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The 5 R's of Zero Waste

We’re all familiar with the popular Three R’s slogan of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.  However, many people believe it is time this roughly 50 year old saying is updated to include two more “R’s”: Refuse and Repurpose.

Where did the Three R’s come from?

Most people believe it all started during the growing environmental movement of the 1970’s when many Americans were demanding greater attention be paid to address pollution and improve water quality.  

Under the initiative of a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, it is estimated that roughly twenty million people came together for the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. 

This led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  It is believed that ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ was born out of the EPA’s efforts to address the growing waste problem. (source)

Adding ‘Refuse’ and ‘Repurpose’ to the Mix

The Three R’s have been very effective in encouraging people to use their  recycling bins.  However, it has not been as effective in focusing attention on the first step...Reduce waste altogether!  Recycling was always meant to be the last step taken, when we can’t reduce or reuse something first.

So let’s take a look at how we can easily adopt the updated 5 R’s in our homes.

Refuse + Reduce + Reuse + Repurpose + Recycle


Step one is to ask yourself “Do I really need this?” before making a purchase or bringing something into your home.   

Little things like refusing plastic shopping bags and drinking straws are a great way to start.  However, applying this to everything from the latest fashion trend to everyday gadgets and gizmos can help cut waste off right at its source.


Step two is to ask yourself “Can I buy something less wasteful?” when you need to make a purchase. 

This can be achieved in many different ways. Easy to adopt examples include:

  • Choosing products that have less packaging
  • Purchasing gently used items 
  • Reducing food waste by creating meal plans


The goal of step three is to replace as many single-use items in your home, bit by bit, with reusable alternatives.  Some of my favourites include reusable food covers instead of plastic wrap, washable cloths instead of paper towel, and glass mason jars for home and personal care products (shameless plug for The Sustainability Shoppe :)


Step four makes me think of my grandmother, as she got really creative in finding second and third lives for everything in her home.  Before disposing of something, try to find a way to alter it for another use.  A couple of easy things to try are:

  • Repurpose stained or ripped t-shirts by cutting them up to use as cleaning cloths
  • Keep scrap paper to reuse for note taking and shopping lists


The last step, if there isn’t any alternative, is to recycle everything you can.  

  • Recycle paper, plastic, metal, and glass
  • Compost food scraps
  • Recycle all electronics

Have you incorporated the 5 R’s in your home? 

We’d love to hear from you.  Let us know how you’ve Refused, Reduced, Reused, or Repurposed items in your home.

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