The 8 R's of sustainability and how to apply them to your life


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Do you know the motto “Reduce Reuse Recycle”? I’m sure you’ve heard of it many times! It is often used to guide people in their sustainable living and zero waste journeys. However, there are a lot more R’s of sustainability that tend to be forgotten about!

Living an eco-friendly life doesn’t only imply that we need to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Of course, these are essential and we need to do more of them as much as we can. 

But sustainability doesn’t end there. It’s way more than that. 

There are many more layers and many more actions humans should take into consideration if they want to reduce their environmental impact! 

We need to be a lot more intentional in our daily actions in a variety of spheres, and there is no be-all and end-all. 

Every little action is important!

But I think there’s a hierarchy of 8 main things that we should be doing, preferably starting from the first one, slowly progressing through it. 

This hierarchy is the 8 R’s of sustainability and here is how to apply them in your life! 

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The 8 R’s of sustainability and how to apply them in your life

1 – Rethink

A crucial point that doesn’t get mentioned enough in the R’s of sustainability is “rethink”!

By that, I mean rethinking your whole lifestyle and assessing what you would like to change and do differently.

It’s also a way to be more conscious of the things you’re doing right. 

Rethinking how you’re living your life will help you know in which areas you can become more sustainable.

Remember that no one is perfect! You cannot do everything right!

But you can still make progress and improve on your green living journey! 

So think about how you’re spending money, and if you need all the things you buy.

Get educated and learn about the impact humans have on the planet, and how it affects biodiversity. 

Which companies do you want to support with your money? Which materials or ingredients are better for you and the planet? 

Do a trash audit to understand what you consume, what packaging you can avoid, and how you can improve. 

It’s also a great time to go through your stuff and you might realize that maybe you have too much.

That it may be time to be more mindful and intentional next time you’re shopping. 

2 – Refuse

Speaking of shopping, refuse to buy things you don’t need.

Doing that will have a massive impact and reduce your environmental footprint considerably! 

Refusing can also mean not buying things when you can rent or borrow them.

Sometimes, you may realize as well that you can simply do without the thing you’re looking for. 

Take action to avoid chemicals and polluting ingredients in the things you do buy.

That way, you won’t be contributing to pollution and it’s healthier for you too!

The same thing applies to overpackaged things.

Choose the least packaged options when you can, and avoid plastic packaging as much as possible. 

Refuse to use your car when you can go walking. It will make you move your body, and it’s better for the environment

You might also want to stop supporting unethical and unsustainable companies that are contributing to global pollution and climate change. 

Say no to freebies, like free samples, leaflets, promotional pens, and t-shirts.

You probably don’t need them in your life! 

And don’t forget to refuse plastic cutlery and plastic bags, and bring your own cutlery set and reusable bag next time you’re ordering take-out! 

3 – Reduce

As human beings, we all need to consume some things.

But to be more sustainable and reduce waste, we need to reduce our consumption. This is so important!

Everything has an impact!

By reducing our consumption, I mean the consumption of everything.

Take action to conserve water at home.

Stop wasting energy and start saving it.

Plan your meals with what you have in your fridge and pantry to avoid food waste. 

Invest in quality products to avoid waste in the bathroom.

Use less paper at home and at work; it will help save so many trees!

To “reduce”, you might also want to try and apply minimalism to your day-to-day life!

You will be consuming fewer things and fewer clothes, and you’ll have less junk cluttering up your space.

This means that you’ll also have less to maintain, fewer things will get broken, and you’ll generate less waste. 

And you’ll experience so many other benefits of living minimally!

Trying out minimalism is a great way to "reduce", which is one of the 8 R's of sustainability.

Ask yourself questions before buying something and stop impulse buying; your wallet will be thankful for that!

You’ll be saving so much money!

Also, don’t forget to use things up at home before buying a replacement. 

Another amazing way to reduce is to stop buying single-use products, such as plastic water bottles, paper napkins, or disposable coffee cups.

Invest in quality reusable items that will last and that you’ll be able to reuse for years!

For instance, you might want to get a stainless steel water bottle or reusable napkins

4 – Reuse

This one is one of my favorite R’s of sustainability! I love getting creative and finding new ways to reuse things! 

If you want to live more sustainably and give zero waste a try, reuse items you already own as much as you can.

It will extend their useful life which means that less waste is created and fewer new things need to be produced!

That way, you are not contributing to the depletion of natural resources, or to our global waste problem. 

For instance, you can reuse glass jars and bottles to store food or drinks in them.

Reuse cardboard boxes for moving or shipping stuff.

And don’t forget about the wrapping paper you kept next time you give a gift! 

Another simple way to reuse is to wear clothes more than once before washing them.

That way, they’ll last a lot longer, you’ll save water and energy, and you’ll have less laundry to do!

That’s a great way to make your wardrobe more sustainable

If you don’t have a use for something that is still usable, rehome it.

For example, you can give away the clothes your kids no longer wear to your friends’ children.

You can also donate books you’ve read to the little free libraries that are scattered around neighborhoods, or to someone who’ll enjoy them.

You could even make some money by selling stuff to other people!

Second-hand shopping is also one of my favorite ways to reuse things that already exist.

Buying things second-hand has so many environmental benefits!

Read more: 14 things to look for at thrift stores

5 – Repair

A hundred years ago, people used to take care of their things and repair them as soon as they broke.

Unfortunately, very few people still do this nowadays. This is such a shame!

Things are more and more affordable, but this comes at the cost of low quality.

Most items break so easily these days!

And the problem is that we live in such an abundance of cheap things that many people don’t find it’s worth their time to repair their items.

While sometimes, we cannot repair things because of planned obsolescence, there are many things we can fix without much effort! 

Learn to mend holes in your socks or your t-shirts; it is such a useful skill to have!

Consider bringing your worn-out shoes to the cobbler to see if he can extend their life for a bit.

Or fix a broken toy with some glue to save it from the landfill. 

Get creative and try to repair everything you can when something breaks!

There are many tutorials online to learn how to fix most things around the house.

Where I live, there are also “repair cafés” where people can bring broken things and get help to fix them for free. You may have one near you as well! 

Repairing stuff not only saves you so much money, but it’s also one of the best things you can do for the planet! 

6 – Repurpose 

Repurposing is similar to reusing.

But instead of reusing something for its initial purpose, you’re giving a new function.

This often comes with DIYing and modifying items, but not necessarily. 

A key way to live a more sustainable life is to upcycle things that you cannot use anymore into new things that you may need!

Doing this will improve your creativity, and I swear, you’ll be so proud of yourself at the end!

Not to mention that you’ll save many things from the bin! 

If you have an item you don’t know what to do with, go on Pinterest and look for useful and fun ways to upcycle it. 

For instance, if you have a chipped mug, turn it into a planter for your seedlings!

I also love using glass jars as vases, and old t-shirts as rags! 

Repurposing old things is so important among the R's of sustainability!

If you have an old piece of wood, you could create beautiful home decor for your walls with paint and a bit of imagination.

Old socks are amazing dust removers, and you can transform an old sheet and turn it into a few reusable cotton bags! 

7 – Recycle

If you cannot refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, or repurpose an item, check whether you can recycle it! 

Recycling isn’t ideal: many materials like paper can only be recycled a handful of times, and we need to add virgin material to create a new one.

It also takes a lot of energy to recycle! 

So it’s not perfect, but it’s still better than sending a recyclable item to the landfill! 

For instance, did you know that metal and glass can be recycled infinitely?

So if your local recycling center takes those two materials, take advantage of it! 

But for recycling to be efficient, check online what your local recycling facilities can recycle. 

And remember to follow the rules!

Because if you put something that cannot be recycled in your recycling bin, it contaminates other recyclables.

Your entire bin content might end up in the landfill!

So don’t put non-recyclables in your recycling bin out of guilt, in hope that they’ll get recycled.

Because they won’t! 

Also, don’t forget to rinse your dirty recycling before putting it in the recycling bin.

Bear in mind that greasy cardboard or paper isn’t recyclable. And tiny items that are smaller than your hand aren’t either! 

You may also want to look for clothing recycling programs in your local area.

That way, you will know where to bring your worn-out clothes! 

8 – Rot

Rotting is a synonym for composting, which means turning organic matter (food for instance) into nutrient-rich soil. 

Organic matter represents around one-third of our bins, so composting your food scraps is an amazing way to reduce waste in the kitchen!

It’s also a way to give back to the planet what it gave us! 

If you’ve never done it, there are so many guides online to help you understand how to create compost; look it up! 

Composting will not only be beneficial for your garden, but you will also be giving back nutrients to the Earth.

This will improve the quality of the soil, and slow down erosion! 

Not to mention all the waste you are preventing from going to landfill! 

Food doesn’t decompose well in landfills and it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

That’s why it’s so important to compost! 

Having a composter in your garden is ideal for that, but you can easily start an indoor compost in an apartment too.

You can then check if gardeners or community gardens in your areas can use it.

I also know that some cities offer compost pick-ups too, so find out if that’s the case in your city. 

Those were the 8 R’s of sustainability!

I think these are the main actions we should be doing to help the environment and contribute to saving the planet! 

We could add even more R’s to this, like regrow, reflect or regift. But these could be included in some of the 8 R’s of sustainability I wrote about in this blog post. 

If you are trying to live a more eco-friendly life, remembering and applying these principles will make a massive impact!

These 8 R’s of sustainability cover the basics of what we should be doing so you’ll know what to do to reduce your environmental footprint! 

Of course, you cannot do everything!

At least not at once.

And do not even try to, because you’ll get overwhelmed and risk losing motivation! 

There are so many things, so many daily actions and habits we can incorporate into our lives to protect the Earth! 

Try to do your best and know that every little thing you do to live more sustainably has an impact!

And it will create positive change in the long run. 

Which R’s of sustainability are you trying to incorporate into your life at the moment? Which are you already applying to your lifestyle? 

Don’t forget to leave a comment to tell me!

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  • Sage

    This is so much better than the classic “reduce, reuse, recycle” motto. My partner is an environmental engineer who works on environmental planning projects so we’re constantly trying to incorporate more sustainable practices into our life. Thank you for sharing your ideas! You’re making a bigger difference than you think!

  • Mary

    Your article is very helpful and useful to me. Thanks for your great ideas and advice! Especially the statement that paper needs a lot of energy and a high level of energy for the recycling process, I think, is important to be mentioned. Sustainability in general will take part in all of our lives in the future, and the best moment to start thinking about is now.

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