waste you produce, you can prevent creating it in the first place, choose long-lasting products or skip a purchase altogether, buy secondhand, and extend the life of your possessions through repair and reuse.
See our tips for ways to prevent and reduce waste, and ways to reuse more.