It’s time to Update “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to “Refuse, Reduce, Repair, Return, Recycle”

reduce reuse recycle

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle was “born” in the 1970s and was a great first step in creating awareness about waste and how we could curb it.

Unfortunately, Reduce is countered with “buy more” messaging, which won.

Reuse is countered with “disposable” messaging, which won.

And Recycle has been defeated because it costs more to recycle than to produce cheaply in Asia (primarily).

I believe we need to update “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to be

“Refuse, Reduce, Repair, Return, Recycle.”

The English language, with all its quirks and frustrations, has two very different meanings for Refuse:

1.  It’s a verb — something that you are not willing to do

2.  It’s a noun — something that is thrown away as useless trash/waste/garbage

I encourage you to Refuse to support companies that contribute to unnecessary Refuse (waste) and other sustainability challenges.

REFUSE, REDUCE, REPAIR, RETURN, RECYCLEREFUSE to buy from companies that don’t align with your values and passions (especially as it relates to sustainability and social justice.) It could be as simple as they continue to over-package or they include single-use products (or pick whatever is important to you). It could be because they are using certain products (palm oil or Brazilian leather, for example) that are decimating forests and the flora and fauna within them.  It could be because they are polluting. It could be because they have a policy of burning what they can’t sell because they overproduce each year for appearance sake. It could be because they turn a blind eye to the abuse of the workers throughout their supply chain and within their own business.

Simply, align your values with who you buy from — speaking with your wallet is an easy place to start.

REDUCE your consumption. Why is it necessary to buy, buy, buy? We’re told to go on shopping excursions, that we need closets the size of rooms, we need to have 100 pairs of shoes (well that’s an exaggeration), we need to buy all the toys and tools and latest home stuff. Marketing folks tell us we need to buy what they are selling. For the most part, WE DON’T. Seriously we don’t. Try downsizing and getting rid of stuff you really don’t need … it’s liberating!  And when you break the “buy buy buy” mentality, it’s easier on your wallet, which enables you to pay off debt, start living your bucket list experiences, work less and save more.

Then there is the food consumption (I’m guilty of this too). We don’t need to consume as much as we do… but we can, so we do. Then we have health issues related to our diet and lifestyle habits, which costs us on many levels.  We also throw away far too much food (again, guilty), so buy less.

As a sidebar, we just spent 4 months living in a hotel in Spain with a bar fridge.  When you are forced to keep your purchases small — enough for a day — you’ll waste less.

REPAIR instead of discard. Companies make products that are meant to break and/or become obsolete quickly so you discard and replace them. My suggestion is to make it a game to repair a certain number of items each year.  Also, use your voice and demand that the companies that manufacture products which can’t be repaired and/or have planned obsolescence change their ways.  Remember, you can also refuse to buy from them.

RETURN your end-of-life products to the manufacturer via their sales channels. Put pressure on companies to accept responsibility for the products they manufacture.  Instead of throwing the items in the garbage, return used/broken/worn-out products so the manufacturer becomes responsible for properly reusing/disposing of them. This itself would be a huge step in sustainability as it will help create a more robust circular economy.

RECYCLE.  This is the lowest on my list because we have been trained to recycle but the recycling companies often don’t recycle what we give them. They may dispose of our recyclables into a dump, or ship them off to another country, or store them because it doesn’t make fiscal sense to process them, which isn’t what we’ve been led to believe.  In other words, Recycling is a guilt-free version of consumption but it often doesn’t help reduce waste and raw material extraction.

Here are 5 promises you can make to yourself, which, combined with millions of other promises, will make an impact.

  • Promise that you will REFUSE to buy from companies that aren’t sustainable
  • Promise that you will REDUCE what you consume
  • Promise that you will attempt to REPAIR what is broken
  • Promise that you will RETURN what breaks, or wears out to the manufacturer to “encourage” them to be more responsible and create a circular economy
  • And when you RECYCLE… Promise that you will ask the tough questions about what happens to the stuff you sort and put out for recycling. If it’s going to end up in a foreign country with low paid workers being harmed in the process or if the products sit in “other” landfills, waiting to be recycled, why is this a good choice and/or being mandated?

Use your voice.  Use your wallet.  Align your values and be an Enlightened Citizen.

Let’s start here…

About the Author

As an entrepreneur, Carol Wain has created a number of brands which focus on integrating engagement, sustainability, and both personal and business performance.

She works with individuals in leadership and management roles and with aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to leverage the power of business to create positive change.

Carol is an author, speaker, trusted advisor and mentor who won Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003.

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