February 8, 2016

Not All R's Are Created Equal

A creative example of repurposing a common item that might otherwise go to the landfill.

In the R's scheme we have been emphasizing the wrong approaches. Recycle is not always the best way to go, and can end up being a well-meaning and wasteful activity. Often it is used as an excuse to continue high consumption ways, but recycling will never make up for over-consumption.

When school children are taught the "3 R's" they are taught an consumption-friendly list - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But there are other R's that are more effective, but not usually taught.

I have tried to put a few of the other R's in order starting with the most effective.

  1. Rethink - one of the most important R's which asks us to consider all aspects of our lives and identify where we can be more earth friendly. 
  2. Refuse - my favourite of all of them. Everything gets better if we refuse the myths of consumerism and "the good life", and quit buying things we don't need.
  3. Reduce - use less of the things that you buy.
  4. Reuse - using things over and over and over. 
  5. Repair - fix the things you buy so they can be used longer. Don't buy things that can't be repaired, or are designed to break down prematurely.
  6. Repurpose - finding new ways to use old things, like a toilet seat door on the chicken coop.
  7. Recycle - aluminum, steel, plastic and glass, are the most efficient to recycle. 

When it comes to the R's, not all are created equal. For example, it is more effective to refuse to buy bottled water than it is to buy it and recycle the plastic containers. We use a reusable stainless steel water bottle filled with tap water.

It is too bad that recycle is the most commonly known environmental R word. It is time to move on to the other, more effective R's, and perhaps think up a few more. I propose Reality, as in "is expecting infinite consumption on a finite planet consistent with Reality?" 


  1. I think about the scene in Castaway where he takes stock of everything on the island. I think about the fact that there is no "away" when you throw something away. If you know what you already have and think creatively you can often solve the problem at hand.

    1. We have always tried to do what we can with what we've got right where we are at. You are 100% correct - it is often possible to get the job done with things you already have on hand.

      In the future dumps will be the new general stores. People will stop making deposits and start making withdrawals.

  2. I also have recently read of some people advocating another "r"- rotting aka composting! Do you compost? We would like to start composting as a family, but we are not sure how to protect the composting material in our yard from the many animals we live next to like raccoons/rats/mice/muskrats/squirrels etc.

    1. We have community-wide green bin collection, so we do compost, just not on site. After we get our garden up and running we will start a compost here at home instead of giving away all that valuable organic matter.

      The following link might help with deterring animals from messing with your compost:


      You could also try a worm composter, but it has a smaller capacity that might not be suitable for a family. They are a lot of fun, though. Kids love them. I used them in my classroom for years.

  3. As always you speak truth Gregg. Like me, you see below the surface. My social circle is very small, most people I know do not recycle but some do buy used items. The people I know "believe" just what you say, if they recycle or buy some things used that it is OK and even good to over-consume.

    What I've learned from being more active in my local government is that cities are encouraging recycling not because it is 'good for the planet' but because it saves them money. It is cheaper to handle recyclable materials, i.e. Sell them to contractors that own recycling companies than it is to pay fees to dump materials at the landfill. There are riding the environmental awareness advocacy groups message to manipulate the public to recycle but it's not because they care about the environment. And bottom line, like you say, recycling is not the answer for a lot of reasons like how damaging the recycling process is to the environment, etc. Agree, it's time and past time to move on to reality and the other R's you list.

    I like Annie's comment. I call that Re-source. Being resourceful is being creative and using what you have to meet the need. I'm thankful I grew in with a mom that is resourceful. My sisters and I picked it up and took it to a new level. It has serve me well countless times in my life.

    I heard a staggering statistic on a public radio show last week, thrift stores only sell about 10% of what gets donated. A lot goes to 3rd world countries on large boats further polluting the oceans. It's probably overburdening them with an excess of trash and seriously interfering with their cultural apparel traditions which disturbs me. I assume there's a portion of what we donate that just goes to landfills. All this could be avoided if we just didn't buy it in the first place and lived by the R's.

    The tap water here makes me feel sick. I drink a lot of water. There's a grocery store very close to where I live that has a machine which has multiple processes to remove all the junk, contaminates and Rx drugs out of the water. They sell it cheap, $0.39 per gallon. I refill my 3 gallon bottles at the machine weekly and use it to fill my smaller reusable bottles. I drink it, cook with it and my cats drink it. I figure if city water makes me sick, it can't be good from cats. No bottled water bought. I buy most my groceries at that store so no extra driving to get water. It's been working well for several years.

    I'm a bit word-y here tonight. I've missed participating. Catching up tonight I guess!

    1. Hey Terri,

      So much stuff - we are bursting at the seams with crap. People used to do a lot more with a lot less. It is all about resourcefulness, creativity and adaptability. You will do well in a post-industrial world. We will have cleaner air and water and soil after a while.

      Nice to have you back.

  4. really enjoyed this post, loved the picture!

    1. I would like a coop just like that full of happy chickens.

  5. I was always taught that "reduce" was basically your steps one and two - reduce what you buy, not to use less of what you have already bought. "Reuse" also encompased your step 6, it wasn't limited to reuse for it's original purpose. We were also taught that you do them in the order they're given - reduce first, and then reuse what you do have to buy, and then when it can no longer be reused, recycle it. Hopefully by this stage there is not that much to recycle.
    So although your steps are more explicit, then at least as I have experienced it the "3 R's" scheme does encompass all your points.

    1. You are right. You just reduced the number of points I needed to convey my message. I will recycle them on another post. Thank you.


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