Reduce, reuse and recycle (R3) are the three essential components of environmentally-responsible consumer behavior. R3 is sometimes called the waste hierarchy. Here’s how that hierarchy might apply to computers:
The concept behind the first R, reduce, is that you should limit the number of purchases that you make in the first place. So, for example, you might limit your household to a single computer.
The concept behind the second R, reuse, is that you should reuse items as much as possible before replacing them. For example, it generally makes more environmental sense to update your computer rather than get rid of it and buy a new one. However, if you do replace your computer, you should ensure that it, or its components, are reused. Many charitable organizations welcome donations of second-hand computers.
The concept behind the third R, recycle, is that you should ensure that items or their components are put to some new purpose as much as possible. If your computer is not fit for reuse as is, you can donate it to one of several organizations, which will refurbish it or recycle its components.
Sometimes a fourth R is added to the three basic ones, generally standing for either “rethink” or “recover.” Rethink is sometimes added to the front of the hierarchy, meaning that we should consider our options and think about their impact on the environment. Recover, which is the last R, refers to the practice of putting waste products to use. For example, decomposing garbage produces methane gas (one of the greenhouse gases), which some landfill sites recover and burn for energy rather than letting it dissipate.