04/30/2018 13:30 EDT | Updated 04/30/2018 13:38 EDT

Reduce And Reuse Come Before Recycling For A Reason

We all tend to feel self-righteous when we recycle, but it's supposed to be a last resort that we should avoid as long as possible.

On the River Thames, a boat made of plastic bottles sets out on an unusual fishing expedition. The students on board are from Canary Wharf College in London, England, and they aren't in search of seafood; they're collecting trash. When they've hooked enough, the young eco-crusaders will build another boat to catch and sort even more garbage for disposal.

Maybe they were inspired by Queen Elizabeth II, who has banned plastic straws and bottles from Buckingham Palace. Canadians could learn from our Commonwealth partners.

It's true there's nary a household here without a blue box. Unfortunately, we treat recycle bins like magician's hats: drop in the plastic and hope it disappears. That consumer attitude has worked for most of us, until recently. China declared in January that it would no longer buy our recycling; the country has for decades purchased about 20 per cent of plastic waste collected by Canadian municipalities annually.

FRED DUFOUR via Getty Images
A Chinese labourer sorting out plastic bottles for recycling on the outskirt of Beijing on Sept. 17, 2015.

It means your takeout containers won't be "disappearing" overseas anymore, as municipalities struggle to find new buyers to handle our recyclables. Now, plastic and paper are piling up on our doorstep.

We all tend to feel self-righteous when we recycle, but it's supposed to be a last resort. Remember the other two Rs you were taught as a child? Reducing and reusing are the first and ideal steps to decreasing waste.

Start with your morning ritual. Disposable toothbrushes are a huge source of waste. Don't give Mother Earth a cavity — switch to biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes and help reduce the more than 15,000 tonnes of plastic brushes trashed every year.

Don't forget to put out the garbage before work. Instead of lining the kitchen bin with store-bought bags made of new plastic, re-use the old bags (we know every household has a drawer full). That's just one of the many second lives for plastic bags. Use them to pack away fragile valuables, stuff pillows, or protect the fruit on your backyard apple tree from bugs.

Channel your inner MacGyver and find a creative project for the contents of your recycle bin

Lunch rolls around and you head to the sandwich shop. You spot a new kind of soft drink in a chic black plastic bottle. Skip it! Coloured plastic other than clear, blue or green is much harder to recycle.

Your spouse reminds you to pick up groceries on the way home. Fortunately, you've got your trusty re-usable grocery bags. Just don't fill them with more plastic. Does every fruit really need its own tiny bag? And, apps like "Bulk Finder" will search for stores in your area that sell in bulk.

Before dinner, it's time for a spot of housekeeping. You can clean just about anything with basic natural ingredients like baking soda and vinegar. Find recipes online and skip the expensive cleaners in their plastic bottles.

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Looking for an evening activity with the kids? Channel your inner MacGyver and find a creative project for the contents of your recycle bin: soda bottle solar lamps, gumball machines made of plastic cups or baskets made of woven drinking straws. If you hit on a really great idea, make a bunch and sell them to raise money for charity.

You don't have to build a boat from bottles to make a difference. But you can creative in your own way; you might just earn a royal seal of approval.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of theWE movement,which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day. For more dispatches from WE, check out WE Stories.

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