Years ago, we all talked about recycling and not dumping things down your drain and all of that, but talking doesn’t help much. Basically, it’s going to have to be legislation because the impact is so huge and diversified.”

Ted Danson, Actor

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (3 R’s) and the Waste Hierarchy

The concept of reduce, reuse and recycle (also called the 3 R’s) refers to the efficient use of our natural resources in order to minimize the waste of resources.

Related to this goal is the concept of waste hierarchy which sorts actions regarding the protection of the environment from most favorable to least favorable actions.

On top of the waste hierarchy pyramid is the prevention of waste, followed by minimization, reuse, recycling, energy recovery and disposal.

In this article, the concept of the three R’s as well as many examples of how you can apply it in your daily life are examined.

Audio Lesson

1. Reduce

The reduction of waste is crucial to save our environmental system from an excessive amount of waste.

Since the industrial revolution period, consumption levels skyrocketed since with the use of machines, we have been able to produce large quantities of goods with a low unit price.

Although this development led to a state with a high average consumption level, it also contributed to a significant increase in waste production.

Many items in conventional stores are wrapped in plastic which in turn leads to a huge plastic waste problem.

Moreover, our consumption behavior also contributes to waste production.

We tend to use things shorter and replace them faster with the newest version compared to people living in past decades.

Additionally, the world population is growing, which also implies an increase in overall worldwide waste production.

In order to mitigate the waste problem, we have to adjust our consumption behavior.

We have to find ways to reduce our consumption levels.

Some examples of how you can reduce waste in your daily life are given in the following.

Examples of how to reduce waste in your daily life

  1. Avoid disposable plastic cups
  2. Buy local food
  3. Avoid plastic packaging
  4. Organic gardening
  5. Efficient food use
  6. Save paper
  7. Use clothes efficiently
  8. Keep your electronic devices longer
  9. Avoid buying online
  10. Avoid food delivery
  11. Pick food
  12. Don’t buy bottled water

Avoid disposable plastic cups

Disposable plastic cups can lead to significant environmental degradation since they are just used a single time and are then disposed into the trash bin.

The amount of disposable plastic cups that are used each year is shocking, amounting to an estimated number of 500 billion plastic cups each year worldwide.

You can imagine the amount of waste that is resulting from this number of plastic cups. In order to get rid of those amounts of plastic, we often just burn it which leads to the emission of harmful gases.

Moreover, greenhouse gases are emitted which contribute to global warming.

Part of our plastic trash also ends up in our oceans where it hurts many sea animals.

In order to behave more environmentally-friendly, you can simply avoid using disposable plastic cups. Instead of using these cups, bring your own mug so that it can be refilled several times.

Using this simple tactic, you can contribute to a reduction in plastic waste and therefore mitigate the adverse environmental problems related to it.

Buy local food

Food that is transported over long distances by plane or ship usually requires plenty of packaging material in order to stay fresh.

It also has to be cooled which needs large amounts of energy and in turn results in several kinds of pollution and also contributes to global warming.

Buy buying local food, preferably in organic food stores, you can reduce the amount of waste related to the respective products.

In many local food stores, there is the opportunity to buy stuff without wrapping in contrast to many conventional stores.

Therefore, by buying from food stores offering local food, you can mitigate the waste production issue.

Avoid plastic packaging

Our food and other items are often wrapped in plastic.

Companies like to use plastic wrappings and packaging since it is relatively cheap and quite durable.

However, the excessive use of plastic for packaging purposes leads to an enormous amount of plastic waste.

Therefore, you should try to stop buying items wrapped in plastic whenever possible.

For example, when you buy food and you see tomatoes that are wrapped in plastic and tomatoes that are not, go for the second version in order to mitigate plastic waste production.

Organic gardening

You can further reduce the production of waste by simply plant your own vegetables and fruits.

If you have a balcony or garden, it is quite easy to plant tomatoes or paprika.

By doing so, you can avoid the plastic wrappings that are used in conventional food stores and therefore reduce waste.

Moreover, it is also quite fun to grow your own food. Just try it, you will love it!

Efficient food use

We buy plenty of food every day.

However, a significant fraction of this food is thrown into the garbage can.

This is due to the fact that we do not use our food in an efficient manner.

Some of it just rots and we have to dispose of it because of that.

Even worse, some products that would still be suitable for consumption but have exceeded the best-before date are often disposed into the garbage.

This behavior leads to an enormous amount of unnecessary waste.

By using your food more efficiently, you can reduce waste to a significant degree.

Save paper

There is also an enormous amount of paper trash produced every day.

This is especially true when it comes to office life. People are printing all kinds of stuff, even if most of the printouts would not even be necessary.

People often also only print the paper on one side which makes the problem of paper waste even worse.

By saving paper in your job and reduce printouts to a minimum, you can mitigate the waste problem to a certain extent.

Use clothes efficiently

Many of our clothes are just used a few or even just a single time before they are disposed into the garbage.

This leads to an enormous amount of unnecessary waste since clothes could be used many times.

You can make a stand and wear your clothes until they are damaged.

By doing so, you can reduce the amount of waste related to your consumption behavior.

Keep your electric devices longer

Many electronic devices are just used for a quite short period of time.

For example, every year, many new smartphones are released.

People often strive for the newest versions and replacing the old ones.

However, by doing so, large amounts of electronic waste are produced and precious materials are wasted.

You can reduce electronic waste by simply keep and use your electronic devices for a longer period of time. You will notice that you don’t always need the newest version to be happy!

Avoid buying online

Stuff that is bought online is often wrapped in large amounts of plastic or other kinds of packaging.

Moreover, the delivery of your items leads to fossil fuel consumption and therefore to air pollution and also enhances the global warming process.

Through avoiding online purchases and rather buying in conventional stores, you can reduce the packaging material and therefore mitigate the waste issue to a certain extent.

Avoid food delivery

You should also avoid food delivery services in order to avoid waste.

Delivered food often involves large amounts of plastic or aluminum wrapping and therefore leads to the production of significant amounts of waste.

Instead of using food delivery services, you can cook your own food and avoid waste production to a significant extent.

Pick food

Picking food is another great way to reduce waste.

For example, if you live close to nature reserves or forests, you can pick mushrooms or berries.

By doing so, you can reduce the waste that would have been involved when buying this food in conventional stores.

Moreover, picking food can also be quite fun and you can also educate your children about the importance of getting in touch with nature so they will strive to avoid waste in the future.

Don’t buy bottled water

Bottled water is a huge source of plastic waste.

Since the average person drinks around two liters of water every day, the amount of plastic water bottles amounts to vast numbers when we take a worldwide perspective.

In many regions, bottled water is not even necessary since the tap water often is of quite good quality.

So, if you live in regions with good tap water quality, you can simply replace bottled water through the consumption of tap water and therefore significantly mitigate plastic waste production.

2. Reuse

Reducing your consumption levels is crucial in order to mitigate the waste production problem and the adverse implied effects on our environmental system.

However, an additional step towards effective resource use is to reuse your belongings.

In the following, many examples are given on how you can reuse your stuff in an efficient manner on a daily basis.

Examples of how to reuse things in your daily life

  1. Reuse wrappings
  2. Buy in second-hand stores
  3. Give away your old items to family and friends
  4. Use old cardboard as storages
  5. Newspapers can be used as protection material
  6. Use waste paper to take notes
  7. Buy rechargeable batteries
  8. Donate CDs, DVDs and books
  9. Donate clothes
  10. Offer your old stuff on flea markets
  11. Offer old things on internet platforms for free

Reuse wrappings

Many items that are delivered or bought in stores contain wrapping or packaging material.

You can try to reuse these materials for different purposes.

For example, if you buy a plant that includes a plastic pot, you can reuse this plastic pot for growing additional plants.

Buy in second-hand stores

Many people consider buying in second-hand stores as dodgy or inappropriate.

However, by buying second-hand, you can contribute to the reuse of our natural resources and therefore to an increase in resource efficiency.

There is nothing wrong when it comes to buying from second-hand stores.

In fact, it is much better for our environment compared to buying new stuff.

Therefore, you can reduce waste and contribute to a more efficient resource use if you buy in second hand stores instead of conventional stores.

Give away your old items to family and friends

Some people may need the newest versions of electronics for their jobs.

However, many people actually do not need the newest versions.

Therefore, you can give away your old but still working belongings to family and friends.

They may be happy to get stuff for free and may reuse your old items.

By doing so, resources can be used more efficiently and trash production can be reduced.

Use old cardboard as storages

In the course of your life, you are likely to buy several kinds of things.

Some of these things, especially bigger items, are often delivered using big cardboards.

Many people throw these cardboards away.

However, cardboards are a great storage space for all kinds of things since they are light but also quite durable.

Therefore, by reusing cardboards for storage purposes, you can reduce paper waste.

Newspapers can be used as protection material

In many households, reading the daily newspaper is a well-known tradition.

However, in the course of a year, this newspaper consumption leads to a significant amount of paper waste.

You can reuse newspaper if you need protection material for fragile goods.

For example, if you want to transport things made of glass, just wrap them in newspaper.

By doing so, you can protect your glass items and in the same instance reuse your newspaper.

Use waste paper to take notes

There is plenty of waste paper around in our daily life. For example, this may include used envelopes or notepad pages.

You can reuse those items to take notes.

For instance, if you make a phone call and want to note certain information, you should not use new paper but rather use waste paper in order to save resources and mitigate the waste problem.

Buy rechargeable batteries

In our daily life, we have many electronic items which run on batteries.

You can buy rechargeable batteries instead of batteries for single use.

By doing so, you can reduce waste and use our natural resources more efficiently.

Donate CDs, DVDs and books

You can also donate old CDs or books you do no longer use.

By doing so, you can make people happy and at the same time reuse your stuff in a senseful manner.

For example, before Christmas, you can gather all CDs, DVDs and books you do no longer need and give them to charity organizations.

Donate clothes

Since the average income, especially in our Western society is quite high compared to the prices for clothes, people often buy large numbers of clothes and do not value them very much.

This leads to a point where many people use their clothes just a few times and then dump them into the garbage.

Instead of throwing your clothes away, you should donate them to welfare organizations which can reuse them to make other people happy.

Offer your old stuff on flea markets

Instead of disposing of your old stuff into the garbage, you can sell your old but yet working belongings on the flea market.

By doing so, your old stuff can be reused and therefore the production of trash can be mitigated.

Offer old things on internet platforms for free

The internet provides a great opportunity to use our resources more efficiently.

For example, there are several platforms like Craigslist where you can offer your old stuff for free.

There are likely many people who would be happy to reuse your old belongings.

By offering your things on those platforms, you can contribute to more efficient use of resources compared to disposing of your stuff in the garbage.

3. Recycle

As we have seen previously, there are many occasions in your daily life where you can reduce your waste production and also reuse your belongings.

Moreover, in order to optimize your behavior, you can also take some measures to recycle your things in an efficient manner.

Some examples of how to do so on a daily basis are provided below.

Examples of how you can (help to) recycle waste

  1. Buy recyclable products
  2. Do not buy products containing toxic substances
  3. Refrain from buying items with plastic wrapping
  4. Recycle batteries
  5. Recycle inc cartridges
  6. Recycle electronic items
  7. Use printing paper made of recycled materials
  8. Use toilet paper made of recycled materials
  9. Buy products made of recycled items
  10. Buy from firms that support the recycling of products
  11. Separate your waste

Buy recyclable products

You should be aware that many products of our daily life are not recyclable and have to be burned or disposed into landfills in order to get rid of them.

There are some labels which indicate which products are suitable for recycling purposes.

As a rule of thumb, you should try to buy stuff that is recyclable and refrain from buying stuff that cannot be recycled.

Do not buy products containing toxic substances

Products that contain harmful or even toxic substances are usually not suitable for recycling purposes.

You should minimize the number of those products regarding your consumption behavior and buy environmentally-friendly stuff instead.

Refrain from buying items with plastic wrapping

Plastic wrappings are usually not suitable for recycling purposes and are often burned which leads to several kinds of pollution and also contributes to global warming.

You should therefore adjust your consumption behavior in a way to reduce consumption of goods covered in plastic wrappings.

Recycle batteries

Batteries contain many harmful substances.

If batteries are not disposed of in a proper way, they can cause significant damage to our environment.

However, by disposing of them correctly, batteries can be recycled in an efficient way.

Therefore, it is crucial that you pay attention to how to dispose of batteries appropriately to protect the environment and also make them accessible for recycling purposes.

Recycle ink cartridges

Many people use a printer at home.

However, many people do not know that ink cartridges can often be recycled.

Moreover, they often can also be refilled.

Both options would reduce waste production and increase the efficiency of resource use.

Thus, you should not just dump your old ink cartridges into the garbage but rather look for refill stations.

Recycle electronic items

Electronic items like computers, TVs or smartphones are often made of many precious materials, even including some amount of gold.

Therefore, it is crucial that you dispose of those electronic items in a proper way so that the precious materials can be recycled in order to make your home more eco-friendly.

Use printing paper made of recycled materials

Using printing paper made of recycled materials instead of conventional printing paper also increases the efficiency of resource use and also mitigates the problem of deforestation.

Therefore, since the quality of recycled printing paper often is quite good, you should substitute conventional printing paper with recycled printing paper.

Use toilet paper made of recycled materials

You can also buy toilet paper that is made out of recycled materials rather than conventional toilet paper.

By doing so, you can also save resources and mitigate the waste problem.

Buy products made of recycled items

There are several products in our daily life that can be either manufactured in a conventional way or can be made with the use of recycled items.

By using recycled items, resources can be used more efficiently.

Therefore, when it comes to buying decisions, keep in mind that you look out for recycled products in order to improve your consumption behavior.

Buy from firms that support the recycling of products

Although many firms out there are just profit maximizing vehicles, there are some companies that have the mission to protect our environment and therefore prefer to produce products which can be recycled in an efficient manner or also which are made of recycled resources.

Therefore, by supporting those companies, you can increase the incentive for other firms to join the “recycling company club”.

Separate your waste

Separating your waste is crucial in order to ensure the recyclability of precious resources.

Therefore, make sure that you separate your waste in an appropriate way in order to make resource use more efficient.


In our nowadays society, due to the excessive consumption of goods, large amounts of waste are produced.

The concept of reduce, reuse and recycle is crucial for the protection of our environmental system since it strives for more efficient use of our natural resources.

Everyone of us can take several measures in our daily life in order to reduce, recycle and reuse and therefore to ensure a livable future for the next generations.


About the author

My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.

As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.

After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.

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