The 3 ‘R’s Have Been Revamped and Rejuvinated

We are all familiar with the traditional, reduce, reuse, recycle: the primary education tools advocating for sustainable living, that have been immortalised in song and plastered on the walls of every school and organisation for decades, but is it time for a refurbishment of our trusty trio?

According to environmental groups and educators the world over, 3 is no longer enough, and they have doubled the number to an official 6 Rs to encourage sustainable living. We are all guilty of consuming a little (maybe a lot) too much, and these additional Rs: refuse, respect and replenish are thought to go that one step further in encouraging sustainable choices.

Some environmentalists have gone even further including such Rs as repair, rot, recover… and many more, but could we be jumping on the bandwagon a bit too enthusiastically? In the quest for the equilibrium between our admittedly consumer lifestyles and environmental justice, is this alliteration ad nauseam strictly necessary?

They are all valid actions. But the premise of reduce, reuse, recycle is a simple, memorable slogan, easily followed and achieved. Many of the additional R’s (repair, recover and rot, etc) were once considered to fall into the existing 3 categories and have already been incorporated into initiatives the world over.

Putting it into Practice

Every day new ideas are being shared to show us how to live more sustainably. Originating in Amsterdam and popping up around the globe are repair cafes: meeting places for people to take their damaged goods and get help from others on how to repair items for use again.

repair cafe

If you don’t have anything that needs repairing but things to recycle, like plastic bottles, a Turkish company has invented a machine with a bit of a twist; for each bottle that is recycled, pet food is distributed to feed the many stray dogs and cats living on the street.


Students can even get behind the cause by recycling their graduation gowns, a classic example of single-use products that often end up wasted. Workplaces commonly have recycling bins and some take a step further with an office worm farm (like ours at at KNSWB HQ!) to dispose of organic waste thoughtfully and locally.

Even large corporations are starting to pull their weight, e.g. UK supermarket Sainsbury’s has recently announced their plan to power stores entirely by food waste.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle but remember to REFUSE

Regardless of whether there is an over abundance of R’s or if each R is needed to help people make sustainable choices, we can all agree that if people are talking about it and making efforts to make more sustainable choices, it can only be a good thing.

But there is one action missing from the original trio. It’s the one that gets lost amongst the barrage of trendy verbs, and that’s ‘refuse‘. How many times have you heard, from friends or from your own mouth, ‘it’s okay if I take this plastic bag because I’m going to reuse it anyway’? Or ‘I know I shouldn’t get this packaged product but I’ll recycle it, so it’s fine’?

Yes, plastic bags can be useful. But not very necessary when they’re added to another plastic bag already overflowing with others.(If you DO have a guilty hoard of plastic, you can take them to a recycle point at Coles). We’re already over-using the Earth’s resources, and recycling mitigates but doesn’t solve the problem. Refusing single-use plastic, refusing companies that aren’t practicing environmental justice, refusing to buy into an unsustainable system – this is the most powerful action within your power to achieve.

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