The 5R’s of Sustainability: Practices for a durable lifestyle

Since I was young, and I have no doubt many of you experienced the same, I have been told repeatedly that recycling is THE go-to solution for reducing waste. While it is relevant to a certain extent (don't worry mom - I recycle), recycling is only a part of the fight against our excessive individual consumption and its consequences (no mom - recycling is unfortunately not the miracle solution to environmental problems).

This fight is divided into different actions, each as important as the other ones. Do you want to reduce your environmental impact and your waste considerably? The 5 R's of sustainability are great ways to integrate responsible habits to your lifestyle! 5 words to remember - 5 practices to help you adopt small gestures that will motivate and support new consumption habits that are more conscious, responsible and sustainable.

  1. Refuse what we don’t need
  2. Reduce what we consume and purchase
  3. Reuse what we have (which we could neither refuse nor reduce)
  4. Recycle what can’t be reused
  5. Rot organic waste to give back to the Earth (compost)

While the 5R method welcomes and encourages recycling, it primarily advocates the idea of ​​limiting consumption as well as unnecessary waste. In this article, I will explain each of the 5R and give some ideas on how you can apply them in your life in order to have a real positive impact on the world around you. Here's how you can transition to a more sustainable lifestyle now:

Refuse - Learn to say NO

Learning to say "no" to these items that we don’t really need or want (I know it can be hard at first, especially when it’s free), is a good first step to reduce the amount of products that end up in the trash.

How? Quelques exemples…

  • Bring a reusable bag, straw and cutlery set to be able to refuse single-use products when out and about.
  • Stick a "no junk mail " sticker on your mailbox to avoid unnecessary paper waste or choose the "electronic" option rather than the paper one when it’s possible.
  • Say no to unnecessary packaging by choosing products that are not wrapped in plastic or netting.
Ask yourself - Is it necessary? Can I refuse / say no?

Reduce - Consume better, consume less

Did you know that in 2021, 1.7 planet Earths would have been needed to sustainably provide the resources necessary to meet the needs/lifestyle of the world’s population [1]. There is no doubt that our consumption of resources is excessive and that it must be changed, quickly…

We can’t repeat it enough: the best way to limit and change the impact of our consumption is to reduce it! Let’s consume better and consume less by only buying what we really need. Next time you go to the store, ask yourself if what you are buying is really going to serve a purpose or if it is a short-lived purchase. Keeping this rule in mind will help you not to get sucked into the trap of hyper-consumerism and prevent an unnecessary purchase from quickly ending up in the back of the closet or in the bin.

You can choose to reduce by limiting your consumption of goods, buying only what you need, limiting food waste, buying in bulk to reduce packaging, and many other ways!

There is another angle to reducing. Rather than accumulating unused or redundant items, sell them or redistribute them to people who really need them! By reducing what you own, I promise you will feel better and most likely realize that you don't need so many items to be happy!

Ask yourself - Do I really need it? Am I really going to use it? Does it serve a purpose? Is there a more sustainable option?

Reuse - Make things last as long as possible

Reuse items as much as possible before replacing them! Items can be reused either for their original use or to make something new with them. Reusing things instead of buying new ones is a great way to save packaging and money, but above all else it’s going to save the energy and resources necessary for production of new goods.

When an item breaks, try fixing it yourself or having someone repair it before you throw it away! Clothes or socks with holes can easily be given a second life if they are sewn and electronic devices can often be repaired by replacing the faulty part, no need to change the entire item. It is also possible to reduce the risk of breakage by educating ourselves and opting for quality and durability!

Reusing also refers to using reusable items rather than disposable. I know.. disposable items can be very convenient, but you’re forced to replace them time and time again, spending money you could use for other things and wasting valuable resources.

There is a reusable alternative for almost every single-use item:

  • Plastic bag → bring your own tote bags and produce bags
  • Plastic bottle water → glass or stainless steel water bottle
  • Disposable razor → electric razor or zero waste safety razor
  • Paper towels → Swedish dishcloths
  • Tea bags → loose tea with a tea infuser
  • Aluminum foil / plastic wrap / “Ziploc” bags → container with a lid or beeswax food wrap

Finally, you can apply this third rule by buying second hand! Giving a second life to an item (clothes, furniture, decoration, cars, electronics) is a great way to reduce your ecological impact by limiting the use of new resources. With that being said, visit second-hand/thrift stores near you or keep your eyes open on resale sites from the comfort of your home, there are so many of them!

Ask yourself - Can it be fixed? Do I need to buy new? Can I give this item a second life? Is there a reusable option?

Recycle - What you can't refuse, reduce or reuse

With only 9% of plastic being recycled in Canada and the recycling infrastructure struggling to keep up with the huge amount of waste, recycling shouldn't be our first or main action to reduce waste [2]. As mentioned above, while it is a part of our fight against our waste problem, it should only be used as a last resort, after steps 1, 2, and 3 of the 5R have been exhausted.

But let's face it… waste is sometimes unavoidable. In this case, it is super important to make sure that the waste is disposed of properly by learning about the measures in place in your city.

Ask yourself - Is it really my last option? Does it go in the trash, in the recycling or at the ecocentre? Next time, could I choose cardboard and/or glass items rather than plastic?

Rot - Compost what’s left

This part is about all organic (compostable and biodegradable) waste because you can do so much with it instead of throwing it in the waste bin. Did you know that approximately 47% of your residential waste can be composted [3]? You read correctly!! But many of us still put our leftover meals, peelings and old fruits and vegetables in the trash instead of giving it back to the Earth.

In addition to contributing to soil health and fertility, composting helps to significantly reduce the amount of waste sent to dumps and prevents the emission of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Ask yourself - Individual or collective? Indoor or outdoor? Among the many options - which type of composting best suits my lifestyle?

You can do it!

Now that you know the 5Rs, you can make better choices. Remember that they go in order. Refusing and reducing means you are bringing less into your home. Reusing means you avoid consuming/ creating new things and wasting “old” stuff. By practicing the first three Rs, you will automatically have less stuff to recycle and rot.

Let's not forget that adopting new habits can take time! In this sense, do not be too hard on yourself when trying to make the 5R rule part of your daily life. Don't try to be perfect from the start… And don't try to do everything at the same time… Trust me when I tell you this is the best way to get discouraged and give up quickly. Rather, start slowly by making a few simple changes. A small change is always better than no change and several small changes put together can make a big difference!

With that being said, I would dare to add a 6th R - Repeat. You will see that by repeating actions, the new habits will become easier and become part of your daily life without even noticing!


1* 29 juillet, jour du dépassement humain des ressources planétaires :
2* Canada one-step closer to zero plastic waste by 2030 :
3* Recyclez vos matières organiques et faites la différence :