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The FIVE R’s to Zero Waste

We are used to learning about the Three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) but with the global waste crisis, we need to do more!

Many of us grew up learning about the 3 R’s to reduce waste- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But did you know there are actually 5 R’s to promote sustainability and fight our global waste crisis? Understanding these green concepts and putting them into practice is a great way to help eliminate waste and create a brighter future for generations to come.

With that in mind, let’s explore the 5 R’s of waste reduction. Be sure to take these approaches, in this order!

Refuse (v): to express oneself as unwilling to accept

Refusing and saying no will eliminate most of your waste. 


  • Bring your own reusable bags and containers to the grocery store. This cuts out the need for plastic packaging and bags!
  • Use your phone to take pictures of business cards and pamphlets instead of accepting the physical item.
  • Say no to unnecessary marketing freebies like pens and USB drives unless you will use them, otherwise leave them for someone who will!
  • Refuse to buy harmful products like chemical cleaners and air fresheners.
  • Stop accepting single-use plastic and disposables such as straws, cutlery and plastic grocery bags.
  • Refuse printed store receipts, (stores nowadays give you an e-mail option) they are often made with a thermal paper that contains BPA!

By eliminating unnecessary items like these from your life, you are helping the environment by refusing to create more waste—waste that often ends up in overcrowded landfills and pollutes our oceans.

Reduce (v): to diminish in size, amount, or extent

Start using less! Think about what you use and how you could reduce your overall consumption.


  • Start evaluating your purchasing habits and resist impulse buying.
  • give things you are not using a second life and donate them to the FreeStore, on-campus swap parties or a local thrift shop.
  • Simplify your life, look for and use multipurpose items like vinegar and baking soda for cleaning needs, coconut oil for cooking and skin health, castile soap to washing anything from your skin to clothes! 

If there’s anything you could cut down on, making that change could not only help the environment, it could also help your wallet! In addition to reducing what you buy, there are other things you can do such as reducing the amount of water and electricity you use on a daily basis. This could help your budget and even shrink your carbon footprint, as detailed here in

Reuse (v): to use again, more than once

Reuse and repair items you already have and replace needing a single-use item with something you can use over and over again. All of these options save money and resources.


  • Stop buying disposable items and replace them with reusable ones like grocery bags, water bottles, travel mugs, disposable razors, paper towels, tin foil, cling film, etc. Often, you don’t have to buy reusable items, you probably have them in your cabinets, think glass mugs, silverware, dish rags!
  • If things break, repair them! Mend your old clothing or bring your broken items to have repaired. 
  • Shop second-hand, a lot of things are given away but still have so much life left! Did you know we have a free thrift store on campus?
  • Reuse food containers like glass jars from salsa, jellies and pickles as new containers for leftovers or pantry storage. These are also great to take to the store for bulk bins!
  • Reuse boxes and shipping envelopes by peeling off the old label and adding your own.

Many of the things we purchase and use every day are single-use and end up being thrown away eventually. Whether it goes to an overcrowded landfill, becomes litter on the street or pollutes our beautiful oceans, our waste has the potential to harm our planet.

Repurpose (v): to give a new purpose or use to

Similar to up-cycling or DIY, take an item you are no longer using and alter it for another practical use!


  • Repurpose your food scraps to turn into fertile compost.
  • Veggie scraps also make for great vegetable broth! Keep a bag in your freezer until you have enough to make a tasty base for soups or enjoy on its own.
  • Turn an old laundry or dishwasher pod container into a small compost or waste bin.
  • Decorate old cardboard boxes to use as storage.
  • Produce mesh bags (like ones from onions or garlic) can be made into kitchen scrubbers.
  • Cereal liners can be used in place of parchment paper and cling wrap (if you’re not using heat).
  • Turn old T-shirts, into reusable bags!

For more information on upcycling, check out this helpful blog from that will give you some upcycling ideas and inspiration!

Recycle (v): to pass again through a series of changes or treatments in order to regain material for use

This should be a last step/resort and not to be relied on. Still make sure you separate your trash so that those resources have the opportunity to be recycled instead of filling our landfill.


  • Recycle all the basics you can such as paper, plastic, metal and glass.
  • Recycle all electronics in the E-Waste bins in the library, rather than tossing in the trash.
  • Recycle your jeans at stores like H&M and Madewell where they recycle the material for wall insulation. 
  • Take off the lids off your food containers, give the containers a quick rinse before placing into the separate bins.
  • If you have an item that you’re not sure can be recycled, check our recycling guide or contact the Sustainability Coordinator. Most likely it can be recycled somewhere!

After you have refused, reduced, and reused there shouldn’t be much left to recycle.