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Earth Day Guide to the Six Rs of Sustainability

Six Rs of sustainability

Sustainability is often defined as being able to meet our current needs without jeopardizing future generations’ ability to meet theirs. While there are a variety of ways to live more sustainably, the six Rs make up a baseline of actions you can take to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

1. Refuse

We are not accustomed to refusing freebies, and we forget that free stuff has an underlying cost. Free pens, stickers, t-shirts and swag bags all seem nice to have in the moment. Yet, more often than not, these items eventually become waste. We might not ever use or think about them again before we dispose of them. Rather than accepting disposable items that eventually become trash, practice refusing them altogether. Items that you can easily refuse are: plastic straws, napkins, water bottles, business cards and junk mail.

2. Reduce

Reducing is all about being mindful of our spending and consumption habits. Purchasing new clothes and household items can be exciting in the moment, only for the rush to fade when you realize you don’t really need the item you just bought. Before you go out and purchase something, whether it’s clothing, food and drink, toys or cookware, ask yourself if you really need it. 

In addition to cutting back on spending, get rid of old stuff. Decluttering is a great way to reduce as well. Unused items you have around that you no longer need or use can be sold, donated, recycled or composted. But be mindful of reducing responsibly because up to two-thirds of donated clothing heads to landfills. Shop secondhand or buy items made of recycled content, look for clothing swaps, and think twice before purchasing trendy items.

3. Reuse

Many items that we use are designed for one-time use. We use them once then quickly discard them and replace them, especially if they become dirty or damaged. However, by reusing a product, you can reduce some of the waste that comes from producing and transporting a new one. Seek out repair options for damaged items such as laptops, shoes, phones and bags. Rather than throw out unused scraps of vegetables, turn them into a stock or save them for composting. Rather than take leftovers home in a single-use food to go container, invest in a reusable stainless steel food container. Reusable food containers with lids are also great reusable items for packing lunches for school and work. You can also reuse by buying used goods at thrift stores and checking books out from your local library, rather than purchasing them new.

4. Refill

Refill is similar to reuse. Rather than buying a new plastic water bottle when you’re thirsty on the go, invest in a reusable bottle you can use and reuse. Another way to join the refill movement is to buy ingredients in bulk. Take stainless steel food storage containers with you to the store and fill them up with the food on your grocery list. You can then use the same stainless steel container for the food at home and then, when they’re empty, take them to the store to be refilled again.

5. Recycle

Recycling is perhaps the most well known of the six Rs, and it is also one of the least effective ways to reduce waste. While most discarded paper and cardboard gets recycled, the vast majority of plastic does not. One reason is because items that don’t belong in recycling bins contaminate and damage recycling equipment, which slows recycling operations, and the waste just ends up in landfills. It is important to sort and clean your recyclables according to your local guidelines. If done correctly, recycling can be an effective way to keep trash out of our waste stream.

6. Rot

Rot, more widely known as composting, can be easy these days. Whether you live in an apartment, or at home with your family or roommates, there are a variety of ways for you to give composting a try. Check to see if your city offers curbside composting, or whether your local farmers market has a compost bin. If you’ve got the space, give backyard composting a try. If you have limited space, try vermicomposting. If you’re concerned about the smell of rotting food, you can collect food scraps in your freezer until they are ready to add to a composter.

The Six Rs of sustainability will help you reduce waste, raise awareness and tread lightly on the planet this Earth Day.