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The 6 R’s of Sustainability

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

by Kayla Rodrigues

The world’s oceans are being filled with waste, and animals -especially marine life- are digesting an excessive amount of microplastics. The air quality of the earth is regressing at an alarming rate. The culprit is none other than the human race. We have been so absorbed into our material needs that we have seemingly ignored everything that it has caused and will continue to cause. People think it won’t affect them in their lifetime or that there is nothing they can do to help solve the problem, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We need to own up to the mistakes we have made and aim to reverse them in any way we can. A basic outline to do that would be the 6 Rs of sustainability (refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, rethink, and recycle.)

To refuse seems fairly straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, you’d be shocked at how many people fail at this. As humans, we love free stuff. If something costs us nothing, we are compelled to accept it. Not doing so would be a missed opportunity, right? If the item adds some sort of value to our lives then sure, but if not, think about what this acceptance does to our planet. Take the free sticker at the doctor's office for example, or the free sample of hair product at the mall; the taking of these small free items is a perfect example of people’s failure to refuse. We need to be conscious about the stuff we bring into our lives. Refuse the straw your waitress offers you and refuse everything else that is wrapped up in packaging that is something you never even wanted in the first place. At the end of the day it will add no benefit to your life.

The next R is reduce. You can reduce the amount of clothing you have, the amount of groceries you purchase, the amount of plastic you use, the amount of gas you release, and much more. If we minimize our consumption of products, we minimize the demand for those products, thus we minimize the harm those products generate. Make an effort to buy things that are high quality, last longer, and provide more bang for your buck. Some people think that living a “zero waste” lifestyle is too expensive, but in the long run you can save money because instead of continually buying cheap items that are used only for a short period of time, you buy items every now and then that can last most of your life, if not all of your life. Another way to practice the reducing “R” is to shop and donate at thrift stores, helping to shrink your carbon footprint, since clothing manufacturing creates a great deal of waste. “In 2017, 11.2 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfills, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.” Even if we buy from the most sustainable brands, we still are contributing some amount of waste. It takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt, according to the World Resource Institute. Start small by reducing the amount of waste you produce per month. For instance you could limit yourself to one trash bag per month or any other method you think would work best for you. Then as time goes on keep growing your limit.

Reusing old items is the most efficient course of action when trying to protect good ol’ Mother Nature. It’s a common misconception for people to think that living a sustainable life means you get rid of all the junk you have and reform yourself into a minimalist, but it’s quite the opposite actually. Throwing away all of your stuff completely goes against what you’re trying to do. News flash… IT’S PRODUCING MORE WASTE. Just because you're a vegan doesn’t mean that you get rid of all the leather shoes you own, it just means that you don’t further fund those industries. If you are trying to live more eco-friendly, you don’t toss out your plastic tupperware, you try to get as much use out of it as you can. The proper thing that we should be doing is to try and get use out of everything we already own because if one thing’s for sure, the damage those items produce have already been done. By reusing we can lessen all forms of pollution, reduce the need for new natural resources, and save space. You can reuse water bottles, clothes, bags, packaging and tons more. If we can make use of what we already have, we don’t need to bring unnecessary things into our lives.

If some of the items you have now are broken, but can still be fixed--repair it. This is another way we can reuse what is already in our possession. If we repair things rather than buying a new version of it, less new materials are needed. This could potentially save you some money as well, so it really is a win, win.

Another thing we can do is re-think our decisions. It is imperative to be educated on what you are spending your money on and actively be thinking over your product consumption. Think about where you can buy things with little to no packaging, think of whether or not you really need something. You can always find ways to make your shopping experience more eco-friendly. Keep bags, reusable straws, and containers where you can easily reach them so that you don’t find yourself in situations where you have no option but to give in to accepting items with waste.

The last way is to recycle, but that should be your last resort, because a large amount of the stuff you put in the recycle bin doesn’t end up getting recycled. According to the Environmental Protection Agency only about 8% percent of waste gets recycled. Out of the waste directly put into the recycle bin, anywhere from 5 to 25% of it gets dumped into landfills. So if you can do any of the previous five R’s first, please do.

You may be thinking that it would be crazy to follow all of these tips and that it’s way too much work, but no one expects you to jump right into a sustainable lifestyle in one day. It’s not about being perfect but it’s about making conscious decisions daily and slowly getting the hang of it. Just because you can’t give it your all doesn’t mean you should give it nothing. Whatever you can do help this planet heal is all we can ask for. If everyone cut back on their consumption we wouldn’t need these “extreme” environmentalists. We can all put our foot down and say the way we are treating this environment isn’t right and do our fair share in order to fix our mistakes. Let’s make sustainability the norm creating a better world for the future and ensuring protection for all of mankind.


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