The popular and well-known concept of "3R" refers to reduce, reuse and recycle, particularly in the context of production and consumption. It calls for an increase in the ratio of recyclable materials, further reusing of raw materials and manufacturing wastes, and overall reduction in resources and energy used. These ideas are applied to the entire lifecycles of products and services - from design and extraction of raw materials to transport, manufacture, use, dismantling/reuse and disposal. Some achievements and examples of the 3R concept and waste minimization:
Japan's impetus for developing a 'Sound Material Flow Society' is derived from three interrelated causes -  the shear volume of wastes being generated,  rapid industrial development, and  the limitations placed by Japan's small land mass. This law, and its constituent individual laws and plans, lie at the core of Japan's 3R Initiative.
The Concept of a Sound Material Cycle Society
(Source: Ministry of Environment, Japan)
A 'Sound Material Cycle Society' is defined as a society in which the consumption of natural resources is minimized and the environmental load is reduced as much as possible. The basic principles of the Initiative call for "the realization of a society in which sustainable development is possible with less environmental impact; prioritization of handling products, wastes and recyclables; and ensuring appropriate material cycle in nature."
The Initiative has enabled the refocus of existing environmental laws on material flows, and enact new ones to fill gaps in existing laws. The basic structure is outlined in the "Fundamental Law for establishing a Sound Material Cycle Society", and in two general laws on waste management and recycling - "Waste Management and Public Cleansing Law" and "Law for the Promotion of Utilization of Recyclable Resources". The rest of the package of six laws relate to specific issues such as containers and packaging, household appliances, construction materials, food, vehicles etc., including green purchasing.
Awareness raising among the general public, as well as the private sector has been strongly built into the initiative, in order to facilitate broader and deeper participation, particularly at the local level. Political leadership and strong commitment has also been mobilized to drive the initiative forward - from the prime minister and the national government ministries, down to prefectural governors and city/town mayors. The traditional collaborative relationships between industry on one hand and research institutions/universities on the other, have been further mobilized for Initiative. Several 'Centers of Excellence' have been set up to research on themes drawn from the Initiative. The Initiative places rightful emphasis on monitoring and evaluation. It outlines the kinds of indicators to be used and targets to be achieved. The key driver in the Initiative is 'Material Flow Accounts (MFA)' which looks into resource productivity (inputs), cyclical use rate (throughputs) and final disposal amount (outputs)
Direction of Future Work
The success of a '3R' initiative will largely depend on the right mix of policies and programmes implemented at the local level. As the Japanese experience has shown, the key spheres of action will revolve around governance issues such as laws, legislation, rules and procedures; education and awareness building issues, targeting stakeholders in the public and private sectors, but also communities and consumers alike; technology issues, to ensure that industrial, manufacturing and market activities and technologies used have a minimum impact on the environment, and produce the least amount of wastes possible; and financial issues, focusing on subsidies and taxation to facilitate action in the right direction, and to discourage unsound practices.
Ultimately, the life cycle of a product in itself should guide the action necessary to development and implement a comprehensive 3R Initiative based on integrated waste management systems: