For millennia we used leather, wood, clay, and stones along with animal and vegetable materials for nearly everything. When we threw something "away", it went away- really back into the natural systems it came from.
But 7 billion of us can't rely strictly on grown materials, and most of our modern materials don't go away very easily. Does that mean we should not use them? Not at all. We just need to get as smart as Ma Nature and learn to reuse and recycle those materials again and again. These Top 7 materials are safe, recyclable and just work really well for so many things. They include 2 metals, 3 plastics, and 2 natural materials. Here's my list:
- Steel. Steel is probably the most recycled material on earth- about 70 % of all steel is recycled and nearly all the steel you use has recycled steel in it. Works great because of its strength and malleability. I'm a big fan of steel roofs, among other things.
- Aluminum. Abundant in nature, strong but lighter than steel, and it doesn't rust. Aluminum is what caps the Washington Monument because it was once so prized. But mining and smelting aluminum is very energy intensive and polluting. That's why recycling it is so important. Right now about 50% is recycled- we need to get that up into the 90% range like gold.
- Glass. Maybe the first synthetic material, glass has been around since ancient times. Safe, durable, and can be re-melted again and again. But only about 23% is recycled, and much of that ends up as paving material. Because of weight, glass is best used, reused and recycled locally.
- PET and HDPE. Polyethylene plastic (#1,) is used to make polyester fabric and PET food and beverage containers. It's pretty safe stuff and can be recycled again and again. Only about 28% is recycled now- we can do better- use it, and take it back to make new bottles and fleeces rather than going back to the gas or oil well. HDPE, High Density Polyethylene (#2) is stronger than PET and is best known as plastic milk jugs and bottle caps, although it can be used for construction materials, lumber, pipes- just about any molded product. Very safe material , but also made from petroleum- so every scrap used should be reused again and again to eliminate trips to the oil wells.
- Polypropylene. We wear it and eat out of it. Polypropylene (#5) is a great material and way "under recycled". It's used in yogurt and cottage cheese tubs, bottle caps, sports clothing (because it wicks away moisture) and molded products from chairs to Tic Tac boxes. It's great stuff, and Preserve Products is recycling it into toothbrushes, storage containers, and kitchen utensils. Agitate in your town for polypro recycling.
- Wood and paper. The old standbys. Paper can be recycled many times, and wood can be reused, recycled, chipped, mulched and used for fuel. Use wood only from FSC or other certified forests, so you know that it's sustainably produced from well managed forests, and buy 100% recycled paper. There are enough of us on the planet now to outstrip these grown resources, so use sparingly, reuse and recycle.
- Compost. Don't throw nutrients down the garbage disposer- capture them and put 'em back on your local soil! All the spoiled and uneaten foods we create can still be used to make rich humus and grow new food. This is God's Recycling - turning food back into food again. Our best recycling systems are crude imitations of natural systems. Be as smart as dirt and turn your waste food back onto soil.
That's it, campers. There are thousands of materials we could cover, but use and recycle these ones and you'll be well on your way to a truly sustainable life. Remember waste is just material in the wrong place. Let's get it right.