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  • Giorgos Pismisis

The 5 R’s of Environmental Responsibility:THE ROAD TO A SUSTAINABLE WORLD

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

Recycling is probably the first thing you think about when you hear about zero waste and

sustainability, but in reality, it is the last choice.

The 5R’s inverted pyramid - One version of the "zero waste hierarchy"

Zero waste surely is a great challenge nowadays and many businesses have already invested in this challenge as they try to find the best solution to turn to zero waste. The 5 R’s are now a very important factor in personal and professional daily life. But what exactly are the 5R’s?

For a long time, we have been taught about the 3 R’s “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” - but in the last few years environmental scientists have extended their thinking to encourage consumers to follow 2 more R’s (5 R’s in total): “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle”.

The 5 R’s of solid waste management give a hierarchy in which any solid waste management plan must comply. The main purpose is to extract materials and to generate the minimum amount of waste.

This leads to what is called the “inverted pyramid of 5 R’s”. This inverted pyramid consists of 5 pieces, with the biggest, most common, and most preferable actions on top, and least preferable actions at the bottom. It all depends on our habits. The more we change them at the high end of the hierarchy, the smaller our trash footprint and our carbon footprint is. Below is an analyzation of each part of the inverted pyramid.

1. Refuse

Sometimes we should say “no” as consumers. Maybe this will take some time and you will need some practice, but it is just another “good habit”. It would be wise to avoid buying wasteful or non-recyclable products, like wrapping paper and bubble wrap. You can find many eco-friendly choices to replace them. Making smarter purchasing decisions and setting standards and expectations early in the process make it easier to “refuse” waste in the first place.

2. Reduce

Reducing the use of harmful, wasteful, and non-recyclable products results in less waste materials ending up in landfills and the associated negative environmental impacts are also decreased. A great example is the reduction of unnecessary packaging from manufactured products. You can also buy a large bottle of water instead of many small ones, for example. Other commonly used items that should be avoided are single-use plastics, plastic packaging, organic waste, and styrofoam cups. With this way, you will save energy, money and you will reduce the amount of waste that will need to be recycled or sent to landfills.

3. Reuse

Almost everything we buy, or we use in our daily life ends up in landfills, pollutes our oceans, contributes to the emission of harmful greenhouse gases (like CO2, CH4, etc.), or harms the planet in other ways. Cutting our consumption to reduce our environmental impact, could be a solution. But how could be achieved this? Reusing an item of course! Our earlier generations used to make the most of limited resources in less wealthy and consumer-convenient times. Just start by using a reusable bottle when you buy a coffee instead of a single-use bottle.

4. Repurpose

You may have heard of this as upcycling too. You can simply take something you are no longer using and convert it to an item with a different, more practical use. Here are some great examples:

  • an old ladder into a bookshelf

  • credit cards into guitar picks

  • bowlers into lamps

  • a mason jar could be converted into a smoothie cup

  • tennis rackets into mirrors

5. Recycle

Last but not least, it is time for the final R; recycle! Recycle everything you can. Once you have tried all of the other R's, recycling is the most environmentally friendly waste disposal method. Mixed paper products, co-mingled materials (plastics, aluminum, glass) and organics are some of the products that are recyclable.

What is the conclusion of all of this? We all have to recognize the importance of 5R’s. It is a methodology that every business and individual should follow to create a better path with less residues and less waste, a path to a more sustainable world!

How important do you consider the 5 R's hierarchy? Which of the R's you want to focus on improving individually? Let us know about your opinion in the comments below.

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