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The 5 R’s of a sustainable life and zero waste living

Written by: Hendrik

Category: Zero Waste, News

Updated on:


The 5 R's

You may have heard about the 3 R’s, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. But the world is always changing, and now we have the 5 R’s. That’s right. We added some more to the equation. Feel free to come up with your own R’s, and if you are a pirate, you will have plenty of Arrrs… Oh, that was a bad one. Anyways let’s get into it:

The 5 R’s of Zero Waste start by refusing things. Whatever you still have, you can probably use and reduce to save resources. Substitute disposables for reusable options, and instead of chucking everything, see if you can repair it! If you still have rubbish left over, separate what little trash you have left and make sure to recycle. Compost what’s left and let it rot.


Refusing is the first, and by far, the most effective step you can take. Now, that means if you are being offered promotional materials, say “no, thank you.” Luckily nowadays, we have the opportunity to select email instead of postal letters.

When you go shopping in your local supermarket, bring a reusable shopping bag, and avoid buying fruit that is wrapped in excessive packaging. Just simply refuse it. I know it requires changing old habits, but that’s why you are here, right?

the 5 R's
The 5 R's of a sustainable life and zero waste living 7

You need to find a different supermarket and start shopping at your local grocer or in a bulk food store in most cases. It takes a little bit of preparation, but you got this.

  • Not only are you supporting your community and putting your money where it helps.
  • Improve your family’s health. Buying local foods has numerous health benefits for your family.
  • Improve the local economy.
  • Know the people behind the product.
  • Keep your community unique.
  • Better customer service.

A good question to ask yourself is, “Can I make this myself?”

I was surprised at how easy it is to make your own chocolate.

We are living in a throw-away society. Remember when your grandparents would hand you down their favorite watch? Those things had emotional value on top of a quality-made product.

What happened? Everything is just designed to be thrown away.

Did you know that the first light bulb invented by Edison is still glowing!?! You can visit it in a museum. They employed hundreds of people to work on lightbulbs that break after a couple of months of usage. Surreal right?

Often products that are made from cheap materials don’t last very long. I remember the proud face of my grandpa when he handed me his favorite watch. That was a special moment.

Now, most items are built for quick disposal, and they come with a significant environmental footprint. Buying better quality items makes more sense since you will look after them more. Yes, it might take a little more out of your pocket, but it will also last for life. The emotional value is what makes the pen or the watch more precious.


the 5 rs reduce

Reducing the amount of waste one creates is easier said than done. I used to look into my fridge and be shocked by the amount of plastic packaging in there. It took some real adjusting, but it worked. We had to do our shopping at the local bulk food store, and to my surprise, some of the items were even cheaper. The big win is that you are putting fewer chemicals into your system when you buy organic.

It comes down to the right questions that you need to ask yourself.

Do you really need three pairs of Nikes?

Do you need to buy a new set of skis every year?

We are producing around 340 million tons of plastic globally each year. That number is so huge it is hard to put into perspective. Sadly less than 10% is being recycled.

Perhaps the old sled in the shed can do with a little tweaking rather than buying a new one. It requires a little bit of creativity, and you realize that you can actually give a lot of items a second Life.

For example, I was planning on upgrading my computer because it was getting pretty slow, and the battery life wasn’t that great anymore. So I could have bought a brand new one, but ultimately there wasn’t much wrong with this one. It needed a new battery for around $100, and it needed a bigger hard drive and some other disk thingy that I got from eBay for another $50. Now it’s like a new computer, a 2011 MacBook Pro, surely the latest model is quicker and better but mine is fabulous, and it runs again like a dream.

Or take your wardrobe, for example. Because I have moved around a fair bit, I only came to Canada with two backpacks. Now, I own one big winter jacket, which is actually one of those rain jackets/winter jackets, and yes, it is made from synthetic fabric. Yeah, you can’t be perfect, but you can stop being wasteful. The rest of my wardrobe is a couple of jeans and a couple of jumpers. If I can, I buy items that are made from natural fibers and not synthetic ones. But it is bloody hard to find some decent rainjackets not made of synthetic fibers.

Related: What are Microfibers? 3 Solutions to Plastic Pollution.

Related: 31 Days to Zero Waste Challenge | Second Hand Shopping

Know when I look into my bathroom, it used to be all plastic bottles with shampoo and body wash, and I’m only a man, so imagine a woman’s bathroom with creams and the things they slap on their faces. Everything needs to be packaged in a beautiful Pinky freaking package…

But let me tell you, I have found great alternatives for shampoos and toothpaste/brushes and other bathroom items that even a zero waste man should have. Especially the Razors. They are rad.


the 5 rs reuse

Reusing things is also in the category of repairing something. Like I mentioned earlier, why don’t just fix your old sled or, you know, that old surfboard that’s in the corner? It may just need a little bit of ding repair, and it’s all good again.

What about disposables? You buy items where you throw half of them away. You might as well throw your money away because at least then your impact on the environment will be small unless it’s plastic money…

Here’s the list of reusable things that are easily replaceable:

  • The biggest offender, the water bottle, PET bottles. Not only are you paying four times the price for what is, in most cases, normal tap water. But you are also putting yourself at risk of drinking water that contains microplastic. Plastic leaches into water, especially when it has been warmed up by the sun or has been sitting on the shelf for an extended period. It really is a no-brainer to have a high-quality water bottle made from stainless steel or glass.
  • Plastic bags — bring a tote bag with you when you go shopping. It’s that simple. Just throw a couple in your car and a tiny one like this in your handbag.
  • Have an alternative straw to the plastic straws if you still need to suck…
  • Disposable razors — have an electric shaver or, my favorite, a safety razor in the bathroom.
  • Tissues – cotton handkerchiefs.
  • Paper towels — use cotton cloths or towels that can be chopped up and repurposed.
  • Tea Bags can be made from nylon (which is a form of plastic). Use loose tea and a strainer or a French press instead.
  • Please don’t buy one of those silly Willy coffee pad machines. Yes, they are convenient. But each brew also releases the chemicals from the plastic pod into your coffee. Mmmh and the waste — use a stovetop espresso machine, way better.
  • Cling wrap can easily be replaced by beeswax wraps. Make them yourself by clicking here.

Buying reusable products is more sensible in many terms. It is what the ZeroWasteMan stands for and the most fun one of the 5 r’s.


the 5 rs recycle

This is the last option. As I said, less than 10% is actually recycled. Recycling is mainly too expensive. Filtering through all this mess is costly, and then you need to clean it and sort it and grind it and heat it and and and. It is way cheaper just to make virgin plastic, sadly. This is where our society has failed the planet, but we are changing that here, right?

The story about recycling, in short, is that companies were creating all these throwaway products—containers for food and bottles for drinks. People started throwing it out, and it started to litter our cities and nature reserves.

To stop littering from happening, the recycling scheme was born. Rather than making the company responsible for the “trash” they were producing, blame it on the consumer to clean their act up. As we know today, it didn’t work.

“Recycling is a failing business”

says Tom Szaky from TerraCycle

Glass and metal can be melted and reused over and over without losing quality. In fact, there is still 2/3 of aluminum in circulation today. Plastic can only be “downcycled” every time.

Meaning a plastic bottle that used to be clear and pretty. Is now being turned into a sweater or a shoe. Often recycled plastic is used to make park benches and floor mats. This is clearly not a recycling solution. We are producing too much of this stuff every day.

Related: 4 Reasons why you need a guppyfriend!

More than 60 million plastic bottles end up in landfills and incinerators every day – a total of about 22 billion last year – container-recycling

They don’t biodegrade there. They only break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastic.

Have you heard the term microplastics? Well, I’ll explain all about it in this article.


And last but not least, we have rot. Food scraps and biowaste go here, into your compost bin. Now what if you live in the city? You may not have a garden or compost. Most municipalities have green waste bins, but some don’t.

In the section for Food Saving Apps, I made a list where you can search for compost in your area. Sharewaste is the App you can download for free here.

Check for local compost places and perhaps make some new friends too. No, not with the worms, real people. Make sure you don’t throw peel off the little stickers from the fruit. They are most likely from plastic and shouldn’t end up in your compost.

let it rot

If you have a garden, then a worm farm is an excellent way of dealing with your food waste. Not only do these little critters help you get rid of your food waste quickly, but they also produce worm juice (what they pee and poop), which is an exceptional fertilizer for your garden.

Tip: Don’t overdo it on the fertilizer it’s pretty potent stuff.

Then I have just come across this cool way of composting if you live in an apartment. It’s called Bokashi composting. Please read it here👇

Related: The Ultimate Short Guide To Composting.

I hope you learned something new today. This should cover most of the stuff I know about the 5 R’s. If you have any more ideas or suggestions, don’t hesitate and leave me a comment below.

Photo of author

Hendrik Kaiser

I've studied biology and lived for 3 years on an off-grid permaculture farm. I love kitesurfing and keeping my body healthy and fit. Hence, I care so much about keeping our environment clean and being as zero waste as possible. Being a zerowasteman is a superpower everyone has inside of themselves, and I want to teach you how you can unleash it.

10 thoughts on “The 5 R’s of a sustainable life and zero waste living”

  1. One of our school’s advocacy is the adherence to 5 Rs and plastic solution. Our students, even the little kids are actively taking part to a cleaner and waste free environment. We have different types of waste bins, every classroom has a recycling box, we don’t bring plastics inside the campus, kids bring seeds to be planted in our eco park, everyone has their own tumbler and we have this program called stuff it challenge. Whenever they accumulate plastic from candy wrappers, chips, sachets, they stuff it inside the bottle until it full. The school then collects all the bottles and send it to a non government organization which uses these bottles as material to build a house. I wish I can show you some pictures. It gives everyone in our school community a purpose to help the homeless by saving the environment.

    Articles like this should be shared and read by everyone. It takes a lot of awareness so people can finally realize that it is essential to save the environment now. I will share this to my colleagues during the departmental meeting and see what more we can do. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Amazing, thank you. I am actually in the process to create a talk for schools and inform the children because they are the future and most of them actually already know what’s going on. But perhaps they can educate their parents. Sounds like a pretty cool school, if I may ask; where it is?

  2. This is pretty good with the new R’s. I think it is quite important thank we recycle. That’s not really something one can put up with everytime but consistency is key. Of all the r’s, I don’t think I’ve ever really heard of the rot. It’s really cool to see that we can actually use our waste food to better the plants around us. I’d definitely get that app, I want to have helpful to the environment too.

    • Thanks, Henderson, please go ahead and grab the App. Beware though that recycling doesn’t really work. It’s only 9% worldwide that is being recycled. See it as a last resort. Cheers

  3. I am totally about reducing and reusing, recycling…..arrrrr, generally being a pirate.  Sorry, I had to as your joke made me literally laugh out loud.

    I never use plastic bags at the grocery store and the majority of my clothing is actually used – a simple wash and it is all good to go.

    I am also a big fan of trading services for items I may need.  For example, i may trade one of my paintings for some fresh garden vegetables.

    • Haha, so my joke wasn’t too cheesy? I love that you trade your paintings for food. Did you watch the youtube clip? Hopefully more laughs in there.

  4. 5 r’s, that’s awesome! I’ll never forget the time I first heard about disposable cameras, snap a picture and then toss it.

    Its true, there is far too much waste these days in the age of waste not want not, maybe it’s job security for the bottling companies, if we could just get more people to recycle or better yet, find better alternatives like visiting the supermarket with a few pillowcases.

    How about cracking down on people who liter, then maybe we won’t find plastic soda can rungs washed up on the seashore.

    Thanks for your contribution.


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