“Recycle, Reduce & Reuse” has deep roots in Jewish tradition. Even before Greenpeace came on the scene, the Torah had already charted out an environmental ethic. It’s all in this verse in Deuteronomy (20:19):

“When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees.”

The rabbis of the Talmud explained, “If during times of war we are forbidden to cut down our enemies’ trees, then we certainly may not destroy productive trees in times of peace.” And it doesn’t stop with trees. Destroying or ruining foods, clothes, dishes, plants, springs of water, or anything else that could be of benefit to someone is out of bounds, even if they have no owner.

“But it’s mine!” a wannabe vase smasher yelps. “Why can’t I do whatever I want with my own property?”Nevertheless, this is not preservation for the sake of preservation. When there is no way to fix or build except by destroying something along the way, then destroying is really building. There are some cases where trees may be cut down. (Consult a competent orthodox rabbi for guidance on the specifics.)

But there are limits to what is considered productive destruction. For example, breaking a crystal vase to demonstrate to your children how upset you are with their naughty behavior is not considered productive for these purposes.

“But it's mine!” a wannabe vase smasher might yelp. “Why can’t I do whatever I want with my own property?”

The answer, according to the Torah, is that it isn’t really your property. You didn’t create it. Whatever you own was given to you with a divine purpose. It isn’t yours to squander—it’s in your possession to use for the good. All that G‑d made in His world, the sages said, He created for His glory.