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The 5 Rs in No Waste

Everyone has heard of the environmental saying Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But in the No Waste Kitchen, there are 5 Rs that matter.

When doing any bit of research about waste reduction, you will probably come across the 5 Rs on many blogs and websites. As far as I can find, the idea of these 5 Rs came from Bea Johnson’s popular book and blog called Zero Waste Home

Originally Published On: October 2, 2018

Last Updated On: March 31, 2020

What are the 5 Rs?

Most of you have heard of the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. They were doing a unit on it even in preschool for my boys. Johnson added two more R words to the list to give us the following:

  • Refuse
  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Rot
  • Recycle


Refuse to bring anything extra into your home that you don’t need. Just because something is on sale, refuse your instinct to buy it unless it’s already on your list. 

Refuse the food samples when you are wandering the aisles because they are often in disposable, one-time-use containers. 


If you can’t refuse something wasteful, try to reduce your dependency on it. For example, you may not be ready or willing to refuse eating meat (we definitely aren’t!) so try to reduce the amount you eat. Have meatless meals once or twice per week. 

Reduce the amount of extra food you purchase at the grocery store by going with a meal plan and grocery list in hand. 

Reduce the number of foods you purchase out of convenience since they are usually heavily packaged and prepare more meals at home


There are two aspects to reuse as applied to the kitchen: reuse anything for other purposes and find ways to incorporate more reusable products in your kitchen. Reuse could also be titled “repurpose”.

If you can’t get away from milk in a plastic gallon jug, clean it out when you are done and find other ways to use it. There are many ideas online such as watering cans, or my boys like to use them for crafts. Find a way to repurpose kitchen waste, even if it is in another part of the house. Metal coffee tins are great storage in the garage.

On the other side of reuse, you have reusable products. Check out the Top 10 Swaps post, and find other reusables in the kitchen. For example, invest in cloth napkins rather than paper. Use mesh produce bags instead of the plastic ones from the store.


Compost. Rot means compost. You’ll see me talk about composting a lot because it’s something that’s relatively easy to do, and cuts down drastically on food waste.

Compost is great to add to gardens and flowers to provide many nutrients to the plants. Compost can also be sold to other gardeners if you know someone who could use it, and some cities will take it at the curb for a community compost similar to how garbage and recycle are picked up. 

A common misconception is that the organic matter will break down in the landfill similar to in a compost bin, but that isn’t true. It needs air to break down, and when the food material gets trapped in garbage bags and under all of the other garbage, it doesn’t have enough air to break down naturally. Then, once it does break down, it usually creates gasses that are released into the environment. 


Most people already recycle in their homes, but pay attention to the products you are throwing in the bin. Can you find a way to purchase the item without the waste next time?

Remember, recycling isn’t a perfect system. While it’s better to recycle than to throw something in the garbage, it would be better yet to not waste anything at all. 

Learn what you can and can’t recycle at the curb in your community so you can be a responsible recycler. Also, check out the How Does Recycling Work? post to learn more about the recycling process.

Order Matters

The 5 Rs are not just about following these steps but doing it in order. Start from the top and work your way down. This is where I differ from Johnson’s original 5 Rs because she has rot on the bottom. In my opinion, it’s better to add something to the compost (such as cardboard) before recycling it. 

For every wasteful item in your kitchen, go through this list in order. 

  • Is there a way I can REFUSE the item?
  • If I can’t refuse this, can I REDUCE the amount that we consume and waste?
  • If it can’t be reduced, will I be able to REUSE or repurpose it afterward?
  • If this can’t be reused or repurposed in another way, is it something that can ROT in the compost bin?
  • Finally, if it can’t go in the rot, can it at least go to the RECYCLE?

If the answer to all of this is still no, then it will end up in the garbage and heading to the landfill. 

Practicing the 5 Rs

By thinking about the order of the 5 Rs and going through the questions, you can start to minimize the amount of waste from your kitchen. As with everything on this journey, there will be times that you aren’t perfect. Some foods or kitchen items won’t be able to fit into any of these categories.

That’s ok!

Just remember it for the future. Think about a substitution if there is one for you that is less wasteful. Research ways to reuse the containers that you can’t get rid of. There is a learning curve to this journey. 

Try your best. Remember, you might be only one person, but every little bit counts!

In the end, one of the best ways to reflect on the items in your kitchen is to do an audit. Sign up below to get your free Welcome Kit, which contains a pre-made kitchen audit document. Within a few minutes, you can easily have an overall idea of the items in your kitchen.

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18 thoughts on “The 5 Rs in No Waste”

  1. Practice the 5 Rs is something that I have to do. I am so grateful for your post and I am interested in doing an audit in my kitchen before the year ends and start anew.

  2. I’ve been wanting my family to get into the swing of minimizing waste and this helps so much. We recycle, and we’ve begun reusing a lot of things. Just working on a few of the others.

  3. Very practical ideas that your present. I love composting to feed my vegetable and herb garden. Works very well, its easy to do and also its a free nutrient boost that you get to give back to your garden.

  4. Usually, there are people who always come to take containers for recycling, I already don’t do a lot of shopping. I think this is enlightening though. I didn’t know about the other 2 Rs

  5. Totally agree, every little bit counts! We are big on recycling and also try to use reusable products like refillable water bottles as much as possible.

  6. The 5th R was new to me! I really need to start composting. I think it will be a difficult transition for all memeberof the household but will quickly become habit.

  7. This is awesome and never heard of it. Being wise on not wasting anything is great thing to learn about, I’m going to remember these words more often.

  8. These 5R’s are so important to anyone who cares enough about the way refuse should be handled. I know for sure that we practice 3 of the R’s and it’s now time to upgrade and complete the cycle.

  9. I want to reduce my household waste, but did not really know where to start. I love how easy all these things are to do! We have a garden for the first time ever this year, so we definitely need to compost!

  10. I’ve never heard of the 5 Rs before! That is soooo awesome!!! We started to recycle a couple of years ago and it is great!!!!!

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