The 5 R’s of Zero Waste


I’ve been blogging on here for a while now, I think it’s been about three years. The starting point of this whole green and eco-positive lifestyle has been a zero waste lifestyle. It’s the thing I started blogging about at first, but over the years it has evolved into a whole different lifestyle. But, a zero waste lifestyle is still very important to me, as I thrive to live zero waste and spread this message. Recently I did a lecture about a zero waste lifestyle at my local library, talking about the base of a zero waste lifestyle. While I did that, I realized I had never talked about it on here. So, today I want to tell you more about the philosophy of zero waste, the 5 R’s.

The 5 R’s of zero waste

I am not entirely sure, but since Bea Johnson is basically the founder of the Zero Waste Movement, I think she has created the 5 R’s too. As you’re trying to reduce your trash, these R’s will be your guidelines! They have a specific order and so if you follow them, you’ll end up having no trash at all! The 5 R’s of zero waste are:

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

1. Refuse

Since this is the first step, this will save you the most trash. There are so many things you can refuse! I personally refuse almost everything, except for food, clothes and personal hygiene products. Other than that, I don’t buy much and I certainly don’t take things if they’re free. The main focus when it comes to trash will be single use items. Coffee cups, take away food containers, plastic bags, straws, plastic bottles, anything. That is the case when it comes to trash in the form of single use items, but also for products, clothes, basically anything.

I made the mistake to think that buying something new is not a form of waste, I thought waste was supposed to be visible. But, the biggest environmental impact we cause is from the stuff we purchase. Learn to say no. A big help for me is the farmers market, since most of our households waste comes from food packaging. Reuse anything you already have (that can be an old plastic bag lying around, a cotton bag or a backpack, it does not really matter). Also, making things yourself can reduce a lot of waste, like making your own deodorant. Those are two major steps, more tips on specific types of ways to refuse you can find all over my blog.

2. Reduce

It’s so important to realize how manipulative marketing is. Almost everything in our economy is based on buying and selling things. We are constantly made to believe we need all those things. New clothes, 1001 kitchen supplies for specific tasks, even more beauty products, you name it. We really don’t need as much as we think, that’s why minimalism is such a popular thing these days. Simplifying your life makes everything so much easier! And cheaper too. So, if you don’t refuse something, think again. Do you really need this thing? I tend to wait 30 days before buying something I think I want, and most of the time I forget the whole thing.

It’s usually an impulsive urge, and practicing to think again really takes time and practice. And if you then think you really need something, like for instance, shampoo, use less (for some people water only works too!). Do you really need to wash your hair every day? Or is once a week enough? Again, you are probably made to believe every day is the norm, but it’s really not necessary. This will also mean you will get rid of a lot of things, I am still in the proces of minimizing my life, and I’ve been into this for 3 years I think. Don’t think of that as waste. Get rid of your stuff in a responsible way, give it away or sell it. It would be a waste if it were sitting in your home while nobody uses it.

3. Reuse

Reusing really aligns with refusing. I mean, okay, you refused the new plastic or paper bags at the farmers market, but what will you use then? Anything you have! An old backpack, a cotton bag, a paper bag you still had, a plastic bag you’ve used 1000 times? It does not matter here, but it’s important that it’s something you already own. Don’t buy new flashy items just to be ‘zero waste’, that’s not the point, I’ve explained more about that here. And sure, if you then decide you really need a reusable cup or a lunch box because you don’t have one, buy it secondhand. That is basically anybody else’s waste you are saving.

But don’t overdo it! I thought I needed reusable straw at first, since I was refusing the single use ones, but you can drink without any straw, you know. So, you don’t need every reusable item. Some items can even be multifunctional. I sometimes use my water bottle to store food scraps which I will take home to compost. This category also has a lot to do with repairing too. If one of my socks has a whole in it, I mend it. Fixing something means you can use it longer, which is sustainable. It will prevent things from going to landfill or to recycling (which also takes a lot of resources).

4. Recycle

Now, many people see recycling as the solution to the whole waste problem we have. I hate to break it to you, but it’s not. Recycling is a great thing, but it’s not everything. Paper, aluminum, steel and glass are 100% recyclable, but plastic is not. Plastic downcycles and so in the end it will go to landfill, I’ve explained more about that here. That’s the reason I try to eliminate plastic all together and I do let in other sources of waste sometimes. Plastic will never lead us to a circular economy, everything else will. That does not mean we should buy all our products in paper, aluminium, steel or glass. Sure, it’s an option if you can’t find it waste free. Because, waste free would be best. Then we don’t need to recycle.

Last resort

Recycling requires a lot of resources in the form of energy use, waster use, labour use, distribution. I think we can use those things for other purposes. This is the reason why reuse is at 3, before recycling. It’s better to reuse a cotton bag for all your groceries than to use a paper bag every time and recycle it each time. So basically recycling is your last resort. That’s why we should try to have reusables that are recyclable. At one point the product is going to break and so then you can recycle it.

If you buy a reusable plastic bottle to refuse plastic bottles, you’re still going to end up with something in landfill. If that bottle is aluminium, you can recycle it when it breaks. But again, that does not mean you should buy anything new. I use a reusable plastic bottle, because I found it at a secondhand store. It was basically already waste which I am saving from landfill, which is way better than buying new.

5. Rot

Anything you can’t recycle, you can rot/compost. That means you’ll have zero waste at the end! Personally I compost all my food scraps in a worm bin. The worms eat the food scraps and turn it into a fertilizer for my garden. Hello zero waste!

Yours sincerely,

10 thoughts on “The 5 R’s of Zero Waste”

    1. Thank you, I’m glad to hear that! So many countries and states are banning the plastic bag, and I think it has a such a big positive impact. Climate change is a related issue yes, but I think we should stay positive and do what we can. I am confident we can do this all together! Right?

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