the 5'rs

refuse, Reduce, reuse, rOT, and rECYCLE

Check out this collection of our favorite resources and ideas to reduce waste, help the planet, and live a healthier life.

refuse

"Every dollar you spend or don't spend is a vote you cast for the world you want." L.N. Smith

easy

REFUSE plastic straws, drink lids, coffee cups, single-use utensils, and the like!

easy

REFUSE to buy or take free products you won't actually use

hard

REFUSE to buy items that are packaged or overly packaged

hardest

REFUSE to buy, use, or invest in products created by the world's biggest polluters. (google it)

PRO TIP: Look at the things you are always accepting to figure out what you can start refusing.

reduce

easy

BYOB: bring your own bags, including bags for your produce

easy

BYOU: bring your own utensils (and takeout containers)

hard

BSH: buy second hand as much as possible

hardest

LTR: learn to repair or have items fixed instead of purchasing new items; borrow if you need to

PRO TIP: You don't have to go and buy fancy bags, storage containers, or other "zero waste" tools to reduce your waste. Look at what you already have and go from there!

reuse & upcycle

Upcycling is reusing something in such a way that it actually increases the item's aesthetic or financial value.

easy

REUSE or repurpose mason jars for preserving, buying and storing foods, beverage containers, terrariums, and more...

easy

REUSE reusable items, like water bottles, straws, bags, mugs - including items that you purchase second-hand.

hard

UPCYCLE just about anything - there are thousands of ideas ranging from easy or cheap (like turning a plastic bottle into a cup holder) to hard or expensive (like turning a bath tub into a pond) on Pinterest and other sites. The hardest part might just be finding the time to do them.

hardest (maybe)

REUSE like your (great or great-great) grandparents did: track down a milk delivery service, diaper with cloth, sew your own clothes, rinse and reuse aluminum foil, or repurpose those food bits you normally toss out into new recipes. Here are some more ideas.

PRO TIP: You don't have to aim for "zero waste." It's much better if a lot of people try to reduce their waste a little bit than only a handful of people successfully living a zero waste lifestyle.

rOT (THE GOOD KIND)

easy

Build your own COMPOST bin or pile. There are many designs ranging from apartment living to the large-acreage lifestyle. Here are 23 ingenious do-it-yourself compost bins ideas.

easy

COMPOST only what you cannot use again; challenge yourself to find new ways to use food scraps for other recipes or to regrow produce on your window sill.


Did you see the ad for regrowing romaine lettuce? Here's the instructions.

hard

Actually use your COMPOST or find someone to give it to. Unless you have a garden to mix compost in, it may seem pointless to do it. But a lot of people will take free compost if you post it on online marketplaces or simply put it out on your driveway.

hard

Maintaining your COMPOST can be a process, especially if you don't put the right things into it. But doing the research goes a long way, and understanding the science will help.

PRO TIP: Bury your scraps if using an open pile (instead of a bin) to avoid attracting pests and rodents.

RECYCLE

"If you're not buying recycled products, you're not really recycling." Ed Begley, Jr.

easy

Check for the RECYCLE symbol (triangle made of three arrows) on plastic items. If it doesn't have the symbol, it can't be recycled. Plastic with numbers 1-5 in the triangle are the most likely to be recycled. Numbers 6 (foam products) and 7 (a mixture of different plastics) should be avoided, as it's unlikely they'll be accepted for recycling.

easy

Collect and RECYCLE beverage containers that say CRV, CA Cash Refund, CA Cash Redemption Value or California Redemption Value at a Certified Recycling Center. You paid the price (5 or 10 cents) when you bought it, so why not get it back? Learn more from CalRecycle.

hard

Cities and counties can have different requirements for RECYCLING (and for green waste). Do the research and follow the directions. Some of the most common mistakes people make are placing plastic bags and Styrofoam in their recycle bins.

hardest

There are a couple of reasons why RECYCLING is the last of the 5R's: 1) only ~9% of recyclable material in the US is actually recycled because most of it is contaminated with food, damaged by water, or mixed with something it shouldn't be; and 2) recycling uses energy and creates pollution and greenhouse gases. Recycling should always be the last resort - and that requires a serious investment in the other 4R's.

PRO TIP: In 2019, China stopped accepting nearly all recyclables from the U.S. due to its high contamination rate. This left U.S. recyclers and waste management services struggling to handle the stream, and a lot of recyclables have been sent to the landfill or incinerated. You can help increase the chance of something being recycled by removing labels, rinsing food or drink completely out of containers, and letting it dry before placing it with mixed recyclables (cardboard or paper).

Photos on this page were either sourced from UnSplash, a source of freely usable images, or provided by Solano Resource Conservation District.