A shift towards sustainable consumption: discover the 5Rs of zero waste


June 5, 2023


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5Rs of zero waste

Recycling is a well-established habit for most of us, and it’s also a good basic eco-friendly practice that ranks fifth in the “reverse pyramid” of the 5Rs. This is to say there are plenty of other ways you can transform your habits to make them a bit more sustainable and move closer to a zero-waste lifestyle. Not only that, but these small everyday actions can have even more of a positive impact on the environment. In this article, we take a little dip into the world of zero waste to discuss the principle of the 5Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, rot and recycle.

In this article, you will learn more about the 5Rs of zero waste:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Rot
  5. Recycle
  6. The impact of the 5Rs

How to apply the 5Rs?

The 5R principle closely ties with the zero waste movement, which aims to reduce waste production and resource wastage as much as possible for the sake of the planet and all living beings. The idea behind the 5Rs is to spur all of us to reflect on our consumption habits and become aware of the impact they can have on the environment. Five Rs mean five different sets of solutions – and a whole range of small actions we can take on a daily basis to reduce our environmental footprint. Although every action counts, the 5Rs are organized in an “inverted pyramid,” meaning that the actions listed first are the ones that can have the most impact on the environment.


The first area of action in terms of adopting sustainable habits is to refuse. After all, there’s no better waste than the waste we don’t produce. To refuse is to say no to what we don’t really need. In other words, this principle invites us to think before we buy, give, or accept a new product, in order to make sure it will actually be of use. It also encourages us to be mindful of our consumption patterns and to recognize that some little things we could do without actually take a significant toll on the planet once they add up. Eventually, this can help us reevaluate our habits and make a positive change. You might think of plastic bags, disposable utensils or unwanted ads in your mailbox as some of these little things. In short, it’s all about cutting back on what’s unnecessary – and never underestimating the power of small actions.


To reduce is also to cut back on what’s unnecessary, but in this case, we are looking at the amount of goods we consume. This means reflecting on our buying habits, taking stock of what we already own, and rethinking some of our behaviours. There are so many ways to approach this: re-waterproofing a coat instead of replacing it, mending a hole instead of buying a new pair of pants, borrowing a tent or stove for a camping trip, renting outdoor equipment, etc. Today, there’s a clear tendency towards overconsumption, and buying less is one way to fight against this phenomenon so harmful to the planet. As a bonus, less unnecessary buying means less unnecessary spending. In time, this can save you a lot of money, and when you actually need to buy, it can be an incentive to invest in high-quality goods made to last for many years.


Reusing begins when we make full use of the products we own. A good rule of thumb here is to aim for multi-function: the insulated coat you wear for cross-country skiing can also be used for your winter runs, for example, and you can put on the same pair of shorts for a hike, a kayak trip and a jog in the park. When the time comes to buy something new, investing in quality products is a good way to ensure they can be reused in the future. Focus on sturdy, repairable and durable products that you can put to extended (and frequent) use. There’s also an opportunity to discover eco-friendly brands and choose products made sustainably or with sustainable materials – including reused. Another way to encourage reuse is to sell or buy second-hand. On the one hand, you extend the life cycle of products you no longer use by passing them on to others who need them; on the other, you get what you need, without using new resources or generating new waste. Everybody wins, and so does the planet.


Rot means composting, an eco-friendly action that allows us to return rich organic matter to the earth. In addition to minimizing the amount of waste we send to landfill sites, compost enriches the soil and can support plant growth in our planters and gardens. Many cities are now equipped to collect and process organic materials such as food scraps, and there’s also more than one way of composting at home. These good habits can be applied to your outdoor adventures too – think, for example, of bringing home peels, cores and other snack residues for composting. If composting is not an option, there are still ways you can do good for the planet through some of your consumption choices; choosing products with compostable packaging or labels, swapping plastic for materials like bamboo, or opting for clothing made from compostable fibres like Lyocell Tencel are all good places to start.


If you’re used to putting cardboard, glass, metal and plastic in a blue bin, you’re familiar with the principle of recycling. Recycling is the final tier in the inverted pyramid of the 5Rs. Whenever possible, it is a good alternative to putting waste in the trash. However, since the impact of the blue bin is limited, the best thing to do is try to reduce waste at the source through the other four Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse and rot. We can also take the principle of recycling beyond the things we throw away, for example by favouring materials like REPREVE, which is made from plastic bottles, or by encouraging initiatives that aim to transform and recycle fabric scraps, clothing and other textile residues.

The impact of the 5Rs

We collectively have the power to make a difference for our planet. This can be achieved through a number of small, simple actions like those put forward by the 5R principle. By working to minimize waste production and resource wastage, we are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and soil, air and water pollution, and we are acting in support of the health of all the planet’s inhabitants and ecosystems. At an individual level, the 5Rs can also lead us to consume better, help us save money and make our surroundings more organized, healthier and less cluttered. It’s good for us, and it’s good for the environment; everybody wins!


How to practise zero waste

What are the 5Rs?

What is reduce, reuse, recycle?


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