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The 5 R’s of Zero Waste

The 5 R’s work as a simple guideline to follow, and to consider, any time you are offered something, purchase something, or throw away/recycle something; to live a more sustainable lifestyle. This is a great place to start on your journey! The 5 R’s, in order are: 1. Refuse; 2. Reduce; 3. Reuse (+ Repair/ Repurpose); 4. Recycle; 5. Rot.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Refuse: Zero waste starts by learning to catch yourself, while being prepared, being mindful, and learning to say no.

To put it simply, refuse to buy or accept products that are going to create waste, and that you do not need. There is absolutely an aspect of being prepared for everyday life that I will touch on in tips, and speak about more thoroughly in another article. This first step of refusing alone will cut down exponentially on your trash/recycling output, and the more you say no thank you, the less demand it creates in the future. It will also save you money when you question yourself before making every purchase, why am I purchasing this item? Do I REALLY need this? Furthermore, off topic, however on a just as equally important note, easily disposable items (take out containers/ one use items) are low quality and cheap. To cut the costs, they were produced using chemicals and materials from questionable sourcing, which means very often they leech toxins! On top of this they couldn’t be sold at such low prices if staff, very often children, weren’t exploited along the production process. Tips: -Refuse food, body hygiene and cleaning supplies with packaging, by buying bulk and from farmers markets, who are both much more open to you using your own containers; -Make more items from scratch (food, body care, cleaning), I promise it is not as time consuming or hard as it seems; -Always say no thank you to pamphlets, handouts, business cards, and promotional bags/items. You can always use your phone to take a photo of it; you don’t have to refuse the information, just the physical item;

-Refuse to buy things you don’t need, and avoid novelty items for the things you do need. I promise you your novelty item will no longer be cool in a years time, but that bomb, unique, and totally you item will always be in, and continue to make you happy; -Be prepared to refuse one use items like food containers, bags and cups by carrying tupperware, reusable water bottle and mug, metal straw, reusable utensils, eco-friendly bags etc. with you at all times.


The second R is about not only reducing and using less, however reducing the amount that we consume. The more we consume, the more demand it creates, the more demand it creates, the more energy and resources that are used. Tips: -Question and consider every purchase, Do I REALLY need this? What do I have at home that I can use instead? Is this creating unnecessary waste? Do I have access to a better alternative? Does this add value to my life? Be realistic about your consumerism, and really think out each purchase; -Even though price and personal budgets are a huge factor for everyone, consider the higher quality choices (that may be slightly more expensive). Well made products will last you longer, reducing the times you need to repurchase, and you can usually find more ethical, sustainable, and eco friendly options this way as well; -Always go for second hand items WHENEVER possible. There are so many second hand shops and individuals selling things online, where you can save a lightly loved item from going into the landfills and avoid unnecessary packaging, energy and resources being used while creating more demand, if you were to have purchased new;

-Avoid purchasing things online from companies, they always come with so much unnecessary packaging and advertising material; -After only purchasing things you need, comes only purchasing things that you absolutely LOVE. This will help with reducing the things you own, taking care of the things you already have, as well as slowing down your purchasing, as you have the things you need, which you also adore, opposed to just liking; -Take care of the items you already own, follow cleaning instructions and labels so your things last; -Donate, sell, gift, or give away the things you don’t use, and work towards a minimalistic life style that you’re comfortable with, this way others can receive things used, using less resources, and creating less waste compared to purchasing new;

-Keep an eye on the trash coming out of your home/ or alternatively any time you put something in any garbage, and then find the alternative. If its coffee cups, get a reusable cup, it its flyers catch yourself before you accept, and take a photo. There are sustainable ways to reduce waste, that doesn’t mean you have to go without;

-Remember, some things you don’t actually have to own, see if you can rent or borrow what you need; -Reduce the amount of energy you use by turning down your heat and wearing a sweater inside your home (thank you Poo-pa), remembering to shut off lights you are not using, turning the shower off when you are soaping. Reuse (+Repair and Repurpose): You will find a strong pattern of avoiding the societal conditioning of consumerism coming up throughout the 5 R’s. Instead of purchasing new, get creative and see what you can reuse, repair, or repurpose to suit your needs. Also if you find something in your every day life that is one use or disposable, find a reusable option. This also has a large money saving aspect to it! Before throwing something out or recycling it, consider if you (or someone else) can find a use for it now or down the road.


-Sew holes in clothing to avoid buying new, alternatively you can also take them to the seamstress; -Fix and reupholster furniture before saying good-bye; -Have electronics professionally repaired instead of purchasing new;

-Reuse other peoples things, books, music, movies, etc. -Old clothing that is no longer wearable can be cut into rags, handkerchiefs or napkins (get rid of paper towel and paper napkins!); -Make your own products, reusing the same sustainable containers; -Have your arsenal of reusable items: mug, cups, metal/ glass water bottle, utensils, tupperware, reusable bag, etc. -Reuse scrap paper for taking notes;

-Keep all your glass food jars, I have a huge collection that I use for bulk food items, home made body and cleaning products, a pen holder, change jar, planters etc. -Make nifty furniture out of wood crates or pallets; -Repurpose old razors to get ride of pills on clothing;

-The Internet can be used for beautiful things! Before you throw out anything Google ways to repurpose it, there are ideas for egg cartons, butter wrappers, tin foil, paper bags, and pretty much anything that comes into your home.

Recycle: So maybe you missed the opportunity to follow the first few R’s because of where you are in your saving Gaia journey, and that’s okay! Recycling is a great opportunity to open your eyes to all that you throw away, and a chance to rethink your future purchases. We refuse, reduce, reuse (+repair or repurpose) before we recycle because recycling takes up energy and resources; furthermore, you will be appalled when I talk about it in a later article, just how much of your recycled items don’t end up ACTUALLY being recycled, and how they end up in landfills and our oceans. So the goal is to always apply the above R’s before considering recycling, and you should eventually think of the recycling R as a last resource. Tips: -It is extremely important to research your specific cities recycling processes, to ensure as much of your recycling is actually being recycled as possible! Most cities will not recycle your waste if it isn’t cleaned or has food residue on it, and they may have specific sorting methods required to even look at your recycling; -There are organizations that recycle clothing/ textiles, electronics, eye glasses, batteries, CD’s/ DVD’s, light bulbs, ink cartridges, motor oil, cigarette butts, construction wood, fertilizers, crayons, wine corks, used cooking oil, and so much more, find one close to you, some will even do a free pick up;


Don’t throw your food scraps, or leftovers out. Make yourself a worm bin/ compost, and let those little noodles turn your waste into high quality fertilizer! It is the best form of recycling, as the trash doesn’t need to be transported; wasting fuel, and enlarging your eco footprint transportation wise. If you are not ready for this step, most major cities have implemented a compost program you can use, and if not someone local, whether that be a hobby gardener, or a farmer will most definitely take it, you can find ads online, or post your own.


-Find videos or how to’s online on how to set up a worm bin, also try searching: worm composting system or vermicomposting system;

-Look up what should not be composted, this will be slightly different for your home compost vs. a city program; -A few every day things that are not compostable: dog and cat poop (and other carnivores) their waste often contains microorganisms and parasites that you do not want to introduce to the food you will be growing/ eating. Tea or coffee bags, where ground coffee and loose tea is compostable, the bags that some coffee and tea products come in contain synthetic fibres that do not break down in the composting processes, and can contain chemicals you don’t want in your soil. Sticky labels from fruits and vegetables are made of plastic and are considered the largest source of compost contamination. Etc. etc. -Do your research, see what’s suitable for the method you choose.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- To help you get into the habit of the 5 R’s, look at what you’re always accepting /consuming, and keep an eye on the waste coming out of your home, then look for the best alternatives. It’s a learning curve, and you will have to be conscious, mindful and open to continually learning and improving. Don’t beat yourself up, it doesn’t happen over night. Congratulate yourself for your interest in saving Gaia, taking the first steps, and challenge yourself to be better every day.

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