The 3 R’s of the Bible

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle … and more!

We’ve all heard of the 3 R’s for reducing the waste we produce: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Some enterprising people have even come up with six R’s! How about a list?

The waste hierarchy triangle, from the top: Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, re-gift, recycle and rot.
The 6 R’s Waste Heirarchy: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Re-gift, Recycle and Rot.

The actions at the top of the triangle will save the most resources and are best for our beautiful planet. Lower down the triangle are things that save less of our resources. So, if we want to help our planet, and our fellow citizens (as the Bible asks) then we should be trying to aim as much as possible for the top layers of the triangle!

Waste should be the last resort!

Do not pollute the land where you are. Numbers 35:33

“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees …”  Revelation 7:3

Anything sent to landfill effectively forces production of new materials. This produces a lot of pollution, including greenhouse gasses, with all the mining, transport and industrial processing that is involved. In addition, anything biodegradable will produce methane as it rots in landfill. This is a powerful greenhouse gas, but most of it is not captured and escapes to warm the world.

Can we step up?

A fun man walking up some steps - representing the steps we can take to reduce our waste: The steps are labelled Recycle, re-gift, repair, reuse and reduce.
Steps to reduce our waste and our impact on the planet.

I like to look at the usual triangle another way though, as steps. The bottom step, recycling, is probably the easiest and is where most of us start. The challenge is, can we move up the steps? We will have a look at these steps and what the Bible says about them (the links with the Bible get stronger as you go up the steps!) Hopefully that can help us to make some changes.

1. Recycle – what we can’t reuse

The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Jeremiah 18:1-4 (NLT)

A picture of a potter at work in his traditional shop, making a pot on a potters wheel, with other pots on the wooden table. This one is in Turkey.
A potter working at his wheel, if it goes wrong he will recycle his clay. WePhoto by Iraj Beheshti on Unsplash

The potter didn’t throw away the clay, as God doesn’t throw us away when we’ve made a mistake, he re-formed the clay into something new and he will lovingly help us to change if only we let him.

Recycling can be a good way of preserving resources when we absolutely have no other use for an item, and can save quite a lot of energy compared to just throwing things into a landfill. But the next steps are even better.

2. Re-gift or re-home

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ Luke 6:38 (NIV)

Giving possessions that you no longer need to others (providing they really want them) can be another great saver for the earth. Try local free and for sale sites, or local charity shops, swapping with friends or simply giving things to a friend in need.

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 1 Timothy 6:18 (NIV)

If we share more of our possessions, there is less need to make more which means less pollution. Could you share books, tools, even cars with friends? Could your church set up a community library, not just for books but infrequently used tools, get creative and think about what you can lend?

3. Renew or Repair with a little TLC

Six times in the Bible, it talks about a promise of a New Heavens and New Earth. But did you know that the word used here can also mean to renew! That creates, for me, a beautiful picture of God lovingly restoring and renewing the earth that he created.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. Revelation 21:1 (NIV)

Mending a mattress protector on my sowing machine.
I love the sense of satisfaction I get from repairing things. Photo by Author

It can be really rewarding to take something that is broken or looking a little tired and breathe new life into it with a little glue, varnish or paint or a few stitches here and there. Is there anything, that with a little TLC could be renewed, repaired, in your house, to save something new being made? Try looking online for repair ideas or look for repair shops near you or even a local repair café.

4. Reuse / Repurpose – everything we can

Lazy people don’t even cook the game they catch,
    but the diligent make use of everything they find.
Proverbs 12:27 (NLT)

After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” John 6:12 (NLT)

Solomon and Jesus both agree that it’s important that nothing is wasted. Reusing things in the form they were originally made can save a great deal of energy, much more than recycling can. My grandparents were great at reusing things, my Grandmother made her own jams, reused her stockings to tie up plants in the garden, Grandad used old bits of wood to build and create things in his shed and I loved his shelf with jam jars attached underneath for him to store his different sizes of screws and nails.

Nowadays we live in a culture of convenience where whenever we want something we head to the shops (or the internet) to find something new. It’s far better for God’s creation if we can find something we already have to use for that project. I love to visit our zero-waste shop to refill jars and pots without having to create new waste … Now I wonder what other uses I can find for plastic bottles?

Why not have a look at our Re-use database? It’s got over 100 ideas for re-using or re-purposing items and other ideas for buying or making re-usable items instead of single use throwaway items. New ideas are being added regularly. You can browse for ideas or even add a new idea of your own – all ideas are really appreciated!

5. Reduce – to only what we do need

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NIV)

God warns us about seeking to gain more and more things. We know we need some things to be happy and secure, but will the latest gadget, or another designer outfit really make us happy? In reality, this happiness rarely lasts for long, whatever the advertisers may tell us. Actually, having less things and a less cluttered life can create a happier place than always striving after the latest gadget. Learning to appreciate the little things in life can be very cathartic! And if we aren’t striving after these things it can leave us more time to enjoy what we already have.

The bright lights and advertisements of a street in Tokyo, busy with shoppers.
Can we resist the lure of the adverts to buy, buy, buy, and only buy what we actually need?

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15 (NIV)

At the end of the day, the greater our income, the greater our carbon footprint will be. Every pound or dollar has a carbon footprint! Reducing the amount of excess we buy can really reduce the waste that we produce. Howabout, planning meals and making a shopping list from the plan to cut down on food waste. Buying things with reduced packaging. Shopping locally and using local services can significantly reduce the amount we travel which will have a great effect on local pollution and potentially our own health. The opportunities are endless if we stop to think about it.

6. Refuse – what we don’t need

 “You must not covet your neighbour’s house. You must not covet your neighbour’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.” Exodus 20:17 (NLT)

It’s so easy to see what other people have and become more and more dissatisfied with what we don’t have. God doesn’t only warn us about coveting like this because it leads to feelings of jealousy which is unhelpful for us; it can also lead to us wanting more and more things which uses more of the earth’s resources and produces more pollution. In richer nations we consume far more of the earth’s resources than it can currently sustain, so we need to cut back. How can I do that? Thankfully there’s an antidote to this consumer culture:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)

God asks us not to desire more and more things, but this comes with a promise: He will be with us in those moments, he is sufficient to provide for our needs and we don’t need all those other things. I now often deliberately ask myself “Do I really need that?” Often that’s enough and I can turn away, I can usually avoid those aisles in the supermarket that I don’t really need to visit. But sometimes I need to come to God and ask him to help me with those feelings of jealousy and desire, and he will.

My dog Milo, laying nicely with his biscuits in front of him spelling out Leave it. He's being such a good boy!
A lovely trick that my dog does! – can we be as good as Milo and leave those temptations in order to help others?

It is very clear that God wants us to look after this home of ours, it’s also very clearly in our interests. Can you step up for the planet? What more can you do to preserve God’s wonderful creation?

Our little man on his steps again as a reminder of the steps we can take: Recycle, re-gift, repair, re-use, reduce.

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