What are the 3 Rs?
Everybody in the packaging world and the FMCG businesses has heard about the 3Rs. They refer to Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and constitute important elements of the waste hierarchy. There are some other “Rs” (such as Refuse and Repurpose) but these 3 are the essentials ones when it comes to waste management.
According to the European Commission, each European generates on average 180 kg of packaging waste per year. Packaging is considered as one of the mail users of virgin materials as 40% of plastics and 50% of paper used in the EU is destined for packaging. As such the role of 3Rs becomes paramount in tackling waste and preserving natural ressources.
The principle of the 3Rs applies both to individuals, small and medium size businesses, and also corporates. Whether used alone or in combination the importance is to understand what’s behind each R and what order could generate maximum impact while reducing use of ressources.
What is Reduce
Reduce corresponds to the action of reducing the amount of material which eventually would turn to waste. The definition could be broader as it comprises reduction of ressources used in the production of materials. The easy way to look at it is the following: the less the material produced, the lesser the waste to handle! As such “Reduce” is perhaps the most important R in a proactive approach towards waste management.
What is Reuse
Reuse describes the action of multiple usage of a packaging material for the same application. The most explicit example is the deposit return scheme that was very common more than 60 years ago, and still in place in the north European countries. The advantage of reuse is to minimise the amount of ressources for the production of the same article.
What is Recycle
Recycle implies that a material is already at a waste status. It therefore enables to transform waste into value through regeneration. It is easy understandable that this action requires more or less important amount of ressources, including waste recovery and sorting prior to any modification. It is therefore considered as a resource intensif method.
Is there an order in their application?
So once the 3Rs defined, the question is whether there is an order between the 3? 🤔 A lot of articles and case studies deal with recycle, and reuse is slowing gaining in interest.
Although the prioritisation of the 3R might be business specific, the common sense suggests the following order:
1️⃣ Reduce: this is by far the most important action. It enables to have a “lean & optimised” packaging by avoiding the unnecessary! and as a consequence it contributes to generating savings…💰The principle might be easier to apply for individual users compared to consumer packaged goods.
2️⃣ Reuse: once a packaging system can’t be further optimised from a “reduce” standpoint, it’s interesting to look at whether it could be put back into use. By doing so, the resources and materials already deployed for making the packaging are then spread out over a higher number of uses (as opposed to a single use). It’s somehow extending the “shelf life” of the packaging! Obviously all packaging can’t be reused within their current design…
3️⃣ Recycle: when a packaging system can’t be reused, then recycle become the option of choice. By doing so, the packaging system generates value instead of waste. But this is resource intensive. It requires to collect, sort, recycle and redistribute the material into the value chain.
As previously mentioned, be mindful that this order might be altered by the nature, maturity and agility of each business, each case being unique and requiring specific attention.
So if you would like to have a focused discussion about your business, don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.