Five R’s

I know that Bea has one, and another prominent ZW blogger has one, but I like this one the best.

Someone references these in the documentary Inside the Garbage of the World, but there wasn’t any follow-up to it in the interview. Also, the 4th R can mean much, much more than I think the interviewee really intended.

Reject

This is the first line of defense against garbage. Just don’t have anything to do with it to begin with! Keep it out of your life, and you won’t have to deal with the rest of the R’s. It’s not necessarily that simple, though. Refusing something, whether it’s a freebie or a gift, is often seen as perplexing at best, and horrendously rude at worst. What helps is to reiterate that your refusal isn’t related to your ego, but rather your ethical obligations to the environment.

Reduce

If you bring an item into your world, then bring in less of it, or as little of it as possible. Buy the least complex version of the thing as possible– keep it simple in terms of packaging, assembly, usage, all those fun things. For a rather extreme example, can you guess which comes with less packaging and parts: my breathing washer, or a typical washing machine? I think you can guess the answer~

Reuse

This one’s pretty straight forward: if you acquire something new, make sure you can use it indefinitely. Reuse spaghetti sauce jars, for example. Or when you’re done reading the paper, use it to pick up the dog poo, wrap gifts with it, or use it for package fill. And so on. This should be done with everything that will eventually reach the end of it’s life serving the purpose it was made for.

Reclaim

This one was going to be at the end, but it made more sense to put it here since recycling should be a last resort, given how truly wasteful it is. Anyways, this is the big one. Reclaim. In a way, this usurps Bea’s “Rot”, since that’s technically reclaiming the nutrients in your inedible food scraps, and also eventually reclaiming your soil if it’s in poor shape. This also has much broader implications, though. Reclaim your community (from powerlessness, from isolation, from HOAs). Reclaim your streets (from trash, from ugliness, from cars). Reclaim your ecosystems (from pollution, from over-use, from invasive species). Reclaim your people and country (dismantle the state). Reclamation, I feel, is the real heart of activism. Go out there and remember that we’re working to get back things that we once had, things that were taken from us. Things haven’t always been this way. Remember that.

Recycle

This goes last because it doesn’t even meet the minimum requirements for sustainability, to be frank. Paper, plastic, and other miscellaneous recyclable materials like foam, fabric, etc., aren’t truly recyclable: they get downcycled. They don’t get repurposed into something of equal or greater value, their material integrity degrades with every reincarnation, and recycling is simply delaying their inevitable fate in the landfill. Metal and glass fare a bit better, but the energy that goes into recycling metal is huge, and it’s almost just as toxic as processing the original virgin material. Glass, I feel, is the best we’ve got when it comes to recycling. It doesn’t take as many resources to process glass, and in the case of returnable milk bottles, all it takes is a thorough washing! But while recycling is far from the ideal that many common folk make it out to be, it’s certainly better than throwing it in the garbage.

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  1. Pingback: The Cost of Paying Attention | Zero Waste Millennial

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