Column: Dr Laurel Spooner introduces another ‘R word’ to benefit our environment

EVERYONE knows about the three Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle.

These are the key ways to limit the damage we do to the environment of the only home we have - the one the generations to come will inherit from us.

But thanks to Covid threatening our very existence, everyone is talking now about a new R - rethink.

So now we have a fourth which, of course, has to be the one to come first.

For some people, life can be one headlong rush and with so many immediate Covid-related problems to overcome, rethinking, reducing, reusing and recycling sounds daunting.

Actually, it isn’t because it soon becomes an attitude and automatic part of your behaviour.

I soon realised it saves both time and money to buy fewer well-designed products that last and reuse and repair some of the ones I have than buy another frustrating seven-day wonder from China.

I’d like to add another R word, as a guiding principle - “release”, the act of liberating something you don’t use for someone who will.

The average household of four is said to have six times as much stuff in it now as it would have done in the 50s.

So much of our clobber and clutter is something someone else could be using.

If we need the money we can put it on ebay or Gumtree and if we don’t we can donate it to the charity shops which should reopen soon.

Then everyone, plus the environment, is a winner.

We can’t avoid rethinking our lives because Covid has caused too much disruption and poses too great a risk for us to go back to where we left off.

What an opportunity we have been given.

While we are pandemic-proofing our world, we should also end the ways in which we have been trashing the planet.

Covid’s ability to harm us is insignificant compared to that of global warming.

Let’s look at every new proposal governments come up with and ask how does this measure up for sustainability?

It’s got to do both - preserve us from viruses and the planet from us.

Sustainability is not an easy concept.

I think of it as being the reason I need a coffee and biscuit at 11am. Give me that and I can carry on.

It’s a really massive subject and hard to define but from what I understand there are three ways sustainability is measured.

For an economist it means an activity which generates sufficient profit, to an environmentalist one which does not damage our natural resources and for a sociologist one which does not harm people’s quality of life.

This seems over-complicated when I am choosing a pot of yoghurt.

Instead, I have a quick read of what is on the container.

When we buy any product or service we can’t be 100 per cent sure how truthful the claims are but the recyclable symbol, the information that the material is made from recycled sources, words such as sustainable, ethical, organic, responsibly sourced and Fairtrade are generally a good sign.

But remember that the manufacturer is telling you only part of the story. For instance, up to when they packaged an item for transport to the point of sale.

If it is coming all the way from China, is in non-recyclable packaging (or you don’t recycle the recyclable packaging) or its very difficult to dispose of the product at the end of its life that spoils the story.

My advice is don’t get hung up over the complexities.

Let’s rethink about the stuff we have and all the stuff we think we need and reduce, reuse, recycle and release as much as we can.

And when we buy the next thing make sure we read the label!