The yoga of Recycling, Reusing and Reducing

Ananda instructed King Udena in the practice of recycling and reuse.  When new robes were received, the old robes were reused as blankets, the old blankets reused mattresses, the old mattresses reused rugs.  Eventually, old rugs wear out and must be recycled: cut into cleaning rags.  Old rags were recycled by shredding them, and mixing the shreds with clay and used to repair buildings.  (Vinaya II, 291).

Some things have changed since then: buildings today are of different construction and are not so easily repaired, to begin with.  But the practice can be adapted by understanding the principles of reuse and recycling.

Reuse is the process by which an item, which had been acquired for one purpose and now no longer is suitable or sufficient for that purpose it was intended for, becomes useful to another purpose. Reuse is also known as "repurposing." Adapting the example above, an old blanket may become unsuitable for use as a blanket - becoming too dirty, worn or faded.  But without modification, the blanket may be moved from the bed to the floor, and used as a rug.  Or moved to the table for a table cloth.

Recycling is the process by which an acquisition is reduced to its elemental components, and then these elemental components are repurposed as the materials required for the construction or acquisition of a new item.  Adapting the example above, an old shirt (few people wear robes out and about anymore) may become worn or unsuitable to its purpose of presenting a person as ready for work or business.  However, by cutting that shirt into squares, that shirt has been reduced to elemental components of "cloth" and this cloth may be used to make rags.  Or the cloth may be reduced further into elemental components of "threads" and utilized in the manufacture of kindling, stucco, plaster, etc.  Notice, stucco and plaster are themselves elemental components required for the construction of other items.  Similarly, an old blanket can be utilized as an elemental material of cloth to manufacture a pillow case - or a place mat.

Though Ananada extolled recycling and reuse, this is only one component of the training rule.  Gotama also frequently instructed also in reducing consumption to what was necessary.  Just as eating too much - or too little - can result in distress, disease and discomfort, acquisition must be undertaken in moderation as well.  When something breaks, it is necessary to repair it - but only to a certain, moderate extent.  While the actual extent depends upon the cost of repair vs the opportunity to save those costs by reuse or recycling, a good rule of thumb is to permit an item to be repaired five times before recycling or reusing it.