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

5 Rs Of Zero Waste

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

The 5 Rs of zero waste are: 

  1. Refuse what you don’t need.
  2. Reduce what you do need.
  3. Reuse, repair, repurpuse, and get reusables.
  4. Rot (compost) food scraps & organic materials.
  5. Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse.
5Rs Of Zero Waste

In this article, I will go through each point, and give you examples of how you can apply them in your life. Let’s begin!

The 5Rs of zero waste:

1. Refuse

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Refuse

Refuse anything that you don’t need, that can create easily unnecessary waste. This includes:

  • Single-use products – Including plastic straws, bags, cups, or cutlery, paper for wrapping food, napkins, receipts, etc. Bring reusable alternatives with you.
  • Freebies such as stickers, pens, brochures, visit cards, etc. – If someone gives you a business card or a card with information, take a photo. 
  • Junk mail – Put a sign saying that you only want ”Addressed mail only” or you return or contact the sender if the sign doesn’t work. 
  • Unsustainable businesses – Avoid supporting 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

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

This can be anything – clothes, souvenirs, food, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, electronics, etc. Consider selling, or donating things that you don’t need.

Then, think about previous consumption patterns, and figure out if you have some unsustainable ones. 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

3. Reuse (+repair)

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Reuse

This one is all about reusing, repurposing, and repairing things. The goal is to first try to repair things, instead of tossing them immediately and replacing them with something new.

Another simple yet powerful way to “reuse” and be more sustainable is to buy second-hand. And because you can’t reuse everything endlessly, or find everything second-hand, choose reusable, eco-friendly, and long-lasting items, when needed. A few great examples include (+links to Amazon):

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

4. Rot

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Rot

Composting is essential because food waste that decomposes in landfills releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps 28 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

By doing that, you will create nutrient-rich fertilizer. You can compost your food scraps and other organic materials like used paper bags or tissues, dirty pizza boxes, wooden toothbrushes, cotton, etc.

Where I live now, I get compostable bags and I have containers where I can separate my food waste. This is a great option, but not every city offers it. An alternative is to start apartment composting, which is a great option, even in small apartments. You can choose between 7 different composting methods.

5. Recycle

5 Rs Of Zero Waste: Recycle

Lastly, it is 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).

We can’t rely on recycling because 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.

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 see that with time, there won’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.

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.


Zero waste has plenty of benefits; it helps 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.

Zero waste is a journey; it is not a final goal and is definitely not about being perfect. What matters is to become more mindful of what can we do, and whenever we can, to take more sustainable choices.

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