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5 Rs: Rethinking consumption

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

Most people, nowadays, are well versed in the 3 Rs of green living:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

This is AWESOME!

Did you know that, if you are ready to take yourself one step further in your zero-waste journey, there are two extra Rs to add to your repertoire? They are refuse and repurpose.

They squeeze into the process like this:

  1. Refuse

  2. Reduce

  3. Reuse

  4. Repurpose

  5. Recycle

When using this strategy, just like with the three Rs, order matters. I'd like to take you through these steps of green living and give some examples of what it might look like for you based on my experience as the co-leader of a family of five.

Let's start from the top:


Whenever possible, decline the addition of unnecessary items into your life. Additionally, do not accept even necessary items that have ridiculous amounts of packaging - which is all too common in our convenience centered modern lifestyle.

Our main refusal, as a family, comes in the form of unnecessary plastics. We habitually refuse plastic bags, water bottles, and straws, among many, many other wasteful "conveniences." This can be done by purchasing and using alternative products intended for long-term, reusable use such as: cloth shopping bags, reusable water bottles, and metal straws.


When something has become a necessity in your life, it is not always mandatory that you turn away from it if it gives you happiness. Being thoughtful about its use can significantly lessen the waste it may produce.

Let's look at a commonly used product that could be altered while not sacrificing their use. For my family, a big contender was the almighty granola bar! These frequently come individually packaged within a larger package and sometimes even double packaged based on flavor and brand.

In order to overcome this excess waste, we began making our own granola bars using local, bulk items bought and stored in reusable containers. Not only are these fun and easy to make, delicious, and all natural, but they also store and keep for long periods in the freezer.


After choosing to include an item in your life, making a conscious effort to continue to use it, time and time again is extremely important in your greener living journey. Some people separate these Rs but, for the sake of clarity - and similarity - I have combined them into one unit.

Canvas bags and glass jars are not only fabulous for reducing waste but remembering to use them every time you shop for your bulk items is vital as well. From another perspective, clothing can and should be reused too. Whether you donate, purchase used, and/or receive and give hand-me-downs, this is a great way to fulfill the third R of zero-waste living.

Re-purposing items can be so much fun! Egg cartons can be used for seedling growth and replanting, old mini kegs of cool beer brands can be used for lamp bases in a rec room, and

Throughout all of this, if an item intended for reuse becomes broken then take the time to consider the value of repairing it. There are so many resources available to us in this day and age that will provide us with the information needed to repair almost anything that we would be fools to pass up the opportunity to learn and save money as you go. The longer you can make an item last, the more money you will eventually save from not having to buy a new one!


When purchasing items with waste becomes an unavoidable necessity for you and your family, choose recyclable materials whenever possible and dispose of them accordingly.

Milk is one of those things for our family. Having babies and young children means we go through milk like it's nobody's business and glass milk bottles aren't really a thing in our area. Therefore, we ensure that the bags and cartons used to store our milk are fully recyclable and we prepare them, as needed, so that our city can do their part in helping the planet.


The final idea here comes with the notion of understanding what can and will go easily back into the earth through reasonably rapid decomposition. Food waste is the obvious choice here but there are also some paper products and natural wastes that can be included in the mix.

Some cities have programs to help with this process; the 'green bin' is used in my area. However, if this ins't an option for you then maybe consider starting your own compost container. I have seen this done effectively in as big of a location as a multi-acre farm to as small of a location as a bachelor apartment in the big city. It is doable if you set your mind to it.

Using the 5 Rs is a fantastic way to remember to make mindful choices when going about your day to day life. Whether you're a solo zero-waste advocate or a family of eco-friendly nature lovers, following these guiding principles is a very helpful and effective way to significantly reduce your footprint on this planet.

If you have any questions or thoughts on this topic, please add them to the comments below. Also, connect with me and we can chat about what's really making the world go round these days.

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