Waste management: what are the “3Rs”?
The “3Rs” in waste management
According to a World Bank report, global waste production is expected to increase by 70% by 2050 if nothing changes quickly. It would represent up to 3.4 billion tons of waste per year, compared to nearly 2 billion in 2016. It follows a simple logic: the more we consume, the more waste we generate. This reality is not without consequences for our health and the planet. Faced with this fact, this is vital to rethink the life cycle of products with a double objective: to use materials as much as possible while generating a minimum of waste. In this dynamic, the “3Rs” strategy prevails.
The “3Rs” strategy: reduce, reuse and recycle
The 3Rs strategy puts forward a waste management hierarchy that follows three main steps. First, reduce waste at the source, focus on reusing products as much as possible, and recycle materials.
We all know the adage: “the best waste is the one you don’t produce.” Acting at the source by adopting responsible consumption appears to be one of the most effective solutions. It allows us to reduce the amount of waste while preserving raw materials. To do so, we can rely on borrowing or renting or choose rechargeable or repairable products or products without unnecessary packaging.
To prevent products (but also materials or substances) from becoming waste, this is possible to extend their useful life. It includes reuse which involves (or does not) checking, cleaning, or repairing. Once more, there are many ways to give these items a second life: donation, resale, reconditioning, and upcycling.
When products reach the end of their life cycle, recycling appears to be the best solution compared to landfilling or incineration. It consists of recovering and treating waste materials to reintegrate all or part of them into the production cycle from which they came, replacing a new raw material. In other words, each waste product becomes a resource that can be recovered, therefore contributing to the circular economy.
To date, only 19% of waste is recycled or composted worldwide, according to the World Bank (1). Often considered as a universal solution, recycling still encounters certain limitations: separation of materials, loss of material or quality, and environmental impact, which slows down its development. In this sense, it is not easy to find responsible recycling channels but also efficient and profitable.
What other options beyond the “3Rs” management?
There are, of course, variations on the “3Rs” concept that are just as relevant and environmentally friendly. Some actors add other steps in this waste management hierarchy, such as:
- Reject, rethink or redesign
It involves creating a zero-waste system by banning single-use products’ design, sale, or purchase. This step is to be positioned at the first level of the waste management hierarchy.
It refers to transforming all organic waste into natural fertilizer for the soil. This notion is often associated with recycling materials for all other waste.
It includes any operation whose main result is to obtain a useful end from the waste. In addition to recycling, it also includes energy recovery and reprocessing waste into materials for fuel or landfill operations.
This “3Rs” strategy and its variants advocate optimal management of the life cycle of products, therefore of the resulting waste management. This concept, adopted by many organizations and legislators, promotes responsible consumption of resources and contributes to reducing pollution for a sustainable future. It is up to each actor to question their waste management.
(1) The World Bank, What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050