What Are the 6 R's of Sustainability?

What Are the 6 R's of Sustainability?
Photo by Sigmund / Unsplash

I am sure you feel confident with the three R's of sustainability. We all know we should ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ but there are more R's that you may not know. It turns out that ‘Rethink’, Refuse’, and ‘Repair’ are also important pillars for reducing your waste and living in a more sustainable way. In this blog I will be covering all six R's of sustainability to provide clarity and why each one is of equal importance.


Supermarkets are designed in a way to tempt us with chocolates near the tills. Re-thinking is reviewing your buying and consumption habits and making alterations for the planet and your bank account.

man sitting in the top of the mountain
Photo by Anthony Tori / Unsplash

To apply "rethink" in practical terms let's review our clothes shopping habits. With 52 seasons of clothes a year it can be easy to splurge on clothes but do you need more clothes? Spend time looking through your wardrobe, create outfits using what you have then assess do I need to buy more clothes. A concept called Project 333 wants to tackle our excessive wardrobes. The challenge is simple: to only wear 33 articles of clothing for the next 3 months. According to the challenges; clothing, accessories, jewellery, outerwear, and shoes count towards your number. However, exceptions include wedding rings, underwear, sleepwear, in-home loungewear, and workout clothing. 

Here in the UK, we send 300,000 tonnes of clothes to landfill. More shocking is data suggesting 10,000 items of clothing being sent to landfill every five minutes, equivalent to £140 million in value every year. Clothes Aid states that 700,000 tonnes of clothing to recycling centres, textile banks, clothes collections and charity each year. WRAP wrote that 700,000 tonnes CO2e could be saved through people changing their clothing care habits, perhaps we could all consider our own habits when buying new.

Most of the R’s in the list all revolves around the mind-set of you as an individual and the company or business that create the products for the consumer. The aim is to consider how our actions such as buying products affects the environment and others. To assist our decision making consider the following, Do I really need this? Where does the product come from? What will happen at the end of its life? Can I do anything differently to lessen my negative impact?

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The second 'R' is about refusing to pay money for goods that would end up generating a large amount of waste or a big carbon footprint. This can be achieved by refusing to buy from corporations for ethical reasons or refusing items that are given out freely. Freebies such as pens are made from plastic and it can be easy to collect handfuls of them. However I have seen some changes with bags containing seeds and paper based products.

person in brown long sleeve shirt covering face with hand
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At this point we have began to rethink our habits, and this step puts our ideologies to the test. For example it can be hard to say no to freebies however, we all have to power to say no to things that would be wasteful. Consider are the free items of use, some stalls might give a free branded pen, I have also seen free power banks and reusable cups.

Before making a purchase try and refuse. There is a saying which says that we can vote with our money. While this does not apply with free items we have the power as consumers to refuse items which do not meet our certifications. Knowing what to refuse takes some research to educate ourselves and form a plan. I found The Ethical Consumer a valuable tool to decipher companies and their subsidiary brands. While most of their content is paywalled they have a good selection of free guides and an email list. Outside of their guides look for accreditations; for example is the product vegan, cruelty free or organic. Perhaps you may wish to start smaller and see if the packaging is plastic free, or the produce is fair trade, otherwise refuse where possible. Typically, the most sustainable item you have is the one you already have.


Reduce is the first part of the 'reduce, reuse, recycle' we have engrained. Reduce is about lowering the amount of items we have. Going from 10 to 5 beauty products for example will generate less waste.

sprite plastic bottle on table
Photo by Nick Fewings / Unsplash

The message is simple, try and reduce what you use, natural resources are being depleted at record highs as marked by Earth Overshoot Day. Being aware of what we consume is vital when it comes to reducing our consumptions. To help reduce our impact, consider the packaging of products. Is the product available to be bought in bulk or packaged minimally or not at all. Though reduction is not always about physical waste, spending less time in the shower reduces the water we consume.


Investing in reusable alternatives to single-use products is a habit that is worthwhile maintaining. Wether it is as simple as reusable shopping bags or moving to refillable cleaning products as opposed to plastic packed products. This helps to save plastic heading to a landfill.

a basket of bread
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Reusing jars is fairly common, though there is a point when you have too many jars, though some people may disagree. While some jars can be plain and feel boring they are great for storage in the kitchen, stationary or where ever you think. You could put fairy lights inside a gin bottle perhaps.

We have looked at rethinking and changing our mindset when thinking about buying something new. We also want to consider what goods do we currently have. An example is when I moved from liquid shampoo to bars of soap I used up all the liquid shampoo. I did not want to waste a product that I had bought with my money even if the product was not as effective as the new product for my hair. Products that are disposed of before their end of life create more waste and pollution. Before disposing of an item could it be cleaned, refurbished, repurposed or donated. Bags are a common household reusable product however you may wish to consider coffee cups, water bottles, cutlery and straws. Though only buy reusables you are going to use, if you do not regularly use a straw do you need a reusable one?


Repairing goods allows a second lease of life, whether it is due to wear and tear or an accidental breakage. While not every item can be easily fixed guides online might be able to assist the process. In some cases someone else might be able to repair the item, in our case a neighbour of ours is able to repair and alter clothing to fit.

person knitting beige garment
Photo by Rebecca Grant / Unsplash

Online groups might be available to join where you can source repair centres to take broken goods in the hopes they can be fixed by an expert. Perhaps if you are able to repair items skilfully you could try and assist those in the community who may appreciate this service.


If all else has failed, disposing of something sometimes has to be done. This is why our last ‘R’ is for recycling on our list! 

litter signage
Photo by Gary Chan / Unsplash

To ensure you are not wish-cycling (the process of putting an item in the bin hopes it can be recycled) it is important to understand what can be recycled and where. There are smaller acts of recycling that can be done around your home which have more of a visual impact. Water can be recycled for plants or creating a compost heap.

Recycling unfortunately is a system which is broken, here in the UK local councils can accept and deny items to be recycled. This creates confusion as items in one borough might be accepted while they are not elsewhere. I would not be surprised if the UK is not the only country where this practice occurs. Recycling stops waste going into landfill or finding ways to harm the environment and animals such as ending up in our waterways and oceans. Recycling normally consists of paper/card, plastic (however, not all plastic can be recycled), glass and metal. All of these can be processed and reused in other products. Supermarkets and shops may also have their own recycling schemes for batteries, electronic waste and some types of plastic.