5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

5 Rs Of Zero Waste

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What are the 5 Rs of zero waste, and why are they important in solving rising waste problems?

The 5 Rs of zero waste are: 

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

In this article, I will go through each point, and give you examples of how you can apply them, and why you should.

In the end, you can find a short FAQ section.

Now, let’s begin!

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

The 5 Rs of zero waste:

Zero waste is a philosophy, an ethical, economical, and efficient GOAL, that encourages all products to be reused and no trash to be burned or sent to the landfills or the ocean.

By applying the 5 Rs of zero waste, you will be closer to the goal of producing almost zero trash.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the 5 Rs of the zero waste lifestyle:

1. Refuse

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Refuse

The easiest thing you can do is to refuse the things that you don’t need and create unnecessary waste. This includes:

  • Single-use products – Always have reusables with you, such as a bag, cutleries, water bottle, etc. Refuse and say ”no,”‘ to unnecessary, wasteful stuff like plastic straws, bags, cups or cutlery, paper for wrapping food, napkins, receipts, etc.
  • “Eco” bioplastic straws – Nothing that is single-use can be considered truly sustainable. So, refuse “biodegradable” plastics, and other things. Bioplastics look like regular plastic, so it often treated that way.
  • Freebies such as stickers, pens, brochures, visit cards, etc. – If someone gives you a business card with useful information, you can take a picture with your phone.
  • Junk mail – Put a sign saying that you only want ”Addressed mail only” or you can even return or contact the sender.
  • Unsustainable businesses -Rethink if you want to support huge corporations, companies, or restaurants that use single-use plastics, and have unsustainable and unethical practices. Consider supporting small local companies, and brands.

2. Reduce

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Reduce

To reduce and decrease your consumption, learn how to stop buying impulsively, and try to be mindful of each decision, even if it is small.

This can be anything – clothes, souvenirs, plastic-wrapped food, cheap plastic-made stuff, electronics, etc.

Consider selling, donating, repairing, recycling & composting things that you don’t need.

Then, think about previous consumption patterns, and figure out what made you buy certain things. This will help you to decrease your future consumption by:

  • Eliminating the activities that lead to over-consumption
  • Being more mindful and making more conscious decisions in the future

Additionally, to reduce and lower your waste, look for the following alternatives:

  • A farmer’s market where people don’t wrap everything in plastic
  • Bulk shops from where you can get your nuts, grains, and pasta
  • Second-hand stores for some awesome clothes, or electronics, when needed
  • The last one is one of my favorites: learn how to make various DIY goods (shampoos, deodorants, toothpaste, food goodies that you can’t find without plastic packaging, etc.)

3. Reuse (+repair)

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Reuse

This one is all about reusing, repurposing, and repairing things as much as you can.

Even if you have to purchase something that contains plastic packaging, find ways to reuse it.

I have an article with 24 ideas & ways to repurpose plastic containers.

Additionally, you can first repair things, in case they get broken (this can be putting back a button from a shirt, or fixing your phone instead of getting a new one).

Another thing is buying second-hand. This is another simple yet powerful way to “reuse” and be more sustainable.

Lastly, since you can’t reuse everything endlessly, you can consider switching some unsustainable or disposable things for reusable, eco-friendly, and long-lasting options.

A few great examples include (+links to Amazon):

Related post: 142 Zero Waste Products: Ultimate Beginners List of Zero Waste Swaps

4. Rot

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Rot

The 4th option is composting your food scraps and other organic materials like used paper bags or tissues, dirty pizza boxes, wooden toothbrushes, cotton, etc.

By doing that, you will create nutrient-rich fertilizer for your plants or garden.

Composting is essential because food waste that decomposes in landfills releases methane.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps 86 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

There are a few options when it comes to composting:

  • City composting – This is the easiest one, but not everyone has this option. Some cities give you compostable bags for organic waste and provide bins for your food scraps. Then they compost them for you.
  • Apartment composting – Great option for indoor composting, even in small apartments! You can choose between 7 different composting methods.

5. Recycle

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Recycle

This final option is about recycling what we can’t refuse, reduce, reuse, or rot (compost).

Recycling is amazing in theory, but in practice – it kind of sucks (especially plastic recycling).

That’s why the best thing is to put most of your time and effort into refusing, reducing, reusing, and composting (rot).

Once you start prioritizing the other Rs, you will be pleasantly surprised that there shouldn’t be much left to recycle.

However, until then, you should still separate your trash and make sure that you try your best to recycle.

Look at my Recycling category to learn more about what you can & cannot recycle.


Is recycling considered zero waste?

Zero waste means not more but LESS recycling.

The point of zero waste is to reduce your TRASH to almost nothing.

This is because we can’t rely on recycling since it is not an optimal solution.

It requires a huge amount of resources and energy; worldwide, it is inefficient, and the recycling rates are very low.

How does zero waste help the environment?

Zero waste has plenty of benefits for the environment.

It aids in producing less air, land, and water pollution, and it helps save energy, resources, water, and landfill space.

It encourages a shift from our linear consumption habits into more circular, sustainable ones for Earth’s preservation.

By reducing, reusing, and recycling, you can reduce your waste, save energy and dramatically decrease your carbon emissions.

If you are more interested, find the benefits of a zero waste lifestyle here.

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

Who started the zero waste movement?

In the last 20 years, zero waste became a social movement, and it started with the term ”No Waste” expressing the goals of recycling activists.

In 1995, Dr. Daniel Knapp of Urban Ore traveled for a series of talks with governments, businesses, and citizens.

He visited major cities and talked about maximizing materials recovery and minimizing waste by reusing, recycling, and composting everything currently being wasted.

Zero waste reached a peak in 1998–2002, and in 2002, the formation of the Zero Waste International Alliance was born under the initiative of Richard Anthony.

Sum up

Zero waste is all about the 5 Rs and beyond:

reducing, reusing, refusing, redesigning, refilling, renewing, recycling, repairing, recovering, refurbishing, restoring, recharging, reselling, and composting.

I know… a lot of -Rs!

Unfortunately, plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, so most of it still exists.

That means this material will outlive all of us; honestly, this thought scares me a little.

Ultimately, keep in mind that zero waste is a journey; it is not a final goal and is definitely not about being perfect.

What matters is to start making more mindful and sustainable decisions.

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

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