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Article: The zero-waste principle: the 5 R's

Das zero-waste Prinzip: Die 5 R’s | paigh | Fair & gemütlich

The zero-waste principle: the 5 R's

After we in last sustainability blog post After clarifying what the zero-waste lifestyle actually is, today I would like to introduce you to the zero-waste principle with its 5 Rs. These essentially form the basis of the lifestyle and also make it clear that zero-waste can extend to all areas of life. I like to remind myself of the 5 Rs as a guide, but also to see what I can improve.

What exactly is meant by the zero-waste principle? You'll find out now. the zero-waste principle

The zero-waste principle: The 5 R's

1. REFUSE (reject)

The easiest way to produce less waste is, of course, to not let it into the house in the first place. How to do that?

Gifts and free products

First of all, by using the word “no”. Sometimes it's not that easy because you don't want to seem rude. You can get free samples, flyers and gifts at events, in shops or on the street. This is a good setting in which to practice politely declining.

Of course, it becomes more difficult if you reject gifts or offers from friends or acquaintances. The most sensible thing to do here is to prevent such a situation from arising in the first place. Talk to the people you care about. Explain to them that you are generally happy, but would like to avoid waste and plastic.

In my case, for example, I asked those around me to stop bringing me souvenirs from my vacation. I explained to them that it would be enough for me to receive a WhatsApp or to look at photos from the vacation together afterwards... At first I felt a little uncomfortable because I didn't want to seem ungrateful. But everyone I spoke to understood immediately!

Own purchasing decisions

Gifts and freebies are forces that come from outside. However, the real force that you have to face is yourself. Because it is not always easy to resist. I too admit guilt from time to time and buy stuff because I think it's nice or because it's on sale. In order to rethink and change our purchasing decisions, it is worth asking ourselves these questions (before buying):
1. Do I need this?

  1. Will I still use it in a month?
  2. Do I already have something similar at home?
  3. Can I use it at least three times?

If we ask ourselves these questions regularly, our perception and our focus of attention automatically change. When we start to really think about why we want to buy or have something, a lot less stuff accumulates in our home and therefore less goes into the trash.

Young woman sits in a shopping cart


Packaging waste

The majority of what we throw away is packaging waste. Here too, buying less means less waste. You can also make sure to avoid plastic, shop at the market or visit the nearest unpackaged store. Here I have put together further tips that you can use to reduce your own plastic consumption.


The second R in the zero-waste principle is reduction. Reducing your possessions not only has benefits for the environment, but also for our own inner well-being. The more things we have, the easier it is to accumulate more stuff. Clutter literally attracts clutter. If we have less, we demand less.

Sometimes I'm still amazed at how quickly this has settled down for me. When I started buying less knickknacks, soon after I didn't want to buy knickknacks at all.

Less stuff means - in addition to less physical clutter - also less mental clutter. There is less to worry about, less to store, less to clean, etc. etc. When we reduce what we have, we can refocus our attention. And the things we really like and use. And that's what the zero-waste principle is all about: appreciating our belongings more and really using them.

How do you “reduce”?

Of course, the point is not that everything ends up in the trash. A start has already been made by using up your own supplies before buying new ones. In addition to the classic clearing out, you can also give away or pass on duplicate or unused products. It is also important not to “horde”. This means that you only keep things because you think you might use them again at some point or because they were given to you as a gift.

3. REUSE (reuse)

Why throw it away when you can reuse it?

Disposable products are a fairly new invention and are probably essential in medical and scientific fields. Nevertheless, there is no reason why they are now so heavily represented in our everyday lives. There is a reusable alternative for (almost) all disposable products: cloth handkerchiefs instead of paper handkerchiefs, metal or glass bottles instead of plastic bottles, bamboo instead of standard toothbrushes...

You can often repurpose or upcycle things you already have at home. An old T-shirt can serve as a cleaning rag or glass yogurt jars can serve as a flower vase or storage container.

The third R also includes the possibility of buying items and clothes second hand. It's definitely worth browsing eBay classifieds or visiting flea markets every now and then for electrical appliances and furniture.

At this point you could actually add another R: “Repair”. There are so many things that could be fixed instead of just giving up on them. You can also ask other people for help. Electrical devices in particular can often be easily repaired.

Upcycling cans as soap dispensers and cans


4. RECYCLE (recycling)

Only things that really don't fall into one of the first categories should be recycled. Recycling requires a lot of energy and is not a perfect system.

Glass and aluminum can always be recycled. Here (and with waste in general) you should also pay attention to correct disposal. Separating waste is an important start.

The big problem with plastic is, of course, that it is not really recyclable. All of our plastic waste ultimately ends up in landfills or the ocean for hundreds of years.

Sometimes you just can't get around the plastic problem. But if we buy plastic or plastic packaging, we can at least do so consciously and carefully.

5. RED (rott)

In my opinion, a nicer term than “rotting” is “composting”. By composting, we return certain resources to the earth. All biological substances can be composted. This includes food waste and leftover food, hair and natural substances. But cardboard and paper are also compostable.

The “simplest” way here is of course our organic waste bin. But compost heaps in the garden or a composting facility nearby are also wonderful solutions. If you live in an apartment, a so-called worm bin can be a solution.

Ultimately, being aware is half the battle. Consume consciously and not thoughtlessly or without consideration. Be clear about what you are buying, where it comes from and where it will eventually end up. And remember: It's not about perfection, it's about making better decisions...

If you would like to find out more about the zero-waste principle and the topics of sustainability, mindfulness or healthy eating, take a look here over.

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