5 R’s of Zero Waste Living: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot
By: Alyssa Jaksich, Vice President of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)
In celebration of Earth Day, we have created an easy to follow guideline on the 5 R’s of Zero Waste Living: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. Using this educational information can help make a difference by incorporating small changes into your daily lives in the office and at home. Together we can promote a more sustainable future!
Refusing is the first principle of Zero Waste living. The first step to minimizing one’s waste output is to prevent the waste from entering your hands in the first place.
Try to refuse items such as: single-use disposables (plastic bags, straws, cups, and utensils), conference freebies, junk mail, and other short-lived items with a one-way ticket to the garbage can.
Saying “no” to waste can be just as challenging as saying “no” to people, or to situations that do not serve us. However, by taking action or explaining why you’re refusing could be a catalyst for motivating behavioral changes in the people with whom you interact.
The second principle of Zero Waste living is to reduce. Reducing gives us an opportunity to explore our consumer habits and assess whether or not these are serving our best interests, or those of the Earth – and changing these habits if we choose. A great example of reducing is looking through your belongings and donating or selling items that are no longer of use, thereby alleviating clutter and creating space. Rather than holding on to unused or redundant items, redistribute them and help save our scarce resources!
The concept of reducing also applies to your purchasing habits. Reducing means shopping with a purpose and focusing on necessary purchases as opposed to random splurges on things you don’t really need. Too often these items quickly make their way into the dumpster, the back of the closet, or come wrapped in tons of unsustainable packaging. Fast fashion, cheap electronic gadgets, and processed foods are good examples.
Let’s not forget our favorite type of reduction – utility savings!
At Bernhard we’re no strangers to reducing utility consumption for our customers, but are we applying best practices into our day-to-day habits to ensure we’re minimizing our own consumption? While we might be limited in types of energy efficiency projects we can implement in our leased office spaces, we can still make an impact by making slight changes in our daily behaviors. Here are a few simple actions to consider:
- Turning off and unplugging electronics when not in use
- Does your office printer have a power saver mode?
- Are TV monitors powered off at the end of each day and over the weekend?
- Using LED light bulbs wherever possible
- Turning off lights when not in use
- Avoiding simultaneous heating and cooling with personal space heaters
- Ensuring air vents aren’t blocked – according to ENERGY STAR, it can take as much as 25% more energy to cool a space when air vents are obstructed!
Reusing is central to Zero Waste living. Instead of buying items new, look for secondhand options first. This principle inspires use to repurpose and repair our belongings.
Many things are now designed to be short-lived, and we’re forced to replace them faster. It doesn’t have to be that way. Items can be repaired, mended, or patched up and a little more life squeezed out of them. We can also reduce the chances of it breaking in the first place by doing your homework and opting for quality and repairability.
Reusing also refers to using reusable items rather than disposables. Consumables such as paper towels, ziplock bags, and cotton balls are very convenient, but you use them once and then throw them away. You’re forced to replace them time and time again, spending money you could use for other things while also wasting valuable resources. For almost every single-use item there is a reusable alternative.
Recycling is GREAT…but it shouldn’t be our first line of defense. Many of us have been programmed to believe that recycling is the go-to solution for waste reduction. This is a misconception. It requires energy and water and can pollute waterways and the air. Recycling infrastructure cannot keep pace with the huge quantities of single-use disposables consumed and disposed of by humans at record speed. It is also important to consider that the recycling process itself is highly energy intensive. However, recycling is still a major component of creating a more sustainable planet.
What seems like a simple and straightforward effort can actually be a little tricky. While recycling is incredibly widespread, every city has its own rules surrounding its recycling protocol. You can check with your local recycling office or provider to see what is accepted in your area. Regardless of the answer, Best Practices from EarthDay.org can help ensure your efforts aren’t going to waste! Do your best to find options for recycling in your local area and learn what types of materials are accepted.
The final principle in the 5 R’s of Zero Waste living is to rot, or in other words, compost. Scientifically speaking, composting biodegradable items in your backyard releases fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than sending them to a landfill. Composting also significantly cuts back on your waste production and, if you’re a gardener, is the best way to make homegrown fertilizer for your gardens.
You can choose from many different compost systems based on your needs, space requirements, or anything else. From the simple pile in the backyard to the high-tech tumbler, there’s definitely a compost system that is going to work for you. Some people are lucky enough to live in an area where the municipality collects compost or where farmers will collect your compost. For your own household compost pile, tumblers and bins are available to purchase to create the ideal environment for organic matter to decompose.
After collecting all that rotting organic matter, the fun part is using your freshly decomposed compost. If you have a garden or even potted plants, you can begin to use your compost to feed the garden and enhance your soil quality. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can still use the compost. Spread it over your lawn or grassy areas to enhance grass growth and lushness.
Now you know the 5 R’s, you can make better choices this Earth Day and every day. Remember that they go in order. Refusing and reducing means you’re bringing less into your daily life. Reusing means you’re keeping new things from being made and old things from being wasted. Practice the first three R’s and you’ll automatically have less to recycle and rot.
About the author
Alyssa Jaksich is currently the Vice President of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) at Bernhard where she develops, consolidates, operationalizes, and publicizes Bernhard’s ESG strategies and initiatives through coordination with multiple internal teams and business stakeholders, furthering Bernhard’s ongoing mission of promoting sustainability. She previously served as Bernhard’s Vice President of EaaS implementation where she led a team focused on increasing efficiencies within the solutions division at Bernhard, particularly related to Energy-as-a-Service (EaaS) projects. She was a key driver in the development of Bernhard’s industry leading measurement and verification services, and was heavily involved in the development of numerous EaaS projects. Jaksich earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., double majoring in chemical physics and economics.