'work in progress'

Zero Waste

Zero Waste as a concept was familiar in the Waste industry in the 1990's but Bea Johnson can be credited with the rise of zero waste as a global movement with the 2013 launch of her book, Zero Waste Home

See also The Story of Stuff 


How do we deal with waste?

There are many versions of the priority lists published by different organisations (4, 5, 6 or more "R's"), but the key is to explore the higher priorities before moving down the list

  1. Refuse*

  2. Reduce

  3. Re-use

  4. Recycle

  5. Rot

  6. Recover

  7. Residual Management

*'Refuse' - a refinement of 'Reduce' if you like - has become more popular recently in relation to single use plastics in particular.

One example from a Waste Industry perspective, that explains what is involved:

The 5 R's of Waste Management

As citizens of a society we have a responsibility to manage our waste sustainably. We can do this following the five R’s of waste management: reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and residual management.


Reducing waste is the most important thing we can do. By reducing waste, we avoid the unnecessary use of resources such as materials, energy and water. It means there is less waste to manage.

How can we reduce waste?

  • Buy in bulk to reduce packaging

  • Take a reusable shopping bag with you so you don't have to use a paper or plastic bag from the shop

  • Say ‘no’ to a plastic shopping bag when you only have a couple of items

  • Choose products that use less packaging

  • Buy reusable items rather than disposable ones

  • Stick a "no junk mail" sign on your letter box

  • Take your lunch to school in a reusable container.


The next most important thing we can do is reuse waste material. That way it doesn't go in the rubbish and end up in the landfill. It also means you don't have to buy a new product. That saves you money and saves the energy and resources that would have been used to make the new product.

How can we reuse waste?

  • Give unwanted toys and books to hospitals or schools

  • Put unwanted clothes in used clothing bins

  • Use plastic containers for freezing or storing food items

  • Save wrapping paper and boxes to use again

  • Use old jars for storage

  • Take old magazines to your local doctor's or dentist's surgery

  • Shop at second hand stores or use online trading websites to buy items that are unwanted by others

  • Take household items to your council’s resource recovery centre

  • Make memo pads out of waste paper

  • Re-use envelopes - purchase reuse labels.


Recycling involves some form of reprocessing of waste materials to produce another product. For example, recycling plastic bottles to make buckets.

What can be recycled?

  • The main products that can be recycled are paper, cardboard, glass, aluminium, tin and plastic containers.

  • Composting and worm farms are methods of recycling organic waste.

Buy recycled

  • You can buy products that are made from recycled materials. This is called ‘Closing the Loop’.


  • This is the recovery of waste without any pre-processing. For example, waste oils that cannot be refined for reuse in vehicles can be burnt for energy recovery. Recovering the energy from waste oil reduces our dependence on coal and imported oil.

Residual Management

This is the last option when waste cannot be used in any other way. Usually, this means sending rubbish to a landfill. Residual disposal of liquid waste is normally into a sewer or septic tank.

It is very important to manage residual solid and liquid waste properly. Waste not disposed of correctly can cause damage to health and the environment.

Another perspective:

The Five R's: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

We're always learning more about how our waste impacts our planet. Waste contributes to the pollution of our oceans and lakes, and it increases the greenhouse gas effect that causes global warming. The three R's aren't cutting it, so now we have the five R's; Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.

Let's break them down.


Refusing will help you eliminate a lot of waste from the very beginning. It's simply about saying no and looking into reusable alternatives.

Refuse single use plastics, like disposable coffee cups, utensils, and straws. These materials are often made of plastic and thrown away after one use. While it may seem like just one fork, it adds up when everyone is doing the same. Look into reusable, well made alternatives like a coffee cup, bamboo utensil set, and reusable straw. Keep them in your bag, and you'll always be able to refuse the single use materials.

While we're all conditioned to say yes and accept swag bags, free coupons, flyers, and anything else because it's free, learn to refuse. Accept the things you need, and refuse the rest. Let's be honest, how many swag bags aren't filled with useful goodies? Or how many coupons have you accepted only to never use?

To help you get in the habit of refusing, look at what you're always accepting. If it's coffee cups, find a reusable one. If it's flyers, take a photo with your phone and save it for later. There are sustainable ways to refuse that don't mean you have to go without.


This is one of my favourite ways to help our environment. Simply reduce what you're purchasing by being mindful about what you need and want.

Be realistic about what you actually need. Before making purchases, ask yourself if you really need this item. If you do, look at the quality. While price is a huge factor, try to find the best quality in your budget. Well made products will last longer, reducing the times you'll need to repurchase. Another tip is to take care of your possessions by following cleaning instructions and labels so everything lasts a long time.


Reusing and repairing go hand in hand. When you're deciding whether to toss something and buy a new one, ask yourself if you can find a way to reuse or repair it. This applies to clothing, furniture, and technology. If your phone or laptop is broken, instead of immediately purchasing a new one, seek repair options first.

Reusing also means selling or donating your used items so they go to loving homes instead of the landfill. Have a yard sale, hop on Craigslist, or ask your friends and family if they have a need for things you don't.

You can also reuse by buying second hand. Shop at thrift and antique stores and go to yard sales. You'll save a lot of money and reuse something someone else didn't want. Don't forget a library card, which is a really great way to reuse books, music, and movies.


One of the easiest ways to reduce your waste is to recycle. Recycling is one way you can reduce landfill contributions. Look into the recycling process in your city and opt for materials that are easily recyclable.

Ensure that you're sorting properly (or not if you have single stream recycling) and ensure that you're cleaning packaging before recycling it, as it can't be properly recycled if it isn't cleaned of food and residue.


This was huge in reducing my own waste as I'm vegan and all of my food scraps can be composted. Look into composting (you can get started with one of our blog posts here) and start throwing food scraps into the bin instead of the trash. You'll save lots of waste and make a healthy, nutritious soil for your plants.