The message “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is one of those well-known alliterations in our society that we see and hear often enough, whether from our local municipality, on retailers’ shopping bags, or even from our friends or family. Have you ever wondered where this saying (or for some, a mantra) comes from, and what it really means when you unpack each command?
The original 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) have now been updated to Refuse and Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and are followed by Recover and lastly, the least favourable option, Dispose (we don’t go into the details of these last two here). These directions are part of the waste management hierarchy: a ranking system (often represented as an inverted triangle) of preference and importance of how we deal with all the waste generated.
This waste management hierarchy was first introduced in 1975 by the European Union’s Waste Framework Directive (1975/442/EEC) as part of the European waste policy. It emphasised the importance of waste minimisation, and the protection of the environment and human health, as a priority.
21st Century waste management
Today, waste management is more of a global challenge than ever before as accelerated population growth coupled with increased consumerism has led to overwhelming levels of waste that are contributing to climate change, and pose a serious threat to the environment and its eco-systems and, of course, to our health.
Minimising our waste is not merely a suggestion or a nudge, it should be a mandate and part of robust waste management policy from every government in every country. This is where waste management systems, inclusive of the waste management hierarchy, can help mitigate the negative impact of the waste we humans create.
Here we unpack each level of the waste management hierarchy. We’ll show how, if every business and household commits to the top 3 tiers of the waste management hierarchy (Refuse and Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) we can collectively reduce the amount of waste going into South Africa’s nearly full-to-capacity landfills, contribute to the circular economy (by reducing energy and resource consumption) and live more sustainably to protect this planet for future generations.
The most important: Refusing and Reducing
Reducing the amount of waste created is not just an action but also a mindset change. It means rethinking your purchasing and consumption habits and asking yourself if you can rather do without that item (Refusing to buy/consume), resulting in the waste never being created in the first place.
Here are 5 tips to REDUCE your waste:
- Adopt a minimalist approach: buy only what you need and avoid unnecessary purchases.
- Use less at home: reduce the amount of household products you use,
- Ask brands that over package to consider a more efficient approach to their packaging.
- Avoid single-use products such as disposable razors.
- Repair and maintain items (where possible), rather than buying new ones.
Let this quote from Socrates, the Greek philosopher, motivate your behaviour change: “The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
By reducing the amount of waste we generate, we reduce the strain on natural resources and reduce the environmental impact of waste disposal. Overall it’ll also reduce our eco anxiety. It’s a win-win.
Second most important: Reusing
Reusing is exactly what it says: not buying a new product but rather using a product over and over again. However it can refer to the product being reused either in its original form or after being repurposed. Here are a few ways:
- Using refillable water bottles.
- Using reusable shopping bags instead of disposable ones.
- Using reusable straws (glass or metal).
- Repurposing old clothing into rags, donating to charity, or selling to a thrift shop (make some money).
- Use beeswax food wrap instead of single-use alternatives to store perishables. Here’s how to make your own.
By reusing products, you are actively contributing to a cleaner world by reducing waste to landfill and reducing the carbon footprint associated with the production of new products. In addition, you’ll also save money, always a compelling motivating factor.
The third most important: Recycling
Although recycling is listed third in the waste management hierarchy, it is a powerful tool that diverts waste from landfill, reduces demand on natural resources (thereby reducing greenhouse gases) and contributes to a true circular economy, which drives sustainability.
Recycling is the collecting, processing, and converting of recyclable material into new products. Recycling includes:
- The obvious example of collecting and recycling (recyclable) products like paper and cardboard, plastic, glass, and metal for use in new products (for example: used cardboard is made into cereal boxes and PET plastic bottles are turned back into new PET bottles, closing the loop in reclaimed material).
- Composting organic waste, such as food scraps, to create nutrient-rich soil used in the agricultural industry. Did you know? Mpact Waste Management offers a composting service to its clients.
- Turning waste into an alternative energy source, like through incineration or biogas generation.
Apart from the obvious green benefits – recycling helps to contribute to the South African economy (because new products are made and sold) and supports jobs in the packaging and recycling industries, while also helping over 100,000 informal waste collectors to earn an income.
So, start recycling today, for your business: Mpact Waste Management will come out and conduct a free waste audit, and for home, office, or residential estates, contact Mpact Recycling, partner to Mpact Waste Management.
A hierarchy our world needs
The waste management hierarchy is what the world needs to solve the waste crisis, protect the earth and in turn, the health of all citizens. Though the waste management hierarchy has 5 levels, the last two (Recover and Dispose) are the least favourable because the first 3 tiers are dealbreakers and critical to success.
If governments, businesses, and residents sincerely commit to and practise Reducing, Reusing and Recycling, then waste will be so greatly minimised that recovery and disposal will be only a very small percentage.
Lastly, while the waste management hierarchy provides a valuable blueprint for managing waste, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. To effectively minimise waste, a bespoke management plan needs to be created for that specific business or community.
Contact us today for your free quote and to revolutionise your waste with the 3 Rs.