Living sustainably can sound complicated and difficult, I get it. It's taken me years to learn how to do it right and I still make mistakes all the time, even after doing it for 20 years.
You've probably seen the trash in the jar somewhere. It's just about impossible to achieve, but before you give up on your low waste journey it's good to know What The 5 R's Of Zero Waste actually are.
Why are the 5 R's Of Zero Waste important?
The 5 R's of zero waste shows you a clear plan of action and practical steps you can take - at your own pace - to eliminate waste in your daily life and begin a journey of eco-friendly living. But before you dive deep into what the 5 R's principles are, we need to go back to basics and understand what zero waste living actually means.
What is zero waste and what does living a Zero Waste life mean?
What is zero waste? To put it in simple words: is to create no trash, that way no waste is being sent to landfills, the oceans, or being burnt. In this way, living a zero-waste life means that you’re striving to create no waste - or as little as possible - in an effort to contribute to the environment and solve the waste management problem we face in modern days.
With the rapid increase of consumption in the past few decades, especially of disposable, single-use plastics, we have been facing serious waste management issues. According to Environmental Defense Canada, Canadians produce 3 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. “That’s the equivalent of 500,000 elephants, 65 Titanics, or 194,527 school buses of plastic trash. To make matters worse, only nine percent of it is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills (86 percent), the environment (one percent), or burned in incinerators (four percent).”
Where is all of this waste ending up? And more importantly, are we able to process all of it? The short answer is no. The more waste we keep piling up on top of each other in the landfills, the harder it is for them to actually decompose and that process results in two main toxic gases: methane and leachate. The first one is a well-known contributor to global warming as it acts as a blockage of the heat in our atmosphere. The second one is created when landfill waste gets in contact with moisture, mostly through rain, and results in a toxic liquid that pollutes our waterways.
Not to mention all plastic waste that does not biodegrade, instead, it needs the sun to break it into tiny little pieces of plastic that pollutes our soil and groundwater, in a process called photodegradation.
I know, not a fun topic, but the reality can be even scarier when we put all information together. With the amount of waste being produced and accumulated in the landfills plus the lack of ability to process it all in a non-toxic way, we end up with a huge problem to deal with, if not a real environmental crisis.
Where did the concept of Zero Waste come from?
As I mentioned in the article What is Zero Waste, the term zero waste first came on the scene in 1973, when chemist Paul Palmer founded the Zero Waste Systems (ZWS). His idea was focused on recycling excess industrial chemicals being discarded by electronics companies in silicon valley.
This waste-free concept was then expanded and explored in more depth by cities and municipalities around the globe to implement a more efficient and sustainable waste management system, becoming a more popular term in the early 2000s.
It was only in 2009 that Bea Johnson, our Queen of the Zero Waste movement, started to share her experience implementing waste-free behavior in her own home with her family. Who remembers her famous trash jar? Since then, the term became popular amongst many environmental activists and sustainable-living enthusiasts as Bea Johnson’s 5 R’s were being reproduced and implemented in homes around the world. So what are the 5 R’s of Zero Waste and how can you get started in living a zero-waste living?
What Are The 5 R’s Of Zero Waste and How Can I get Zero Waste at Home?
You’re probably familiar with the 3R’s of sustainability - reduce, reuse, recycle - but in her book, Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson proposes the 5 R’s of Zero Waste living, a more complete approach to a zero waste life could possibly be in practical terms.
Say NO to all things you don’t need, especially single-use plastics, such as straws, disposable coffee cups, Tupperware, and plastic bags. Instead choose to invest in their reusable versions like bamboo straws, Keep Cup coffee cups, and Credo produce bags.
Refusing can be hard, I get it, and convenience comes into play here all the time. It's way easier to buy a coffee in a reusable cup than to remember to bring your own every time you leave the house.
This step in the 5 R's of zero waste takes practice and a real shift in mindset, especially in our culture of consumption. You have to ultimately decide what kind of planet you want to live on.
A lot of the time we purchase things we know we are only going to use once and then we are stuck with them. We hide them away in garbage or attic and forget we even have them.
Consider renting items you need, things like tools, catering supplies, baby car seats, camping gear, sporting equipment (like skis), and even furniture.
As we know, one of the main causes of our waste problem is our addiction to stuff, our overconsumption, so reduce the number of things you buy. Consider renting your next dress. Evaluate if you really need it before buying something new and declutter & donate all things that are not useful in your home.
Decuclttting can sometimes feel like an enormous task. We tend to think we need to start in a whole room, like the garage, the mental thought of this can seem too much for many and it's one of the reasons why we give up before we even start. When you make the choice to get rid of unwanted stuff, start small, pick areas you can tackle easily, like your handbag, then move onto one drawer (kitchen, bathroom), then the medicine cabinet, the top for the fridge, then Tupperware drawer and so on.
Decluttering your home is slow, sustainable work. It's not meant to happen overnight or in one weekend.
Extend the lifecycle of the things you have by reusing, repurposing, or upcycling them. Choose to buy secondhand or thrift, look for DIY projects to transform stuff that no longer serves you into new usable things.
learn what’s the best way to dispose of your recyclables and recycle everything that you can, like e-waste or even clothing. If you’re from Toronto, download the TOwaste app or use the Waste Wizard platform when in doubt.
Some tips to keep in mind when recycling or getting rid of excess stuff:
- Ask friends and family if they need any of the items and be okay with gifting them
- Sell or swap items on apps like Bunz and Facebook's Market Place
- Hold a garage sale
- Donate to charities. A lot of charities are making it harder to donate certain items like books, furniture, and electrical goods due to safety concerns and sheer excess
Reach out to local services in your area. Local pre-schools might be in need of toys or kitchenware. Refugee centers, woman's shelters, nursing homes, and animal humane societies are always in need of books, toys, clothing, furniture, and magazines.
Local libraries, community gardens, and neighborhood recreational centers are good places to call as well. It's a bit of extra work, but at least it will keep some of your junk out of the garbage.
You can also consider repairing items.
Before discarding anything make sure you check with your local municipality, most of them will have programs and incentives for getting rid of things like mattresses, fridges, pillows, old paint, etc.
Compost your household waste. If you’re not sure where to begin on this one, the article What is compostable at home? is a great start. Find over 100 ways to reduce waste.
Keep this handy chart in mind and consider all of these options before you throw anything away.
The bottom line when it comes to The 5 R’s Of Zero Waste
Remember the purpose behind the 5'r's zero waste is to help preserve the environment. Use Bea Johnson’s 5 Rs of Zero Waste as a powerful resource in reducing waste at home and therefore, keeping harmful products out of landfills.
No matter how long your sustainable living journey takes, the real change happens when we transform our mindset. Understanding the problem, keeping accountability for our individual actions, and implementing new habits is a good path to follow to transition to a zero waste lifestyle.
How are you following the 5R's of zero waste at home? Please share your journey in the comments.
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