The two forgotten Rs of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Thom Weerd
image: Thom Weerd

Since the beginning of the new millennium, the UK Government (whose latest eco project is a nation of electric cars) has pushed the green message to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ to some success. However, with the focus heavily placed on the third of the three Rs, its two companions have since all but fallen by the wayside as we’ve steamed ahead putting packaging into coloured sacks and feeling our collective conscience lift from our shoulders to float away into supposedly smog-less skies.

But whilst we’ve been busily tidying away our waste into its allotted sacks, regardless of the amount of waste we produce (recyclable or not), we have forgotten the two Rs that tell us to use less in the first place and to prolong the usefulness of what we do use. We live in a world of disposables, the culture of throw-it-away-and-buy-another-one permeating all aspects of our consumerism from clothing to food, from energy to electronics, and to the packaging it’s all wrapped up in.

We throw away everything from books to their electronic replacements, whether it gets turned into something else or not, and whilst recycling is both brilliant and necessary, it isn’t perfect: it still has a negative effect, only a lesser one than stuffing things into the ground. Electronic waste is one of the fastest developing waste channels in the world, and whilst it is important, recycling our electronics is not as fantastic as some companies make it out to be. It would be better to repair and reuse them before giving up and going on to buy the next product in line.

The Restart Project is a London-based enterprise encouraging and empowering people to use their electronics longer just by learning fundamental repair and maintenance skills. They want to encourage consumers to buy long-living electronics and to steer the electronics industry away from its regular upgrade culture. They want us to wholeheartedly embrace the entire reduce, reuse, recycle ethos in all its glory, and to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Janet Gunter talks at TEDx Brixton about the inspiration behind The Restart Project

Restart is critical of companies such as mobile communications giant O2, which has recently fallen way behind the eco wagon in announcing its O2 Refresh campaign. Refresh allows upgrades whenever they’re desired by the greedy customer, says O2. “Two years is too long,” they say, but the Nokia handset I owned between 2001 and 2003 is still alive today, chugging along without a charge for days on end each summer when the festivals roll around and I don’t want to pay £5 per hour to refuel an energy-mopping smartphone twice daily. Technology can last if only we allow it to.

O2’s advert for its Refresh campaign

There is a shared responsibility for our wastefulness between us and the companies who produce our products. If only what they made were better quality, longer-lasting, and not so quickly outdated then it wouldn’t matter that we still had the same phone as we did three years ago. If only we valued our earth more than an extra half inch of touchscreen, we would be happy with what we have for a little while longer.

Whilst progress is exciting, inspiring, and generally positive, it must be made in a way that doesn’t require that metals continue to be mined so unsustainably. It must be made with consciousness of its effects. Our resources are finite, and our appetites currently insatiable. Perhaps Google is making a step in the right direction. In 2015, it is set to launch the result of its Project Ara: a modular smartphone which won’t need to be replaced at all, but can be updated piece-by-piece as required.

Our current problem is cultural, ingrained, but alterable. Just as we’ve come to consider it second nature to put plastics in one bag and glass in another, and to carry a reusable bag to the supermarket, we can grow used to the notion that our gadgets can last longer than our contracts would suggest. We can reduce, reuse, and recycle.


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