I currently live in an Eastern European country where conscious consumption and recycling is uncommon. For context,

  • I am sometimes frown upon by the cashiers when coming to a grocery store with a reusable bag.
  • Or when ordering coffee into a reusable cup, baristas may still try and make it into a single use cup, then pour the coffee into mine and just throw the used one away. When confronted, they would say “did it automatically, not used to someone ordering with their own cup".
  • My neighbour was about to throw away a large bag of all kinds of expired medicines from 90s to recent (incl. antibiotics) into common waste bin (read: landfill).

Point is, nobody cares. Really.

I am decluttering and finding some new and never used household and personal care products that I don’t and won’t need.

According to the 5R’s of Recycling framework, I should:

  1. Refuse: not applicable as I already have them
  2. Reduce: not applicable for the same reason
  3. Reuse: give them away to someone who needs them
  4. Recycle: won’t work because these are almost always made of this sort of plastic that can’t be recycled locally
  5. Rot (landfill): the last resort when all else fails.

The twist is, if I give them away, most likely at some point later they will be unconsciously and irresponsibly thrown away into the common garbage which goes directly to landfill

While I can take them away now to a facility which will burn them down in a controlled environment. And then still take whatever remains to landfill.

For someone in my position, what would be the lesser evil option?


  • I have learned my lesson and am not buying these anymore (and overall producing significantly less waste)
  • I am considering, once the amount is enough, sorting and sending this to the closest EU country where they can re/up-cycle this kind of plastic; subject to research on whether reasonable
  • Ideally, I should move myself out of this country for good
  • 1
    Well, single-use plastics could be made out of sugars and be quickly biodegradable. Or China, Thailand, and India have banned single-use plastics. The fundamentals that really make a difference are legislated policies of countries.
    – S Spring
    Nov 7, 2021 at 19:16
  • 2
    It's worth thinking about whether you can encourage change in the country you're in, rather than leaving. But that does depend a lot on the details of who you are and which country you're in.
    – Móż
    Nov 7, 2021 at 23:06
  • Regarding the second point, continue bringing your own cup and if more people do this, baristas will get used to it eventually! Nov 9, 2021 at 22:00

1 Answer 1


It depends a lot on what exactly happens to the thing you're giving away.

Giving someone a bicycle that they will ride until it falls apart then dump in landfill is better than downcycling it into a coat rack. But giving someone a reusable shopping bag that they will use once then throw away is almost certainly worse than downcycling it yourself (not that you should buy those, pick them up when you see them littered).

It also depends a lot on what your goals are. We're all encouraged to personalise environmental activism, because that's compatible with the polticial and economic systems we have. Going along with that and feeling better about yourself because you waste less than people around you is definitely the easy option.

But if you want systematic change you need to work at a systematic level. That starts with finding others who agree with you on the issue and working with them to encourage others, or get systematic changes. Rather than using a few less plastic bags yourself, try to persuade lots of people to use ones less. Or your government to ban them via a political campaign.

  • 1
    Bicycles tend to be made of steel, which has nearly 100% recycle rate, and even landfills will run your trash through a magnetic separator to pluck out the iron. Nov 10, 2021 at 6:27
  • bicycles haven't been all steel for 100 years. These days they're a horrible mix of plastics and mixed metals, even the "steel" ones. Taking them apart to extract the steel is a manual task that takes way more time than the steel is worth. You're better off taking out the aluminium and throwing the rest into the steel pot to burn off the organic parts (this is what the bike shop I worked at did).
    – Móż
    Nov 16, 2021 at 21:00

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