Six R’s Of Sustainability (Fully Explained)

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

Growing up, you probably have seen a chart of the Six R’s of Sustainability posted in schools and stores. This chart typically showed a circle with the six different ways to not strip the world of its natural resources but instead keep the world going by upcycling materials.

Continue reading the article below to find out what the 6 R’s of sustainability are and more!

Six R’s Of Sustainability

1. Rethink – Do You Really Need That Product? 

The first on the list is Rethink, if you can master this step, you will be able to follow the other ones much easier. 

However, as you may know, sustainability is not just about breaking down your cardboard boxes to recycle or tossing a soda bottle in the correct bin.

Furthermore, rethink means thinking about your purchases and what happens when it’s time to throw them away.

For example, are you only buying products that will sit in a landfill? This is an important question to ask yourself that may stop you from buying unnecessary products. 

Additionally, one of the most important steps to creating a better world is figuring out what could be done differently.  

Therefore, anytime you buy a product, it is important to keep in mind that you are potentially adding waste to a landfill.

What Products Are Recyclable?

Learning to Rethink what you are buying and throwing away is the first step to learning how to recycle. 

However, many products can be recycled, such as:

  • Cardboard
  • Glass Bottles or jars
  • Linens
  • Metals
  • Paper Products
  • Some Foods
  • Some Plastics

Furthermore, these are just the basic types of products that can be recycled. 

Of course, you can also always check the package in which the product came in because if any part of the package or product is recyclable, it will mention it on the label. 

Below in this article, you will look more in-depth into the world of recycling. 

Think Before You Buy Or Use Products

There are a few important things to think about every time you buy a product. 

Additionally, the same questions can be asked when you are about to throw a product away and those questions include:

  • Can the product be repaired or fixed?
  • Can you reuse the product?
  • Is it recyclable?
  • Is the product something you can give to someone else who will use it?

Therefore, if you are more aware of what can and can’t be recycled by rethinking your purchases, you will have less waste. 

Furthermore, instead of picking up that plastic, you could grab a metal one that can have a very long life. 

Now, this leads to the next step on the list!

2. Refuse – Do You Need All Of Those Plastic Bags?

This one may not be as well known but is just as important as the others. 

Therefore, refusing when speaking in the sustainability sense means not taking anything you will end up throwing away. 

For example, when you are getting food to go, do you need those plastic forks? Most likely, as not, many people take it directly home and then throw them out. 

So little things like this add up and create a huge amount of waste every single day.

Do You Need It?

When you are offered items that you know you have a reusable version of at home, ask yourself, do you need it?

For example, think about a world where everyone would bring their own containers for their leftover food.

The to-go containers would not need to be made, and the amount of waste that would be saved from the landfills and oceans is higher than anyone could ever realize. 

Furthermore, if the item in question will have a life of less than a day or even less than an hour, there is no point in using it.

Additionally, another huge issue is plastic bags and this is because they end up everywhere and are seldom recycled. 

However, now many stores charge for bags which urges customers to bring their own reusable. 

After all, it is a large amount of waste for something with a lifespan of about 15 minutes to end in a landfill.

One Person Can Turn Into A Million People

One person is all it takes to start a chain reaction, therefore, if the person in front of you was offered silverware and said, No, thank you, you may think and do the same thing.

Then, before the world would realize it, a common practice would be not using plastic but instead:

  • Containers that can be washed out
  • Metal utensils that last decades compared to ten minutes in your home and forever in a landfill like the plastic would do.
  • Cloth bags that can be used for groceries or other shopping trips
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As mentioned above, there are many ways to refuse products to create a better future for the world. 

However, you may be wondering if anything else can be done? That leads to the next R on the list so continue reading!

3. Reduce – Lower The Amount Of Waste You Toss

Reducing the waste that comes with making and buying a product is one thing that many companies try to do.

Similarly, many companies are also trying to go green to produce a smaller carbon footprint and you can also try and do this too.

Can The Use Of Materials Be Reduced?

This question can mean many different things, but the general meaning is there is a way to get the most out of your product while having less waste. 

Furthermore, many different ideas can be done, such as buying many types of concentrated items like:

  • Cleaning products
  • Conditioners
  • Fabric Softeners
  • Frozen Juice
  • Hand Soap
  • Laundry Detergent 
  • Shampoo
  • Toothpaste

If you buy a concentrated version of your products, you will often no longer throw away plastic containers. 

Furthermore, most of these types of products will come in a smaller biodegradable/recyclable container. 

For example, you can buy one glass jar for the cleaning-type products and keep it for years by simply dropping it in a tab or adding a concentrated liquid. 

Can You Get Away Owning Less?

If your favorite products come in big bulky packages, it may be time to change to an eco-friendlier brand. 

Furthermore, there are wonderful products used daily that don’t make a large carbon footprint.

Ways To Reduce

If you are still having a little trouble with this concept, you can reduce your waste by just doing these few simple things:

  • Buy larger containers of things compared to small ones.
  • Buy items in glass containers
  • Check to see if there are eco-friendly versions of your favorite products

Just remember that the fewer packaging materials there are on the product, the less you will be contributing to a landfill. 

Furthermore, some products may have a lot of parts but may be able to fully be recycled, while others have one piece and can’t be recycled.

4. Reuse – Can You Give The Product A Longer Life?

This is a very common step on the list as upcycling products have become very popular on social media. 

Furthermore, there are millions of ways you can reuse items and just as many items that you can reuse. 

However, it also doesn’t mean that you must reuse the items. 

It can simply mean passing a book on to another person or library where the book will get decades of love from many people. You can also use:

  • Glass containers – These are ideal as they last longer and are easy to recycle
  • Plastic – If you are going to use it, make sure that you reuse it as much as possible
  • Rechargeable batteries – There are so many companies that take batteries, but instead, those batteries are tossed
  • Reuse wood – Pallets are the perfect example when it comes to giving wood a new life.
  • Wrapping paper & gift bags – Reusing wrapping paper is sometimes difficult, but gift bags can be reused for years to come. You keep the ones gifted to you and pass them along. Eventually, ten plus people could have used it

Compost Cuts Down Waste

If you like to garden, many things can be added to your garden’s compost that will cut down on your waste. 

Furthermore, compost is such an essential step for those who want to cut down waste easily; that it’s worth its place in the garden. 

Additionally, even if you have a little flower garden, you can turn your waste into compost/soil for your garden.

Can The Product Be Used Again To Extend Its Life?

Another question you can ask yourself before you throw something out is if it can be reused to create a longer life. 

For instance, a toothbrush can be retired from your teeth but used for cleaning. If it is used for cleaning, you would be taking something that has a six-month life to years’ worth of life. 

Even something as simple as a plastic water bottle can be filled many times before needing to throw it away. 

Furthermore, there are also 1,000 uses for water bottles, so if you like DIY projects, there are endless possibilities to turn your trash into treasure. For example:

  • Bird feeders
  • Cutting off the tops to create a little herb garden
  • Hold flowers
  • Kitchen dry storage container
  • Mix something on the go, such as camping
  • Piggy banks
  • Scoop dog food
  • Water plants
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The list goes on and on for different ways to use a plastic bottle. 

Additionally, if there are many ways to reuse one plastic bottle, think of how you can reuse other products around the home. 

Can Parts Be Reused

There are some cases where a product only has one part of it that can be reused. 

Even taking a small part off and keeping it means less waste in the landfills. 

For example, you may not be able to use a whole broken couch, but can it be easily taken apart to use the cushions, turning them into pillows? 

Furthermore, these are the simple questions you can ask yourself before throwing anything away. 

Moreover, reusing items is the easiest part you can do when it comes to improving the earth.

5. Repair- Can You Fix The Product Yourself?

Repair- Can You Fix The Product Yourself?

This part of the Six R’s might be harder for some products as not everyone is an expert at fixing items. 

While it may be very easy to sew a whole pair of pants or cut them into shirts, it is not easy to fix some electronics.

A washer, for instance, if just tossed in the trash, will take up a lot of space in the landfill if it is not stopped along the way.

However, YouTube is an excellent source for those that may not be that handy as you can just follow along with an expert. 

Other items can typically be easily repaired even if you take it to get repaired, such as:

  • Tires
  • Clothing
  • Small appliances
  • Computers
  • Phones
  • Books
  • Tools
  • Furniture

Moreover, there are many ways to repurpose and repair many items found around your home before throwing them away. 

Can The Product Be Repaired Easily?

The next question you may ask yourself is how easily the product can be repaired. 

If you need to buy many supplies to repair your product, it may not seem worth it to do so. 

However,  if you know someone who can repair something much easier (already has the tools and supplies on hand), donate the product to them. 

Furthermore, someone is always there who could use the product you are getting rid of or fix easily without creating more waste.

Additionally, if repairing a product will create more waste, there is no point in repairing it. 

Therefore, recycle what you can from the product and throw away the rest. 

This will also be an eye-opening experience as to how wasteful certain products are.

What Products Can You Repair Without Help?

There is a long list of products that can be repaired easily in the home such as:

  • Cars
  • Motorcycles
  • Farming equipment
  • Medical equipment
  • Cell phones 
  • Computers 
  • Appliances

Every one of these falls under a legislated ruling called “Right to Repair”. 

This means that manufacturers are required to give you a blueprint of how to fix every problem that might come up when using the product’s schematics.  

Furthermore, with the plans and a YouTube video, you can fix anything.

6. Recycle – Turning Waste Into A New Product

Whether you know the full details of recycling or have just seen the bins when shopping, recycling is the most well-known of the Six Rs of Sustainability. 

Additionally, recycling has many forms and is called many different things.

For example, some people refer to recycling as:

  • Reusing
  • Upcycling
  • Refurbishing

All of which are not technically wrong as the recycling definition means to convert waste into reusable material. 

However, most people are unaware that a product is not considered recycled until it is turned into another product.

Recycling is good for many different reasons, such as:

  • Landfills – Reducing the amount of waste that will be put into landfills. When the waste makes it to the landfill, it is covered with dirt and more trash. It then remains until it very slowly decomposes, if it even does.
  • Save Money – When you are recycling most of your waste, you could save quite a bit of money on trash bags, replacing outdoor trash cans and the cost of having a trash pickup service.
  • Saves Trees – When you recycle paper products, they are turned into more paper products. Imagine if everyone did this the trees that would be cut down for paper would be next to nothing.
  • Slowing Pollution – When factories use old products compared to new materials, it substantially cuts down pollution.

Is There A Different Form Of The Product You Can Purchase?

If you are buying products that can’t be recycled, you may need to ask yourself what else you could use instead, as there are always alternatives. 

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For example, there are many eco-friendly brands for all of your favorite products, including:

  • Body soaps
  • Hair products
  • Household cleaners
  • Laundry soaps
  • Mouthwash
  • Toothpaste

All of which can be found in tablet or concentrated liquid forms in many stores. 

Additionally, they are all typically at a lower price if not the same so you don’t need to break the bank to live an eco-friendlier life. 

However, if there is an option to use a fully recyclable item that will cost the same amount of money, why not try a different brand. 

After all, they may surprise you and be the same as what you are familiar with using in your home.

How To Find Recycling Center Near You

Some towns do not pick up curbside recycling yet, however, many towns have areas where you can drop your recycling once a week or once a month. 

Furthermore, don’t let that simple fact push you away from recycling, as the small inconvenience can make a big impact on the future of the plant. 

Although it may seem time-consuming or frustrating at times, you will get used to it, and as mentioned above, you can create a chain reaction:

  • Your child sees this and thinks of recycling as second nature
  • Your family and friends see you recycling and realize it is not that hard
  • Neighbors see the line to the recycling drop-off and start to follow suit

Furthermore, it only takes one person to create a chain reaction of good. 

What Are the Three Pillars To Sustainability?

When talking about the Six R’s of Sustainability, it is also important to learn about the three pillars. 

Furthermore, they can give you a better insight into how you can create a better world. 

Additionally, the three pillars make up the world of sustainability.

People Or Society 

This refers to the people and workers of a business also putting in the effort to make the world a better place.  

It also refers to human health and creating a safe environment for everyone in the world. 

Planet Or Environmental

This means what is put into the world, and it is the most important part of the pillars. Companies try to put off a much smaller carbon footprint, therefore, this includes:

  • Machine output
  • Packing waste
  • Power usage
  • Water usage

If they know what their factories are putting out into the world, they can reduce it as much as possible. 

Thankfully companies are being forced to be more and more aware of what they are doing.

Furthermore, some companies have gone out on their own and taken the leap to a sustainable future. 

For example, electric delivery trucks are starting to be the norm, that’s the first step!

Profit Or Economic

Everything in life can turn a profit when there are recycling centers worldwide that create more jobs. 

Furthermore, instead of a couple of people pushing dirt over trash in a landfill, there are hundreds of people:

  • Sorting through recycling
  • Delivering the recycled material to the appropriate factories
  • Manning the drop-off sites
  • Workers in the factories that recycle

More in-depth information about the three pillars of sustainability can be found here if you are interested.

How To Practice Sustainability In Everyday Life

As mentioned many times in this article, there are several ways you can practice sustainability in your home and even in your office, such as:

  • Bringing in washable mugs to your workplace
  • Not using plastic bags anymore
  • Asking your boss to buy recycled paper and buying it for your home too
  • Reusing items around the home instead of tossing them
  • Fixing those items that you can

Furthermore, there are so many easy things that you can do around your house effortlessly. 

Although it will take a few weeks or months to really see how much you are capable of changing things around your home, you will be surprised at just how much you can actually recycle.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on whether you can recycle plastic plant pots, whether you can recycle nitrile gloves, and whether you can recycle newspaper, junk mail, and catalogs.


After reading this article, you may find that you are actually practicing the Six R’s in some ways while others are falling flat. However, in no time, you can effortlessly practice all of the steps and become a pro at recycling and creating a better future for the world as you know it.


  • Jean Richardson

    Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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