A Beginner’s Guide to the 5R’s

A Beginner’s Guide to the 5R’s

We’ve all heard of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, right? Seen the blue bins filled with empty bottles and random sheets of paper? Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Are you ready? You’re missing two steps. Yep, instead of just the standard 3R’s, there are 5 of them. But don’t worry! The 5R’s are not too difficult to understand and even less difficult to start doing!

I suppose to get started we should take a look at what the 5R’s are. And as I mentioned before, you all probably already know about the middle three – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

The first addition to our R’s is Refuse. It comes before Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. So now we have refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Following? Great!

After that, we now have Rot, which is really just a way to say compost while keeping the R theme. So the new 5R’s are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. And you can think of these as the five tenets of a low waste lifestyle.

Okay, cool, names. But what do they mean? Well, I’m glad you asked! 😉

Let’s get a brief introduction to each and how they can be a part of your life.


I know, refusing things isn’t always fun. It can be hard or make things a bit more difficult. And it’s being offered to me, so why wouldn’t I want it? But, often times the things you get when out are not actually needed or really all the useful. Think of those piles of napkins some restaurants give you or the paper you get with your morning pastries. What are they actually doing for you? Can you replace them with something else?

More obvious examples are the dreaded plastic straw and shopping bag. We all know that many of us don’t need them (but if you do don’t let any give you crap for using them!) and can easily go without or even replace them with reusable options.

So, taking a step back. What is refusing waste?

It’s opting out of using certain unneeded commodities that we’re so used to having around. That might mean bringing your own straw or bag or napkin. Or it can be doing without a receipt, carrying something in your hands, or making do without that stick of gum. It’s really just taking a moment to really think about what you actually need or don’t need and not taking what you don’t need.


Probably the least well known of the original three, but reducing your waste was the first and most important step of lowing your waste produced. And it often goes hand in hand with Refusing.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that they are different from each other. While you can refuse the plastic bag, you might not have your own bag to use instead. So you can reduce your amount of wase by choosing the larger paper bag that can hold more things and be more easily recycled. Or you can buy something in bulk  to reduce the amount of packaging you use.

So, while refusing waste will reduce your amount of waste, reducing waste doesn’t always mean refusing it. And that’s okay! I mean, that’s why there are five steps to lessening waste, right? So if you can’t do the first, go to the next and if you can’t do that try the next.

Some more examples of reducing waste are to buy from farmer markets/locally, email an attachment rather than printing it, and using one napkin when you would normally use three (looking at you people who use half a roll of paper towels to dry your hands!).

It's not just about your waste either. Applying the 5R's to other's waste can have a big impact as well!


Ah, the crafters favorite part. Bring on the DIY projects!

While many people think of reusing as these long, labor-intensive projects, they don’t have to be! Yes, making new things for your house or your friend out of something you don’t use anymore can be a great time. But not everyone likes those types of things. No worries though! Reusing is so much more than crafts.

It can be as simple as using a grocery bag for your cat litter or washing and using plastic utensils again. Or store things you don’t need right now in old shipping boxes. Don’t make brownies anymore but have the pans? Store things in them! Or start some seeds in them!

If you can think of another purpose for something, no matter how silly or weird it may seem to others, just go for it. No point in throwing something out if it can still be used.

And if DIY crafts are your thing, Pinterest has so many upcycle crafts and projects for almost anything you might have laying around.


The golden child of the 5R’s. If you don’t do any of the others, chances are you recycle something. Maybe not at home, but at work, school, in public, etc. It’s everyone’s go-to when trying to reduce their waste production.

While definitely not where you should be starting, if it’s all you can then do it! Recycle that paper, those cans and bottles, your phone, the remote batteries, anything and everything. Most things these days can be recycled if you have the right facilities. Contact your local town hall if you’re uncertain and they should be able to tell you what you can recycle where you live.

I’m not going to go into this one too much since it’s such a widely known practice. But if you’re interested in learning more about it check out some of my other posts of recycling!


Sounds kind of gruesome if you ask me. But it’s just another way to say compost. I mean, how not fun would it be to say the 4R’s + 1C? Eh, I’ll stick with my 5R’s.

In the USA alone, people waste about 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year. This is food waste going to landfills where it can’t decompose due to the lack of oxygen and moisture in the piles. That’s a lot of waste sitting around a lot longer than it should be.

Compost can be a bit tricky thing to do right  but if you’re just looking for a better way to reduse your waste, it’s not too bad. Just make a pile of dirt, leaves, and food scraps in the corner of your yard and you’re good.

The most important thing to think about when starting to compost is that you have your browns and your greens. Browns are dead organic matter (think dead leaves, paper, sawdust, etc) and greens are alive organic matter (think food scraps, plant trimming, grass clipping, etc). To have nice, non-smelly compost you’ll need to get a good balance between the two, but when you’re starting out don’t worry about it too much. Compost doesn’t actually smell that bad!

Some people will say to avoid meat and dairy when composting but that is more of a preference. If you have a sheltered area to keep critters out or if you bury it enough you shouldn’t have too many problems.

Also! Be on the look out at some of your favorite resturants so compost bins! I don’t know much about other places,but Asheville is definitely upping their compost game and a lot of resurants in the area now give people the option to compost their own food.

Well, there you have it! The 5R’s~

Which of the 5R’s do you think you do the best with? And the worst? How do you feel about the addition of Reduse and Rot?

Let me know what you’re thinking!

Be well.

Knowing what the 5R's are can help jump start any low waste  lifestyle!
Understanding the 5R's - Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot- is a lot easier than you might think!

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