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What are the 5 Rs? Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle.

Everyone knows that we should sort our rubbish for recycling, right? But did you know that there are four actions, that you can do first? They help to extend the life of everything you buy and avoid unnecessary waste going to landfill.

What are the 5 Rs?

What are the 5 Rs?

The Five Rs are a hierarchy of actions. They stand for Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle, in that order. In other words, recycling is the last option.

For every purchase decision you make, you can follow the hierarchy of the 5 R’s to minimize your carbon footprint and therefore the impact of your purchases on the environment.

What Are the 5 Rs? Step 1: Refuse

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This step is all about accessing whether you really need something in the first place.

It’s about drawing clear lines in the sand that say, no, I as a customer with green values don’t want to consumer goods or services that have a high carbon footprint.

Carefully consider your choice of product, what it’s made of and how it’s produced. And then any transport and packaging used to ship it to you.

Send a clear signal that you want to minimize the amount of fossil fuels burned in your consumption and save resources.

The first R (Refuse) suggests that you:

  • Avoid buying goods that won’t make a valuable and long-lasting contribution to your life.
  • Avoid buying things that you don’t really ‘need’.
  • Avoid buying goods made from carbon-rich or single use materials, when sustainable or lower carbon alternatives are available.
  • Avoid the long-distance transport of goods, especially by air.
  • Return bulky packaging to stores following a delivery
  • Unpack excess packaging at the store and leave it there
  • Refuse and complain about the use of single-use plastics.
  • Complain to or refuse to buy from companies that don’t use natural biodegradable packaging. Thank and reward the companies that do.

What Are the 5 Rs? Step 2: Reduce

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This step is all about reducing the amount of carbon emissions linked to the goods and services that you buy. From the good’s production to its transport, use and to reduce the amount of materials that end up in landfill.

The second R (Reduce) suggests that you:

  • Buy less ‘junk’ – things that you don’t really need and reduce the use of wasteful products. Instead, buy fewer high quality, high value items that last longer.
  • Rather than purchasing, can we share, borrow or hire something? This gets more mileage out of each product that’s made.
  • Buy fewer non-recyclable products.
  • Reduce the carbon footprint of both your larger and your everyday purchases.
  • Reduce shipping-cased carbon footprints by buying local goods and services.
  • Reduce the number of items you buy new, instead buy it second hand or from a pre-loved or recycled source.
  • Buy from companies that use less packaging.
  • Question the amount of everything that you buy, to cut your waste output in half.

What Are the 5 Rs? Step 3: Reuse

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This step aims to get us away from the ‘throw away’ and ‘convenience’ culture but reusing materials and products. This aims to reduce the use of plastics and increase the usable life of existing materials and products.

The third R (Reuse) suggests that you:

  • Repair and maintain goods, rather than throwing them away and buying another. Something broken? Try to find a replacement part rather than replacing the whole item. Something worn? See if it can be repaired. Give your item an overhaul to get it in tip-top condition. Using it will bring you so much more satisfaction.
  • Pass on or sell items you no longer want to someone else that can reuse them.
  • Sell the clothes you no longer use or give them to a charity shop where someone else can benefit from them.
  • Look around all areas of your home and workplace and gradually replace all single-use items with compostable or reusable alternatives.
  • Reuse any high-carbon, single-use plastic and non-recyclable materials that have to be used as many times as possible.
  • Bring your own bags to take home shopping, carry your own reusable water bottle with you rather than buying a plastic bottle of water and take your own coffee cup when you buy coffee.
  • Take good care of materials so that they can be reused where possible.

What Are the 5 Rs? Step 4: Repurpose

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This step is about finding a new use for something you already own. It’s another method of extending the useful life of existing products and materials.

The fourth R (Repurpose) suggests that you:

  • See if a product reaching the end of its useful life can be repurposed as something else. E.g use old dish clothes as dusters, cardboard boxes as garden mulch, shoe boxes as storage boxes, and old tins to hold pens.
  • Reuse the old components e.g electrical or other goods as spare parts to repurposed or reused.
  • Consider if old products can be made into something new? For example, looking for some new garden furniture? Repurpose some chairs or an old table you already own.

What Are the 5 Rs? Step 5: Recycle

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This final step is about a lower carbon way of creating new materials for the manufacture of new products from reusing the materials from old products. As an example, it takes only 20% of the carbon to recycle steel compared to creating it from iron ore.

The fifth R (Recycle) suggests that you:

  • Dispose of your old items by separating and recycling them after you have already considered the other 4 Rs.
  • Establish an effective recycling system at home and at work to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.
  • Collect cardboard, mixed paper products, plastics, aluminium and glass, metals, oils and old batteries.
  • Use kitchen scraps (remains of fruits and vegetables only, no fats or oils) and garden trimmings to make compost.

Read more about reducing your carbon footprint.