Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Tuesday, January 22, 2013

South Africa generates approximately 108 million tonnes of waste annually, and of this approximately 98 million tonnes is sent to landfill. Organisations, households and individuals can all play a part in reducing the amount of waste that ends up in our landfill sites and reduce the impact on our environment by applying the three “R’s” of waste minimisation, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This article explains the difference between the three strategies and provides examples of South African organisations that are applying these principles.

The strategies are written in a specific order that corresponds with the effectiveness of environmental impact that can be achieved. The strategy “reduce” is the most desirable option and has the highest positive impact on the environment whilst “recycle” is the least desirable of the three as resources, such as water and electricity, are required to recycle material into a new product.


This is the most desirable option when it comes to waste management and involves decreasing production at source thereby reducing the amount entering the waste stream.  Simply put, this strategy involves consuming or purchasing less and as a result having less to throw away.   

The Corner Café, an eco-restaurant in Durban, aims to be a zero waste restaurant by focusing on minimising and preventing waste. In order to prevent food waste, the café purchases locally produced food which reduces the amount of food that could be spoiled in transit.  It also has a small menu with a limited number of meals per day to reduce food stocks.  The café reduces packaging waste by supplying cloth napkins instead of paper serviettes and using sugar pourers instead of the usual single sugar sachets. Packaging is also reduced by purchasing sugar, salt and pepper  in bulk from suppliers. 

The Corner Café does not supply disposable serviettes and straws, only reusable containers are used for condiments which reduces the amount of waste generated.


This is the second most desirable option. Reuse involves using a product again for the same or alternative purpose rather than purchasing a new product, and avoids the creation of waste. A simple example of reuse would be to reuse a glass jar for storing food items rather than discarding it.

A large scale example of reuse of waste in South Africa is the glass bottle returnable deposit system. A deposit is charged when a consumer purchases beverages in glass bottles that are returnable. This deposit is refunded when the consumer returns the bottle back to the retail outlet. Retail outlets then send the bottles back to the original supplier and they are cleaned and reused for beverages.

The term “upcycling” has been coined to refer to the process of repurposing an item of waste into a new product and giving it a new life. Crushed Lemon source old promotional banners and repurpose them into bags and other useful items. The item is reused and value is added to the initial product.

Crushed Lemon’s “Kabootal”, a car boot organiser bag is made from a reused truck tarpaulin (Image source: Crushed Lemon).


This waste management option involves extracting the valuable material from a waste item and processing this into a new product. Discarded plastic PET bottles for example can be washed, cut into PET pellets and then used to manufacture new products such as shopping bags, fabric for clothing and fibre filling for pillows.

greenABLE, a non-profit organisation, employs the disabled to dismantle, and sort printer cartridge waste into the metal and plastic components. The metal and plastic are then sent for recycling. The plastic is used by Cyclocor to make roof tiles and manhole covers. Recycling, also referred to as “downcycling”, differs from “upcycling” as the product is broken down into its various components and these materials are then melted down or chemically transformed into a new raw material which is then used to create a new product. “Upcycling” reuses waste material in its current state to create a new product.

Although recycling does help to reduce waste to landfill the process is resource intensive and should be considered only if the two other strategies reduce and reuse, cannot be undertaken.

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Amanda Botes