Oct 17, 2018 |

The Three R’s of Recycling Explained

While the origin of the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” or (“3 R’s”) is unknown, some think its origin was in the mid 1970’s when the US Resource and Recovery Act was passed. The 3 R’s are frequently used and are certainly the cornerstone of many municipal and commercial recycling program communications strategies. The 3 R’s are simple, well established, recognizable and are easily recalled- a great ingredient to positive communication and a good cornerstone to marketing efforts. The order in which the 3 R’s appear is also important to remember. Reducing first, reusing second and then recycling – the order should help to set one’s waste reduction priorities.

When you consider the 3 R’s, it is very logical Reducing what we consume, and use would have the most positive benefit or outcome. Don’t consume in the first place; straightforward but not that intuitive for our consuming economy and our desire for new products and services. An example of reducing would be to use a washable and refillable cup for any drinks that you might order to go. An example of reducing would be to not purchase water or other drinks in convenient aluminum or plastic containers, ever.

Secondly, to Reuse or Repurpose the resource. An example of this would be to not discard an object or product that could be reused by someone else. Don’t discard your old furniture, give it away or sell it so that it can be used by someone else.

If you cannot Reduce or Reuse, then you need to Recycle it into the correct recycling container at home or at work where the item can be remade and manufactured into something new. For example, old cardboard boxes are a valuable resource that can be re pulped and made into new packaging up to seven times!

In the last decade the 3 R’s have evolved to include other important R’s, such as Rethink, Recover and Refuse. Sustainability advocates and communications experts realized that the 3 R’s were possibly too simple and a more robust approach to managing resources and the remaining garbage would have to be considered. The additional R’s challenge us all to Rethink what we consume, rethink what we use and to think outside the box. Today, the discussion of circular economy is very much part of many manufacturing processes where some products components can be reused and repurposed into an alternate product.

Recovery highlights the concept of extracting of all valuable resources from the waste stream and possibly re-processing them into a fuel product that can be used to generate energy for the electrical grid or industrial processes. Recovery of materials would mean that the volume of product discarded or landfilled would be reduced.

And finally Refuse is an interesting play on words, of course. Refuse the product, package or material first and create less waste. If we Reflect on where we began with almost 0% diversion in the 1970’s and in many cases municipalities and some business are now achieving diversion rates of 60% or more, it really is Remarkable. We still have a way to go in achieving a circular economy where no waste is created.