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Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle are not enough

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

“Waste” does not exist in nature.


Ecological systems continually recycle water, mineral, and nutrients. They do this through multiple cycles involving the sunlight energy, plants, animals, and bacteria. Humans, on the other hand, create a lot of waste. So much that waste generation is expected to outpace population growth by more than double by 2050[1]. Yikes!


Waste affects everyone. However, those most affected by the negative impacts of waste are society’s most vulnerable. Too often, the environment also pays a high price. Waste contributes to the pollution of our oceans and lakes, and it increases the greenhouse gas effect that contributes to global warming.


According to studies, North Americans produce more waste per person than any other continent[2].


The root problem: in today’s world everything is designed to be disposable. Nothing is made to last.

Think furniture, disposable coffee cups, your smartphone, pair of jeans from your favourite retailer.


We are all part of the problem because we continue to purchase these disposable items. We vote with our wallet for the kind of world we want. Which means that we also have the power to be part of the solution. We all have the responsibility to manage our waste sustainably.

How?


By using the waste management hierarchy. Surely, you have heard of the 3R’s- Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

But they’re not cutting it anymore. So, now we have the 5R’s of waste management.


The 5R’s of waste management are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle.

In this hierarchy, the top actions are more important as they have the biggest potential to eliminate waste. Hence, the top actions are more desirable than the bottom action. These actions are also the actions that we should employ more often in our journey to zero-waste. In other words, make sure you Refuse more often than you Recycle.


Let’s break down each action in more detail, starting from the top.


Refuse

Ultimately, the best solution to our waste problem is to not produce any waste in the first place. This is the most important step when it comes to leading a zero-waste lifestyle.


Refuse means choosing to not buy or accept products that you know will end up going in the trash. It means saying “no” to disposable items.

- Do you remember those freebies that companies give away at sponsored events? Think: do you really need this? If you find that you really need that branded pen, by all means, take it and put it to good use. Otherwise, refuse it.

- If you see an item on sale but you don’t need it, think is this necessary? Chances are you are more tempted by the cost savings than the need for the actual product.

- At home, refuse to use chemical solvents and use natural cleaning products instead.

- Refuse to buy paper towels which are disposable and use old towels and rags for cleanings

- Refuse plastic straws and cutlery when dining out.