Sustainable Waste | The 3R [plus] concept

The popular concept of “3R” refers to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, in the context of consumption and production patterns.  It calls for in a reduction of resources and energy used, in the reusing of raw and manufactured materials and in the increase of the ratio of the use of recyclable materials. These ideas are applied to the entire lifecycles of products and services; from design and extraction of raw materials to transport, manufacture, use, dismantling/reuse and disposal.

A fourth R: Repair was recently introduced [1] to promote repair services, which help to expand products’ life, and thereby further contributes to waste prevention.

  • Reduce  means reducing the use of resources each of us uses, therefore to buy less and use less. Incorporates common sense ideas like turning off the lights, taking shorter showers. It incorporates the idea of pRe-cycle or the idea of being aware of the quality of the stuff we are buying [packaging &co.] and therefore make responsible choices at that moment. Rethinking the way we use and buy those over-packaged products, it is possible to send a strong message to manufacturers.
  • Reuse happens when discarded items or elements of them are used again. Examples can be seen in waste exchanges, garage sales, clothes swaps, etc.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”

  • Recycle is when garbage is separated into the different materials that can be incorporated into new products.
  • Repair means saving damaged good from landfill through repairing them. It is something we are not all any more used to do. Many of the products we buy are manufactured with an expiry date and is sometimes cheaper to buy them new than to repair them. It’s a concept that is just ethically and morally wrong, don’t you think?
  • Recover is defined as any operation that diverts waste materials from the waste stream and transforms them into a product with an economic or ecological benefit. However, recovery mainly refers to the operation of energy recovery from waste. 
  • R….. What’s your suggestion?
  • R….esponsibility 
  • R….espect

A case study: the 3R waste management strategy in Japan. 

The Government of Japan is promoting the 3Rs to create a sustainable society, one that creates a balance between the economy and environment.

  • Reduce: reducing the amount of waste by increasing the efficiency of resource use and extending the useful life of products
  • Reuse: repurposing used items, as products or parts, after giving them proper treatment
  • Recycle: using recyclable&recycled resources as raw materials for new products

Japan has therefore embarked on the continuous development of a legislative structure geared towards  the 3Rs, with the emphasis moving towards preventing, rather than managing the waste problem.  The development of a “Recycling Oriented Economic System” has created new policies and legislation aimed at overcoming the country’s severe landfill shortage. The 3R Project is to be completed in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Elimination of hazardous chemical substances
  • Phase 2: Recycling
  • Phase 3: Green new product development

Since 2000, many laws relating to waste management and recycling have been enacted or amended. The 3R Initiative in Japan aims to reduce waste, encourage recycling, reduce barriers to trade in goods and materials for recycled and remanufactured products, and promote science and technology on these transformation technologies.  The 3R strategy was initiated by the G8 Sea Island Summit in 2004, based on the proposal of the Japanese Government, and was then officially launched at the 3R Ministerial Conference held in Tokyo, 2005. At the conference, 20 countries and international organizations discussed the importance of 3R in the context of sustainable development, agreed to promote 3R within each country and decided how to promote 3R.

In cooperation with relevant international organizations such as the OECD, the 3R Initiative seeks to:

  • Reduce waste, reuse and recycle resources and products to the extent economically feasible
  • Reduce barriers to the international flow of goods and materials for recycling and remanufacturing, recycled and remanufactured products, and cleaner, more efficient technologies, consistent with existing environmental and trade obligations and frameworks
  • Encourage cooperation among various stakeholders (central governments, local governments, the private sector, NGOs and communities), including voluntary and market-based activities
  • Promote science and technology suitable for 3Rs
  • Cooperate with developing countries in areas such as capacity building, raising public awareness, human resource development and implementation of recycling projects.

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