It is commonly believed that the original use of the term was by Sir William Curtis in 1825. However, there is no evidence to support that this was the first use of the term. It is also popularly believed that the third “R” originally referred to “Reckoning” which apparently meant the ability to perform mathematics in one’s head (i.e. without paper/pen).
However, I suspect you may be thinking of a more recent adaptation of the phrase, which refers to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Thankfully, this use of the three Rs actually uses words that all begin with the letter R. Unfortunately, I cannot locate any reference to the first use of the term in this context.
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