The 12 Rs of zero waste

Photo: Malin Leth

Photo: Malin Leth

Many seem to know the three most prominent Rs of Zero Waste - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But taking a more in-depth look into the challenges of creating a zero waste society, one quickly discovers that there’s a whole palette of solutions connected to zero waste, beyond Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

In our first episode of the podcast Love Zero Waste, “Zero Waste for Dummies” we discuss the 12 (!!) Rs of zero waste.

The order of the 12 Rs in the list below is significant. It starts with the mindset change triggers Remember, Respect, Refuse and Reduce, and continues with the actions Reuse, Return, Refill and Rot, which may demand a portion of your attention, creativity, but does not require that you add any extra materials, and is rounded off by the last resorts Restore, Repurpose, Repair and Recycle.

The 12 Rs of Zero Waste:

REMEMBER why you bought it, remember your life without it, remember how you could get by without it, remember how fast we get used to all the things around us. Things that, maybe we don’t really need to be happy.

RESPECT its value and all the resources used for producing it.

REFUSE to consume. If you don’t really need it, as in, if it doesn't meet your basic needs, just don’t buy it. Whatever it is, you most likely don’t need it. Sure, medication, buying shoes for your kids and many other things you do need. But what about all the other stuff… Do you really need it? Really? Moreover, be critical when anybody uses the term “Conscious Consumption”, maybe you’d be better of just plain old Refusing.

REDUCE your consumption. Reduce your use of single-use items. Reduce your number of car rides. Reduce the number of things you bring into your home. Reduce, reduce, reduce to the essence.

REUSE Reuse what you already have before buying new stuff. And reuse it again.

RETURN Does something break? Return it to the manufacturer. This hasn’t been so much of a thing in the past, but with the EU-policy on extended producer responsibility, it’s actually going to be a thing. Also, check out #thisisyourtrash on Instagram.

REFILL Ask your local grocery store to stock up on refill alternatives. Choose a single-us-plastics-packaging-free grocery store over the conventional grocery store. (As we’re writing this Häagen-Dazs would be on everybody’s lips!)

ROT In the a zero waste society, a circular society, all used materials stay in the loop. All that would ever “come out” of the system would be compost. Everything else stays. Nothing is burned in an incinerator or stored in a landfill.

RESTORE The extraction of resources affects the planet’s systems. Whether restoring means creating a field of bee-friendly flowers in your urban community or corporations restoring toxic industry grounds this takes expertise and resources. Whatever we, directly or indirectly might extract, we need to respect the boundaries of the planet, restore whatever we might have destroyed in the past, and make sure we don’t create new sites that will need restoration in the future.

REPURPOSE If one of the previous Rs don’t apply - can you use it for something else entirely? Can you give whatever it is a new life through a new purpose? This is where upcycling might come into the picture. Upcycling can be a valid solution, just be careful not to add other materials like glue or thread into the mix, that makes it even more challenging to recycle down the line. To repurpose something in a way, which at the end of its life only can be incinerated is not really helping to solve the problem.

REPAIR Have the shoe maker repair your broken shoes, tighten the screws, lubricate, borrow tools from your neighbour, google advice, join a maker-space. You’ve got this! Few things give us more pleasure than fixing or getting help to fix stuff that we love. No need to buy new stuff, when you can repair what’s already there.

RECYCLE This one is big. Everyone knows it, and most of us engage with it. But as you can see, it’s one of the last items on the list. The last resort. If something is recyclable, that’s awesome. But remember that recycling takes a lot of energy. Maybe you’d be better off refusing what you’d later need to put up for recycling.

Let’s start this week with some reflections on zero waste. Discuss the Rs with your friends, family or colleagues:

  • Do you agree with the Rs? What’s missing on the list?

  • What do the Rs tell you?

  • What are your three favourite Rs?

  • Which of the Rs do you think is the most important for making a shift towards a zero waste society?

Share your insights and feedback with us. We’d love to hear what you think!

/Evelina Lundqvist and Malin Leth