The idea of the 3Rs were first mooted based on the order of action for each of the concepts. You were to first reduce usage of things that could turn into waste. Reducing packaging, not using disposables when that is not needed, no need for extra plastic bags and layers of bagging. No need for straws when you have a cup to sip from. No need for many other gift boxes, wrappers, or other fancy stuff.
Then you were to reuse if you fail to reduce. Maybe try to take a gift wrapper apart nicely so you can use it to wrap something else. Or reuse packaging into decorative materials and so on. There are limitless ways to reuse things; and they don’t have to be used in the same way they were used the first time. Paper is easy to reuse, as are many plastics that we take for granted and use only once. Single-use is a problem; not the materials in and of themselves.
Finally, recycling as last resort. It is not the first thing that should come to mind but the last. You have no way of reusing and you couldn’t reduce usage so you have to try and recycle it. Of course it doesn’t work when it is too much of a mixture, or too dirty, and the story goes. So a lot of post-consumer or post-commercial waste cannot really be recycled. they eventually get burned in some cases (like in Singapore) or buried (in landfills for most other places).
But what is recycling really? What counts? Crushing them and reforming new materials with them? How about just burning them in some kind of manufacturing plant that requires fuel – like in a cement plant? What to make of paper that gets simply shipped away elsewhere. And when organic waste becomes converted to fertilisers? Are they actually ‘recycled’? It’s really strange what we think of as recycling because technically, if things were left to nature – most of it is simply ‘recycled’, joining the string of things in the world back on the evolution path and lifecycle into something completely different.
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