Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We’ve been hearing it all our lives. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the below symbol:
But what many people don’t realise is that this is actually a hierarchy. It’s Reduce, then Reuse, then Recycle. For example, let’s say you see a jar of jam on a shop shelf. You’re first thought should be, “Do I really need this jam?” This is a great question to ask yourself, and not only for environmental concerns. We live in a culture of overconsumption; a capitalist, consumerist cesspool of unnecessary goods and services. Sorry to go all Britta Perry on you, but you really should ask yourself if you truly need something before you buy it.
OK, getting back on track. If you decide that you really need the jar of jam, the next best thing to do is reuse the glass jar after you’ve finished the jam. Tea mug, pencil holder, plant pot; there are a multiplicity of ways to reuse the jar (and items in general, just Google it, there are so many fun, creative ways to reuse things). If you can’t find a decent use for the jar, the absolute last thing to do is recycle it. We get so focused on the recycle part, we sometimes forget that it’s actually at the bottom of the pyramid.
Prevention is similar to Reduce, as is Prep for Re-use and Reuse, and obviously Recycling is the same in both cases. Other Recovery is the last resort prior to disposal and generally refers to energy recovery, that is using various processes to turn the waste into heat, electricity, or fuel, AKA waste-to-energy.
The other difference between the 3R’s and the Waste Hierarchy is their target audience. The 3R’s are targeted at consumers and show what actions an individual can take, while the Waste Hierarchy dictates what society should be doing as a collective whole. I think it’s great that the EU developed a framework to guide waste management in the entire continent and, because it is a directive, all member states of the EU must use the framework to develop waste management and waste prevention programmes. We’ve talked in class about how slow organisations are to implement sustainability initiatives so YAY for mandatory compliance!