The three R’s are probably the most recited, most memorable and most everyday of all the ‘sustainability’ phrases we have in our daily vocabulary. Since their creation some time after the first Earth Day in 1970, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle has been the mantra of many. From activists to educators, policy makers to brands, we know the drill. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
But spot the issue? How often are we generally encouraged to do the first two?
If this is a kind of hierarchy of actions, we should be very used to Reducing stuff (from purchases to packaging), Reusing stuff (making do with what we have and eliminating anything single-use) and at the last resort, Recycling. But the sheer fact remains – we rarely do the first two, but we mostly do the last. This of course, is not purely our fault, and the call of ‘don’t worry about all this plastic packaging – you can recycle it!’ is one we are also all too familiar with, plastered on our bottles, cartons, boxes and more.
So how can we reclaim ‘Reduce and Reuse’ and put them back up on positions one and two of the podium? Three states in the US have some thoughts…
Maine is considering creating a bill (LD1541) that would hold the producers of packaging waste responsible for its recovery and end of life – an Extended Producers Responsibility bill. So instead of the householder being lumped with excess material to Recycle, it is hoped that this will encourage more Reduction, as the costs will sit with the brands.
Oregon is doing something very similar, with the Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernisation Act (SB 582A), which would also require the producers of the packaging waste to be responsible for it’s collection and eventual recycling. This again is an incentive for the brands to cut down on what they are producing.
Iowa has had their Waste Exchange Programme since 1990 and saved around 4 million tons of material from landfill – saving also around $120 million. This scheme falls into the Reuse category, and creates connections between people who have an item to discard and people that need that item, in a similar way to Freegle in the UK and Freecycle in the US. As always, one persons trash is another persons treasure.
So three states that have schemes in place, or coming, that will help to bring those two crucial R’s back to the fore. Recycling certainly has it’s part, but it should not be the first port of call. In this line up, it’s very much in bronze position.