What are the 5 R’s of Zero Waste?

What are the 5 R’s of zero waste and how can you use them to achieve your sustainability goals?

What are the 5 R’s of zero waste and why are they important? Living a sustainable lifestyle means making fundamental changes to everyday actions so that day in and day out you can do more to support a healthier environment. The 5 R’s of zero waste are great, simple steps to keep in mind every day when evaluating whether or not to get an item. Every single item you use comes with a certain environmental cost. For some, the cost comes in the production of materials. For others, it comes in the shipping costs and transportation methods of getting that item from point A to point B.

One of the biggest threats that any item poses to the environment is a factor that many people are quick to overlook when it comes to their daily lifestyle, and that is the way in which the item is going to be discarded. Once you are using this item, will it still have a role to play in your home or will it immediately go to a landfill? All these factors work together to determine how sustainable any given item or material is.

It isn’t possible to change the world overnight, but making small changes one day at a time can build up over time, and before you know it small changes can start a snowball effect. Implementing healthier habits about how you treat the items surrounding you and how you treat the environment can help you to evoke real change in the world by reducing how much waste you produce.

How to Reduce Waste: the 5 R’s of Zero Waste

There is an old saying that is frequently shared among lovers of nature, when one is going to spend a day immersed in nature: Take only memories; leave only footprints. This is such a great way to think about how to approach life at large, not only your interactions with nature.

Reducing waste has one of the most immediate positive effects on the environment because it creates such a valuable turnaround, shifting a net negative in terms of the amount of waste you are producing into a net positive. Reducing waste starts with a simple wish to be more cautious in how you treat the environment. There are five steps that go with this desire, and these are the 5 R’s of zero waste:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

1. Refuse

The 5 R's Refuse

The first step to reducing waste is refusing to use products that produce waste in the first place. This is arguably the most important aspect of the 5 R’s. Focusing on this actionable goal is something that you need to do from the start of the day and do your best to follow through with it. While shifting to zero-waste may be difficult through “refuse” alone, this first step can make a huge difference in your ability to control your environmental footprint.

In every given situation that you find yourself, ask yourself if there is a way that you can refuse to use a certain type of item so that you can reduce your environmental impact.

Get started with cutting down on waste by saying no to the following types of items:

  • Refuse freebies and collectables that you don’t want. Don’t take a free item from a store or restaurant just because it is free. If a promotional item isn’t something that you will use, leave it for the next person.
  • Refuse to wrap your produce in disposable plastic. Get a reusable produce bag, which can help to keep your produce fresher for longer, as well.
  • Refuse to take business cards and flyers that you don’t absolutely need. In many situations you can take a picture of those items instead which will leave the paper copy for someone else.
  • Refuse to use straws and shopping bags. These are items that many stores are working on cutting down on as well, so reusable options are probably already on your radar. In the United States alone, 500 Million plastic straws are thrown away daily!

2. Reduce

When you can’t make a change to completely avoid an item that will be disposed of, do your best to think of ways the item can be re-used. This will help to reduce further waste and will give the item a second life. This is why reduce is considered second in the 5 R’s.

Here are some additional ways that you can reduce waste:

  • Reduce how many clothing items you have by purchasing quality items and avoiding fast fashion websites that will sell you cheap clothes that fall apart easily.
  • Reduce how much fast food you buy by bringing leftovers for lunch. This will also reduce how much waste you are producing in the evening by making a point of finishing the food that you already have.

3. Reuse (and Repair!)

When possible, do your best to reuse items that can be used again so that you can avoid disposing of items too quickly. Making a shift away from one-time use items to items that can be reused will make a big difference, as well.

  • Start simple by getting a reusable water bottle, a reusable coffee cup, and reusable shopping bags. Having these items on hand will help you to avoid getting single-use items for those purposes.
  • Reuse batteries by getting a battery charger, which can help you to avoid having the purchase new batteries for small toys and other appliances.
  • You can further reduce your amount of waste by reusing old items like bikes, tools and clothes. If these items are broken, taking the time to repair them can give them a second life.

4. Recycle

If you realize that you are truly done with an item, but the item can still serve a purpose—just one that is outside of your immediate needs.

  • Recycle old clothes by donating them to a thrift store or Goodwill store that is near your home. When clothes no longer fit you but can still be worn, they can find a second life with someone else.
  • Recycle larger items like kids toys and bicycles by joining an online swap group. You can find many of these on social media websites, like Facebook.
  • You can recycle items like toothbrushes, pens and even binders, even though these items can’t be placed in your weekly recycle bin. Contact a specialty recycling service for support with this.

Read about some of our other recycling tips.

5. Rot

The 5 Rs Compost

Finally, if you are truly done with an item and it can be reused or recycled, then do your best to make sure that it rots. Composting is a great tool to reduce how much waste you get, especially waste from food items.

Here are some tips to consider when getting started with composting:

  • Invest in a composter that you can keep inside of your home. This will prevent items from starting to smell as they rot and will make it convenient for you to keep up with your composting needs.
  • An alternative to a traditional compost bin, especially if you have young kids who you want to engage in the process, is to try a worm farm. The worms help to make sure that everything breaks down properly and prevent the bin from smelling bad.

Following the 5 R’s of Zero Waste can have a hugely positive impact on the environment. Making these changes in your home and your life requires making changes to simple habits. These small actions can add up to make a huge difference in helping you reach your goal of producing zero waste.