This episode of Everyday Ethical is kindly sponsored by Atlas and Ortus.
In this episode, I go back to the basics, looking at the 5Rs of more low-waste living: Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.
Hello and welcome to Everyday Ethical, a podcast about all of the small ways that we can be more sustainable, without the pressure to be perfect. I’m your host Bethany Austin and I’m an ethical lifestyle blogger who chats about everything from Slow Styling, to cruelty-free cleaning.
In today’s episode, I’m going to go back to the basics and discuss the 5 Rs to more sustainable and less wasteful living. If you learn these 5 key principles, you will massively reduce your waste I promise. And, if you think you’ve heard it all before, I promise that these reminders are a fab way to re-set and get back into the swing of sustainable living when the going gets tough.
So, let’s dive in.
If you haven’t heard of the 5 Rs then I can almost 100% guarantee that you’ve heard at least of the 3 Rs. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Yep, that’s right, the three words that you might even have been taught throughout primary school. In fact, I wonder if Everyday Ethical was born from that one poster I had to make in DT about all of the ways that we could reuse packaging to stop it from getting thrown away.
Unlike the 3 Rs though, the 5 Rs have two extra addition (obviously) that make the principles even more sustainable. I’m talking squeaky clean sustainable so that you can pretty much go waste-free if you follow the principles effectively.
They are: Refuse, Reduce, reuse, recycle and, finally, rot. Imagine these words in this order on an upside-down pyramid. I’ll pop a link in the show notes to an image if you can’t quite get your head around it!
Essentially, the nearer the top of the upside-down pyramid, the more you should be aiming for it. So, if you start with trying to refuse, if you can’t refuse you reduce, if you can’t reduce…well, you get the idea.
I did ttry to pin down exactly where the 5 Rs came from, as opposed to the 3 Rs and I’m pretty sure it’s from Bea Johnson’s 2013 book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life. So yes, all credit there for these 5 key principles. I think they are a total gamechanger and a great way to get your head around eco friendly-living, as I said. So I wanted to create an episode where I go through each of the 5 Rs, explain them and give examples of how they can fit into your everyday life.
Let’s start at the top!
This one’s not too difficult to understand: It simply means refusing things that you know are bad for the planet.
Let’s take the most obvious example of plastic straws. The best way to not contribute to the ever-growing number of straws polluting our oceans is to avoid them altogether if you can. So simply say “no thanks” at the pub!
However, this could also look like refusing plastic bags at the supermarket by opting for loose produce or bringing your own tote bags.
Or even refusing to support fast fashion. Greenpeace points out that, “global emissions from textile production are equivalent to 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2, a figure that outweighs the carbon footprint of international flights and shipping combined.” (Source)
Refusing simply means not buying shit you don’t actually need and being aware of the packaging that you can completely eradicate.
It’s the MOST important of all of the 5 tenants as, if we all did it, think of how much smaller the demand for things like plastic wrapping would be. That would cause a REAL change.
Truth it, most businesses make their choices based on one simple thing: How much money they will make. If we all continue to accept the unnecessary use of plastic, they will keep using it as it is a very cheap material to make and transport. However, if they see a huge dip in the people buying their product based on the fact that it’s wrapped in the stuff, they’re kind of forced to look at a more sustainable alternative.
By refusing, you’re voting with your money.
Now onto the next tenant…
This means only buying what you truly need. It links very closely to refusing but recognises that it’s not always possible to completely get rid of unsustainable items.
As I’ve spoken about plenty of times before, there are a whole host of barriers to more eco-friendly.
Where you live and which supermarkets you have access to can massively dictate whether you’re able to refuse plastic packaging, for example.
Money could mean you can’t invest in reusable options, so you can’t refuse single-use items.
Disabilities, mental health issues – They can all provide barriers to making certain eco switches.
So, yeah, there are certainly some occasions when you simply can’t refuse an unsustainable option. What you may be able to do though is reduce how much you use it! For example, if you can’t completely forgo plastic because it’s the cheaper option, maybe you can get the plastic-free option from time to time.
40% of plastic produced in packaging which is discarded of. Imagine if everyone just tried to reduce their consumption by one quarter, or a half. Again, the impact would be huge!
This also goes for things like reducing your fashion consumption: We all need clothes, but most of us don’t need as many clothes as we tend to buy.
Essentially, some things need to be bough, but it’s important to be wary of when you really need something vs when you just fancy it. It’s the latter of the two that is much more likely to end up in a landfill.
The next tenant is
This is probably the one you learnt about first when you were in Primary school and had your metaphorical baby eco-warrior badge.
Whether it was yoghurt posts for arts and crafts back in the day or pasta sauce jars for food storage now that you’re all grown up, reusing is a brilliant tool. Especially if you’re working on reducing but aren’t able to completely refuse yet.
Maybe you still can’t refuse some pre-packaged food, but by reusing the packaging it comes in, you’re still stopping it from going to landfill unnecessarily.
Of course, the idea of reusing can also be related to items designed to be reused again and again.
There are a tonne of different reusable options out there, but here are just a few of my favourites which I use nearly every day:
- My Swell water bottle
- My washable cotton rounds which I use to take off my makeup before cleansing
- My Husk Cup travel mug, which is made from sustainable
- Beeswax wraps for food storage instead of tin foil and cling film
Now onto the next of the 5 Rs…
If you’re just starting out on your eco-living journey, you probably find yourself asking “can this be recycled?” quite a lot. Checking the labels of packaging for whether it can be recycled is definitely one of the first steps to being more sustainable day-to-day.
After all, it stops unnecessary plastic going to landfill and instead ensures that a non-renewable resource can be repurposed.
However, recycling certainly isn’t perfect. Like any processing of materials, it emits greenhouse gasses. Whilst a plastic bottle may be recycled and stopped from going to landfill, the process still adds to our global warming issue. The energy footprint of recycling is lower than that of producing a product from scratch, though. So it’s certainly a better option than just buying an item, throwing it away and rebuying.
On top of that, some materials are infinitely recyclable. Tin and glass can be recycled again and again and again without deteriorating in quality. That’s a pretty sustainable process. On the other hand, plastic can only take a limited number of times through the recycling plant. So, how sustainable recycling actually is kind of depends on which material you’re opting for.
It’s also important to know that whilst you may put your packaging in the recycling bin, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s actually getting recycled. There have been multiple stories of councils actually burning recyclable waste, Westminster council sent 82% of all household waste – including that put in recycling bins – for incineration in 2017/18 (source).
Whilst this isn’t true of all places in the Uk or across the world, it’s still a worry.
Now I’m not suggesting you give up recycling altogether because it might not even make it to the recycling centre. What I am suggesting is that, wherever possible, you cut down on the recycling you’re creating, through first refusing, reducing or reusing waste. Anything that you are left with obviously put it in the recycling. That’s far better than landfill!
Finally, if you can’t refuse, reduce, reuse or recycle it: Rot it!
Hopefully, if you’ve reached this point in the hierarchy of tenants, whatever you’re left with can be composted. Things like food waste or even biodegradable packaging can add all-important nutrients to our soil, helping other plants to grow and reduce the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
So, if you’re not composting already, get on it! Most councils within the UK offer a food waste bin collection services, but you’re bound to have some kind of service near you if not.
Alternatively, compost at home with a compost heap in your garden or with a product like an Envirocycle if you live in an apartment of somewhere without a garden.
For a really incredible guide to composting at home, Google “home composting guide”. A result from RHS Gardening will come up and it’s got all of the info you need to know. I’ll also link it in the show notes, of course.
And there you have it: Those are the five most important tenants for when it comes to reducing your waste and being more sustainable day-to-day. Whilst you still may not be perfect, if you follow these principles every time you buy something, you’ll be way less likely to have waste at the end of it.
And even if you’re someway into your journey to sustainable living, revisiting these can help you to seriously refresh your perspective and give you a framework to keep in mind every time you think about buying something new or disposing of something old.
Let’s remind ourselves of the 5Rs one more time: Refuse, Reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. In that order! Start at the beginning of the list and, if you can’t do that action, move to the next. Trust me when I say that these simple mindset shifts will make a real impact on the waste you’re producing, especially at home.
If you’ve enjoyed this episode and are going to start using these tenants, please do let me know. I’m @ bethanypaigeaustin on Instagram which will also be linked in the show notes. Take a screenshot of yourself listening to the episodes and share it to your Instagram story, tagging me in. That way I can share it with the rest of the Everyday Ethical Community.
Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode and I’ll catch you all again soon.