Time to breathe new life into your Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


Time to breathe new life into your Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


Most of us can happily recite the 3Rs of Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, which have been part of the public lexicon since the 1970s. Despite this mantra of sustainable living, the UK still has a fundamental issue with waste, with a whopping 48.2 million tonnes of UK waste going to landfill in a single year. Here we take a look at what’s not working in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and offer some ideas to speed up change.

Creative – Insert nice visual to intro each numbered R. Eg a calligraphic R rolling into Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and then onto ‘S’ at the end.



Of course, we have to start with the oh so important Reduce. There’s a good reason for this. Even sustainable consumption is still consumption. The more we Reduce - and Refuse - the less we need to ReUse and Recycle.

The fast-changing digital world we inhabit has given us a helping hand here. The amount of ‘stuff’ used in the UK significantly decreased between 2001 and 2013 from 15 Tonnes of material per person to 10 Tonnes. Cultural switches to online, from CDs to Spotify and Blockbuster to Netflix have all played their part in reducing the physical stuff in our lives. But 10 Tonnes per person still feels like an awful lot.

The challenge remains to drastically reduce consumption in everyday life. This means a bigger mindset shift away from ownership and possession and the instant gratification of purchase towards the inner gratification of sharing and the self-satisfaction of restraint and planning. Even the most sustainable can be put to the test every Black Friday and January Sales time. How do we fast evolve our culture to be one that celebrates resourcefulness over wastefulness?

We need to start somewhere to reduce consumption. So let’s look at our everyday habits and usage and remind ourselves of the changes well within our control to make.


Public support for Reduction has step-changed post Blue Planet II in October 2017. Yet the scale of the challenge remains daunting. In 2018, the UK is expected to use 10.8 billion (yes, billion!) wet wipes, 16.5 billion pieces of plastic cutlery, 42 billion straws and 4.1 billion single-use cups and lids.

The European Parliament plans to ban some of the worst offenders of plastic pollution by the end of 2018. 40 major businesses, responsible for more than 80% of the UK’s supermarket plastic packaging, have signed the UK Plastics Pact pledging to eradicate single-use plastics from packaging by 2025.

So what’s stopping us doing more?  


Understandably, companies, governments and individuals have started by tackling the most obvious and easiest single-use plastics. We are reducing the plastics we can swap for alternatives (cutlery) and the plastics many of us can easily make do without (straws and cotton buds). These are important reductions but there are many more single-use plastics still to be tackled. The question is: how much self-sacrifice are we prepared to make?  

Let’s take crisp packets. The U.K. is the second biggest crisp consumer in Europe, munching our way through 8.3 billion packs a year. They are the second biggest polluter of our beaches with 42 packets found every 100m - only plastic bottles pollute our beaches more. They are made from plastic but can’t currently be recycled. So our snacking habit is landing 8.3 billion pieces of plastic every year straight into landfill or incineration or worse still our oceans. That’s not sustainable packaging. Is it time to follow Meat-Free Monday with Crisp-Free Tuesday?  


Get inquisitive and challenging. Ask what your product is made from, how much you need it and what will happen to it once you have finished with it. Maybe it’s something you could do without or find an alternative source?

You could start with your fruit and veg? Do you buy any that comes in plastic trays? Could you swap a plastic punnet of strawberries or grapes for an unwrapped apple or satsuma? Is there a more sustainable packing option available? Buy loose when you can. Local markets offer a great way to save on plastic.

Photo by Maria E Venuto on Unsplash

Some of the solutions you find in Reduce may require an investment of time but that could be a wonderful opportunity for more mindfulness in this crazy busy world we inhabit.



Examples now abound of people breaking everyday norms in order to reuse more. Over a third of people say they own and regularly use a reusable water bottle. Sales of reusable coffee cups increased as much as 500% in the month following Blue Planet II. Behaviours are shifting.

Yet, we want these Reuse figures to be 100% not 36% and we urgently need the shift to be dramatic not gradual.

So what’s holding us back?


Whilst millions have changed their behaviour to reuse more, they remain in the minority. We need a mindset shift. We need the purchase of a single-use coffee cup or water bottle to become an oddity, and the reusable option the norm.


You saw this coming. Your planet needs you to lead by example. Stand up, be brave and go for it. Be the leader. Be the change-maker. After all, the worst that might happen is for you to get a funny look. Think of the waste you are saving every time you take your reusable food containers shopping. Go on, we dare you, take that Tupperware to the deli counter! And if you are already leading the way on reuse, then help spread the word. Share every reuse on social media or over a (reusable) coffee cup with a friend.

As a small watch out, make sure your desire to Reuse isn’t undermining your ability to Reduce. Anyone else starting to feel like they are becoming collectors of reusable food containers and bags?  Just a handful of the former and one or two of the latter should suffice most. There’s no problem with a consumer industry developing to meet our growing need and desire to Reuse, so long as it doesn’t tip into over-drive and create yet more unnecessary stuff.



Back in 2000, only one in ten pieces of waste in England and Wales found its way into the recycling system  so we have come a long way for Wales to be the 3rd best recycling nation in the world and England to have reached 43.7% by 2016/17. Before the 2003 Household Waste Recycling Act, the provision of doorstep recycling was not even nationally mandatory.

But, despite rapidly growing awareness of our global challenge with plastic pollution, momentum has slowed. Overall household recycling increased by just 0.7% to 43.7% in England over the five years preceding 2016/17 – still a long way off the EU 2020 targets of 50%. Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland have thankfully developed faster but leave England lagging. 


Every which way we turn, packaging and recycling is a complex business. Overly complex packaging made of multiple materials or unrecyclable materials cause confusion, contamination and landfill. Recycling labels can feel like a minefield requiring a PhD to navigate. Even WRAP’s introduction of the ‘On-Pack Recycling Label’ (OPRL) in 2009 didn’t seem to solve the riddle. We face a network of complexity in our recycling systems. Over 300 different UK recycling systems exist – no wonder we are confused!


Take a stand on products you buy that come with unrecyclable parts and demand sustainable packaging. One group of recycling crusaders were so incensed that their crisp packets couldn’t be recycled as part of their household recycling that they started posting them back to the manufacturer, one by one, through Royal Mail post-boxes. The result claimed by campaigners: Walkers will launch a nationwide recycling service for all brands of crisp packets from December 2018. So it seems those who ask, may well get.

More and more brands are adopting WRAP’s newly improved On-Pack Recycling Labels, making it easier to get to grips with what waste goes where. Assertive, sustainable consumption makes a real difference. Get into the groove of checking your back of packs for recyclability. And remember to challenge manufacturers if it’s non-recyclable. Your voice can be heard and will make a difference.

What about utilising the power of the Refill? City to Sea is an organisation whose vision is for the world’s waterways and coastlines to be strewn with sticks, sand and seaweed, not plastic. In their quest, they have launched Refill.Org to keep the nation more hydrated and less plasticated. If all the City to Sea UK Refill Stations were used just once a day it could reduce our consumption of plastic by 5 million plastic bottles. Individual actions with global impacts. 

For the campaigners amongst you, why not write to your local MP asking for a standardised UK recycling system? At the time of writing, a Petition exists to create a UK wide waste and recycling system but with not enough signatures secured to get a government response or have the petition considered for Parliamentary debate. Make your voice heard.

Creative – ‘S’ logo as number 4


With so many years spent on the ‘Rs’ maybe it’s time for an ‘S’? A shift towards a more Shared community and lifestyle could deliver many solutions currently sought by Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

The idea of ‘Tool Libraries’ has been around since the 1970s and has been growing in popularity in recent years. Categories that require higher purchase outlays but lower frequency of use lend themselves particularly well to community sharing. And so the sharing mindset is now revolutionising holiday rentals (think Airbnb), car ownership (heard of Zipcar?) and commuting (take a look at Carshare).

When one person no-longer has use of good materials, why not share them with someone who does?  It is a rewarding experience for the giver and receiver. Hubbub and Mothercare partnered for Gift A Bundle to re-share 65,000 pieces of baby clothing to 6,500 families nationwide. 

We can all look for more ways to Share. Alongside environmental benefits, a more shared lifestyle can also unlock social benefits in a world that has become more individualistic and isolated.


We’ve been working on this for some time…..

REDUCE:  More concentrated formulas have enabled us to reduce on packaging, transport weight and water usage. We launched our first concentrated laundry detergent over ten years ago and have kept innovating ever since. Mathieu to add more stats on Concentrated formulas we can add here

RE-USE:  This has proved a tricky nut for us to crack. Refills will be a brilliant way for Seventh Generation to reuse packaging and reduce waste. Sadly, as we are new to market in the UK, this is a part of the plan that we are still working on. Sustainable packaging is really important to our environment and therefore it’s really important to us. Watch this space.

RECYCLE: We are proud to be able to say that all our packaging is widely recyclable and 100% Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR). We are thereby helping to encourage a healthier recycling system by buying and using the outputs of the recycling process. By using PCR we emit 80% less greenhouse gases compared to the use of virgin fossil fuel plastics.

Seventh Generation supports WRAP’s On-Pack Recycling Labelling system and features this simple and consistent label on all packs to help make it easier for Brits to recycle more.


It’s clear we need to consume less packaging and recycle more to really achieve a model of sustainable living. The UK has step-changed its recycling capabilities in just two decades, but it has not been enough to keep up with the mass of waste our on-the-go, fast-paced lifestyles generate. Let’s keep challenging and inspiring each other to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Share more, for the sake of the next seven generations.

Edie (2018) Plastics and packaging: The UK’s ‘waste mountain’ in charts.Available at: https://www.edie.net/news/5/The-UK-s--waste-mountain--in-charts/(Accessed: 6 November 2018)

Patrick Collinson and Adam Vaughan / The Guardian (2016) UK consumes far less than a decade ago – ‘peak stuff’ or something else?Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/29/uk-consumes-far-less-ons-crops-energy-metals-average-material-consumption (Accessed: 15 November 2018)

Henry Bodkin / The Telegraph (2018) Make-up use makes Britain Europe’s number one cotton bud polluter. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/24/make-up-use-makes-britain-europes-number-one-cotton-bud-polluter/ (Accessed: 26 October 2018)

Josh Gabbatiss / The Independent (2018) UK businesses make world-first pact to ban single-use plastics. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-ban-uk-business-pact-pledge-single-use-a8322156.html (Accessed: 26 October 2018)

Henry Bodkin / The Telegraph (2018) Make-up use makes Britain Europe’s number one cotton bud polluter. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/24/make-up-use-makes-britain-europes-number-one-cotton-bud-polluter/ (Accessed: 26 October 2018)

BBC News (2017) Seven charts that explain the plastic pollution problem. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42264788 (Accessed: 26 October 2018)

BBC News (2017) Seven charts that explain the plastic pollution problem. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42264788 (Accessed: 26 October 2018)

Statista (2018) Ownership and usage of reusable water bottles in the UK. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/831927/ownership-and-usage-of-reusable-water-bottles-united-kingdom/ (Accessed: 26 October 2018)

Rebecca Smithers / The Guardian (2018) UK retailers see rise in sales of reusable coffee cups. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/11/uk-retailers-see-rise-in-sales-of-reusable-coffee-cups (Accessed: 26 October 2018)

Friends of the Earth (2016) Recycling Bill success: How we got the UK recycling. Available at: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/about-us/recycling-bill-success-how-we-got-uk-recycling (Accessed: 6 November 2018)

David Rhodes / BBC News (2018) Recycling rates fall for 14 million homes in England. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-43197454 (Accessed: 31 October 2018)

David Rhodes / BBC News (2018) Recycling rates fall for 14 million homes in England. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-43197454 (Accessed: 31 October 2018)

Harry Cockburn / The Independent (2018) Walkers Crisps introduces recycling scheme amid outcry over packaging waste. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/walkers-crisps-recycling-packaging-plastic-environment-petition-a8570606.html (Accessed: 6 November 2018)

City to Sea (no date) Find Water on the Go. Available at: https://refill.org.uk/ (Accessed: 15 November 2018)

UK Government and Parliament (2018) Petition: Create a UK wide waste and recycling system. Available at: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/224494?fbclid=IwAR31d7idAnCtmlrE-R_bdPPnFfWPtJzfWdEDoE1QsxRjNjycOuDpvKVZf-g (Accessed: 15 November 2018)

Mothercare (no date)  #GiftABundle with Mothercare & support local families this Mother’s Day. Available at: https://www.mothercare.com/gift-a-bundle.html (Accessed: 15 November 2018)

Seventh Generation

Telling stories with the goal of building a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations and beyond.

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