The 5R’s have been around for a while although they originally started as the 3R’s they have changed slightly to incorporate 2 new ones.
There is an order to the 5R’s and it is there for a reason – They start in order of importance and work there way down. The idea is that they will help you on your way to reducing your waste, why not start at the top and work your way down and see if you can follow them all?
Refuse – First up on the list is refuse. Simply don’t take it… then it will never begin it’s product life cycle, the demand will fall and they will make less and hopefully none. There is often some mild confusion between refuse and reduce; I will help to clear that up. To refuse is to say no to things people offer you but you don’t need; things that you didn’t ask for or don’t really want. This also includes things that damage you, your family, the environment and that are unsustainable. Vote with your money and refuse to buy them, show the companies that their damaging products are of no interest and will not turn a profit, if the item or product does not turn a profit then it will not be made. Simple.
Refuse to use single use plastics of all varieties – plastic bags, straws, single use water bottles, plastic cutlery to make a start. This can take a little planning as if you don’t have your reusable water bottle or cutlery you may end up a little stuck.
This one may involve a little looking around but it is simple enough – refuse to buy harmful products such as chemical cleaning products, buy an Eco version which does the same job but without the damaging chemicals. Even better than purchasing cleaning products is to make your own. Decent well tested recipes for home made cleaning products can be found all over the web, we will soon add our favourites in an article.
If your country still uses plastic grocery bags – just say no. Refuse to take the plastic bag, they are terrible for both animals and the environment. Thankfully some countries have banned the use of plastic bags and replaced them with reusable bags or bags made of vegetable cellulose, which is better but still not as good as a truly reusable bag.
Something less common but still important is to think about those freebies that companies happily give away in order to remind you of them, that pen you’ll never use, the bag you don’t need etc. Just because it is free it doesn’t mean you need to take it. If it is of use to you then by all means take it but often it isn’t but the alluring fact that it is free is enough for us to take it.
Refuse to buy intensively farmed products that negatively impact the environment and health. Buy local produce if you can – farmers markets are a great direct line to the producer. You can ask direct questions about their produce without having to go through a middle man. When going to a farmers market be sure to bring your own reusable bags for all the tasty food you’ll get.
Reduce – To simply use less. This means less energy, less heat, less water and maybe renewing your old phone or laptop. Think about what you buy and use, could you do with less of it or use it more efficiently?
Simple things like changing your light bulbs to energy efficient LED bulbs will not only reduce your electricity consumption and electricity bill but make your home more efficient and the LED bulbs will last for such a long time they will pay themselves back.
Another energy positive technique is the use of solar panels, this is more complex than simply changing a light bulb but should be a serious consideration for anyone looking to save some energy and become more eco-friendly. It is a great first step which may eventually lead to an off grid home if developed far enough.
Water consumption has some fairly easy ones to change for example turning the tap off while you brush your teeth or turning the shower off as you lather up. Perhaps less easy to follow for everyone but surprisingly your diet can have the biggest effect on your water consumption. We will explore that idea in a future post.
Heat usage and loss can be solved through insulation, insulation can be used to keep the house warmer or cooler depending on your climate needs. This will reduce your energy consumption and increase your overall house hold efficiency whilst also saving you money.
Other things such as not accepting junk mail through either a sticker on your mail box or by removing yourself from junk mail mailing lists is an simple way to reduce unnecessary use of paper, time and effort.
Sometimes keeping hold of an existing item will easily reduce your consumption and ecological footprint in the world. Do you really need that new phone or will you existing one do? Perhaps all you need to do is factory reset it and update it to get the performance back. Some brands are now moving to sustainable phones for example Fair Phone allow you to replace and upgrade each individual component as necessary.
Can you simply upgrade your laptop with a new harddrive, new RAM to give it a new lease of life rather than binning it?
Reuse, If you do purchase something make sure it is long lasting, reusable or both.
A reusable water bottle from a company such as HelloBottl is a great idea to allow you to have a long lasting water bottle that is both functional, environmentally friendly and looks cool.
If you are a coffee drinker then you should definitely get your self a reusable coffee cup, some companies will offer you a discount if you bring your own, if they don’t it is definitely worth asking and raising the question. The amount of single use coffee cups that are used everyday is simply staggering.
Some other simple yet effective way to remove harmful single use plastics consumption from your life is to use reusable shopping bags – make to sure to keep it some where so that you will think to take it every time. If you forget your bags then use a paper one or ask for one of their old cardboard boxes which are often found near the till for that exact purpose, if worst comes to worst carry your purchases in your hands and pockets.
It is always useful to keep a compact set of cutlery in your bag and a straw. Collapsible straws can be bought fairly cheaply and they take up next to no room in your bag.
The inital cost of purchasing a reusable waterbottle or coffee cup may seem out of proportion to the cost of the single use but it will quickly repay its self with self satisfaction as you do not through it away everyday.
Repurpose objects from one use to another. This requires some thinking and occasional craft but the internet is an abundant resource for repurposing ideas.
Repurposing an object can be rewarding as you give it a new life and it stays with you.
The first example that springs to my mind is the use of jam-jars. Jam-jars can be used to store food in the cupboard or fridge. Jam-jars are super useful. You can even comfortably use them as glasses to drink from. *
Another simple idea is to use old cardboard boxes to store unused household items – this is one people do without even thinking about it. A more unusable idea could be to use old foam mats for furniture foot pads to protect your floor from scratches, why not use that old foam mat as a tent door mat? The uses for old items is as large as your imagination allows.
Recycling – Coming in at the bottom but definitely still very important. If the other 4 options haven’t worked then recycle. Recycling is an important factor is sustainable living but it is not the solution to our problems. Recycling is good because it substantially reduces the energy involved with creating an object and stops it from going to landfill (for at least one product cycle) but it is less efficient than simply finding a new use for an item . Recycling is the most widely known but frustratingly it is still not followed everywhere.
When starting to use the 5R’s recycling is probably the easiest one to do and the others will come with a little time. Maybe you missed the opportunity to refuse or reduce because you weren’t there on your green journey just yet – once you start to notice the missed opportunities then that is half the battle to correcting the issue. Recycling is a great way to see all the things you toss and throw away and it gives you a chance to rethink your future purchases.
Most towns in Europe have reasonable recycling facilities but some better than others.
When looking to recycle it is important to make sure you place the right things in the right places – you’d be surprised at how many people place non biodegradable plastic bags into the compost….
Recycle all the basics you can, paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and glass.
Fabrics are an issue when it comes to disposal as we covered in this article, donating them to passing them on to friends or family is best but charity shops or recycling is better than landfill. Even old, holey and ripped clothing can be used as rags.
Taking your old electronics that can not be sold or refurbished to a recycling centre is important to ensure they are disposed of properly.
It is not simple when you start to think about all this but the sooner you do the better. When you realise all the things you use and throw away on a daily basis it is quite incredible but as you start to notice and build up awareness it all becomes easier and more manageable. All the best on your journey to minimise your waste through the 5R’s.