How We Stand: Showdowns Between Recyclable Versus Reusable, Wood Versus Plastic

Triple Pundit has an interesting post about water bottles, and the debate about recyclable versus reusable. So what is more sustainable, reusable or (single trip) recyclable? It is, as we have seen from various studies, a complex issue. Factors such as reuse and recycling estimates, logistics considerations, and determining where life begins, can help the sirens of sustainability lure us in either direction.

We get into similar discussions about food safety. Which pallet is more food safe – plastic or wood? Do we keep them clean and dry, or do we complacently place them in an outdoor mud puddle, as biased studies have incorrectly boasted to be indicative of the performance of one material versus the next.

At the end of the day, the right answer for either question depends in no small part on how many trips the reusable makes, what the recovery rate of the single trip container is, or how the plastic or wood pallet is handled to prevent contamination. The body of evidence suggests that conscientious management is the key. The material isn’t as important as our respect for process.

For both recyclable and reusable containers and pallets, the answer often comes down to not what we stand for, but how we stand.

If you are going to recycle, recycle all of it. If you are going to reuse, do it well, so that you are reusing as many times as is practical for the life of the container. If you are going to use a pallet safely, don’t be concerned about whether it is wood or plastic. Manage the process to maintain cleanliness. Ensure it is from a reliable source and keep it clean and dry, and there should be no issue.

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