The Five Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot


We’ve all probably heard of the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.” But have you heard about the other two “Rs”?

The Five Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

The Five Rs are guiding principles for reducing the waste we output, and they follow a specific order. Here’s the hierarchy and more information on each of the Rs:

  • Refuse: This is the first and leading principle that tells us to refuse anything we don’t really need. Even if it’s free, if you don’t really need it, say no to knick-knacks and other promotional freebies, single-use items like utensils, cups and foodware and anything else that isn’t truly essential in our lives. This is the first step to cutting down on our waste.
  • Reduce: Reducing goes along with refusing, in terms of thinking about what is needed and cutting out what is not. Whenever possible, we can make choices to reduce the things we use, such as by bringing our own bags to the grocery store, our own water bottle to events or our own cup to the coffee shop.
  • Reuse: It’s important to note that reuse comes before recycling, and this means that whenever possible, we should see if items can be repurposed. Old pasta jars, for example, can be repurposed as containers for dried food items.Reuse also means that instead of tossing something out, if it still has use, or life left to it, even if we don’t need it ourselves, we can donate it or give it to somebody who can continue to use it. Buy Nothing groups, Freecycle and Craigslist are all great ways to donate gently-used items or find an item you may need yourself.
  • Recycle: If we are unable to reuse items, and they are recyclable, we can recycle them, so the material is able to be converted into something new. While recycling is a way to extend the lifespan of a material, it’s important to note that it is a process that requires resources and energy, and some materials, like plastic, have a limited number of times they can be recycled before its quality is diminished and it can no longer be recycled. Learn more about what you can recycle here.
  • Rot: At the bottom of the hierarchy comes “Rot,” which invites us to compost organic material like yard waste or food scraps. Paper can also be composted, but, as composting is last on the 5R hierarchy, paper should be recycled whenever possible before being composted, and if it is wet, dirty or with food residue like a greasy pizza box, then it should be composted.

And that’s the Five Rs. By following the Five Rs and their order, we can start taking steps towards reducing our waste and our impact on the planet!