Living Sustainably: Three’s not enough: The eight R’s of recycling

By Ken Freestone,
For those who think recycling is difficult – sorry, but I’m about to take you from the “Three Rs” of recycling to the “Eight Rs.” And for those who actively recycle, you are going to love that we have added  five more Rs.

Americans use about 50 billion plastic water bottles each year, with less than a quarter of those recycled. Water bottles create a huge waste problems around the world.

Earth Day’s beginnings in the early 1970s emphasized the message of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.”
We’ve come a long way since those Three Rs. So I’d like to introduce you to Eight Rs, a more in-depth way of looking at how to live more sustainably with more steps to take to preserve and protect our world.
Remember the need: American generate on average 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day, and just 34 percent of that is recycled. Michigan falls behind that, at a 15 percent recycling rate.

So, more tools to fight the battle, the Eight Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Refill, Repair, Regift, Recycle, Repeat.

Recycling is the focus of the next Living Sustainably Along the Lakeshore seminar in Holland on Nov. 14.

Here’s a quick overview; learn more at the next Living Sustainably Along the Lakeshore seminar, 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 14 at Herrick District Library.

Refuse and Assess: First, simply ask if you need an item or if you could do without. Second, assess your situation; check to see if there may be a reusable or more durable replacement.
Reduce: Can you use something less often (drive less, wash less, wear more) and can you plan ahead for events or activities and research if there are ways to host your event with less waste? Planning ahead is key.
Reuse: Here is where you think about longevity of items. Can you use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins?  Can you bring a refillable water bottle instead of plastic bottles? How many reusable grocery bags can you keep in your car?  (Hint: I have about 20.)
Refill: There are more opportunities than ever to refill containers with bulk products instead of buying items with new packaging.
Repair: Can you give electronics, appliances, tools, fixtures, and so on another life? Have you seen all of the incredible repair/fix-it videos on YouTube? We also have wonderful repair shops in our area, and additionally social media outlets are great tools for asking how to get something repaired.
Regift: Really, how many wine bags, containers, gift boxes, wrapping paper do we need? Do you have extra toys, appliances, tools, art, plants that you could pass along to brighten other people’s lives?
Recycle: This is one of the last steps; recycle after you have tried the other six. But make it count! Read your recycler’s list of acceptable products and check local resources for recycling opportunities. (Check on,,
Repeat: Finally – yes, do it all over again!
 Ken Freestone is co-founder of He has worked on environmental stewardship, trails, greenways and land protection, as well as taught as a master composter, for more than 25 years.

If You Go
What: Living Sustainably Along the Lakeshore – A seminar for better recycling
When: 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 14
Where: Herrick District Library, 300 S. River Ave., Holland

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Environmental Awareness/Action: Environmental education and Integrating environmental practices into our city planning will change negative outcomes of the past and improve our future state.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.