the 5 R’s…

Zero waste is a misnomer. It’s impossible to never, ever stop producing waste. Every creature on this planet produces some sort of waste. The problem with us humans is that we’ve managed to create next-level sH*t when it comes to waste. Garbage that’s going to hang around for thousands of years. We’re pros at this linear consumption thing that we’re at the edge of the point of no return. Ok, that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. And that kind of talk used to freak me out. What the hell can I do about it? It’s all too big. Yes and no. Yes, because trying to save the whole world is stuff resided to comic books and movies. No, because all it takes is just one change in your daily life to create a ripple effect of positive change. It’s a powerful thing and one that I’ve realized in the short time we’ve been ‘zero-wasting’.

Let me break it down for you, from my point of view.

The 5 rules, guidelines, commandments, whatever you want to call it, of zero-waste are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. In that order.


Refuse: stop trash and unnecessary stuff from coming into the house. For us this is the biggest hurdle. Its hard to say no to all the lovely packaged thingies out there. Also, when you have kids it’s a real challenge. But we try our best to walk past the sparkly, fancy junk and stick to only our needs. Doing this has significantly reduced our waste, but for sure this one is going to be an on going journey.

Reduce: reducing what you don’t need. This one is also a bit tricky. Figuring out the true difference between  a need and a want is a lot of things; sobering, humbling, frustrating, liberating. Needed. Because when you figure that out, it makes Refusing that much easier.

Reuse: using what you already have. Even though it’d be nice to buy all those fancy plastic-free alternatives and buy ethical or used clothing and getting rid of what you have now, you’re really not moving forward; you’re just buying more stuff. Sure, one day our house will be plastic free, but right now the Gladware is doing a great job with helping me grocery shop. My clothes are fine even though I bought them new. I plan on keeping them till they fall apart, then I will choose more ethically what goes on my back.

Recycle: speaks for itself, but just because it’s recyclable doesn’t mean it’s the answer. Recycling in the lesser jerk brother of Trash. We are reducing this step as best we can. We’re getting better at cooking from scratch and buying ingredients package free, but it’s all a learning curve. I’m not Martha Stewart.

Rot: at the end of it all, take it back to the Earth. Ideally this is how our consumption should work; as a closed loop. Hopefully someday soon. We’ll be getting a food digester soon and build a compost box for all the yard and fireplace junk. I’m learning what can be composted and what can’t. Sometimes I’m surprised, both happy and disappointed. It’s been great for the kids to learn and I get a lot of, “does this go in the garbage or compost?” And if I don’t know, we look it up together.

Maybe (hopefully) one day all of our trash will fit neatly into a small glass, but for right now, 3 months in, our trash is a grocery bag full every 2 weeks. We have yet to put our garbage out for pick up since we’ve started. I think that’s awesome for us.

It’s all a journey…one that I’m happy to be on.





4 thoughts on “the 5 R’s…

  1. Hi Kris,

    This is an important diagram to show every one attempting zero waste! I definitely agree with you on what you said under reuse. At first, I wanted to buy every alternative I could find! But its important to use up everything I already owned before I did that.
    That’s great that you have cut your trash down so much that it still hasn’t even filled up your curbside pick up! It’s amazing how much trash you can eliminate by following the 5 Rs

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I really like your addition to reduce, reuse, recycle. ‘Refuse’ is a good reminder to question whether we really need to purchase an item, no matter how convincing our rationalization might be! ‘Rot’ is also an excellent addition. I use the bokashi buckets for food composting and although it does mean I am still purchasing the mix, it’s a way of reminding myself that disposing of anything costs us as a society. Another R we have added is ‘Respect’, for everything we use.

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