The 3 commandments: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, reuse, recycle – the order of those three steps is significant, because that is the priority they should each be given. Here’s why.


REDUCE: Always try to reduce your waste output first. This is mostly done by avoiding purchases which will generate waste. For example:

  • Fruit & Veg City sells glass bottles and the olive oil separately, at a refilling station. This way you can re-use one bottle repeatedly, instead of buying a new bottle each time you need more olive oil.
  • An important one we often overlook is only buying enough fresh fruit and veg that you can eat, before it all goes off – and then actually eating it! Uneaten food is probably more of a waste problem in the US than in SA, but it should still be avoided (read this and this, for the big picture). Of course, if you have too much food to eat, you can easily pass it on to someone else.
  • Shopping at Farmers Markets often allows you to buy fruit and veg that are not in polystyrene and cling wrap.
  • Having reusable shopping bags is another simple way to avoid needing plastic shopping bags each time you go shopping.

REUSE: Some waste simply cannot be avoided – so the next best thing is to find another purpose for it, rather than throwing it away. For instance:

  • Old clothing can be passed on if it’s in good condition, or else can be turned into cleaning cloths.
  • Food scraps can be used to make compost for your garden.
  • The Dowe Egberts glass coffee jars make really lovely storage containers for food in the pantry.
  • I heard of a lady who used old chip packets to create insulation blankets for geysers. This is such a clever idea, as it also helps to reduce your electricity bill. So remember to keep an eye out for unconventional and clever green solutions.

An advantage with reuse is that it also mean you don’t need to buy some of the things you would otherwise need (cloths, compost, jars, etc) – so you are further reducing your material needs.

RECYCLE: The final option comes only after you have tried to reduce and reuse as much as you can. Types of recycling include:

  • Electronic appliances can be dropped off at the big skips outside Builders Warehouse, so they can be stripped down and reused as best as possible.
  • If you want to find a drop off point close to you, for almost any type of recyclable, check out

And of course, the final step is waste that goes to landfill. The reason to try and minimize this as much as you can, is that we are running out of land to bury our waste in (as explained here). And landfills can contribute to pollution, if not managed carefully.

I found the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle philosophy only really came to life when I started recycling at home, and saw how much of my waste want to landfill and how much was recycled. This brought out my competitive streak, and motivated me to decrease my landfill waste. Go on, give it a try – do something and enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from it!


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