The classic waste hierarchy (the 3Rs of reduce-reuse-recycle) is aligned with sustainable living by focusing on tackling wasteful consumption in our daily lives. The ‘reduce’ part of the 3Rs – waste prevention and avoidance – centres on reducing waste upstream, before it is even produced.
However, there’s an opportunity to develop a separate categorization for ‘reduce’ solutions to include innovative actions on, for example, sufficiency (deciding how much is enough) and redesign (making low impact the default). We can move away from defining this as a waste problem to one of enabling meaningful lives.
A fresh approach to ‘reduce’ solutions isn’t about creating a new hierarchy with materials reduction as the ultimate goal. In some cases, adding more material (such as more insulation in a wall) can lead to needed reductions in other areas (such as lower energy consumption). Instead, it’s about revealing the rich array of solutions that support reducing global footprints within ecological limits. This includes interventions aimed at shifting time-use patterns to transform daily social practices in ways that are crucial for sustainable living.
A critical aspect of sustainable living is reducing, on a global scale, the quantity of materials and energy consumed to within the limits of ecological systems.