5Rs of Zero Waste


What is Zero Waste?

As defined by author and pioneer zero waste advocate, Bea Johnson, Zero Waste is "a philosophy based on a set of practices aimed at avoiding as much waste as possible". Where the manufacturing process begins, it inspires cradle-to-cradle design; and in the home, it engages the consumer to act responsibly.

In her book, Zero Waste Home, Bea suggests that cutting waste in a household is rather simple if you follow these 5 easy steps:


Step 1. Refuse

Refuse what you don't need. This includes single-use plastics (like cutlery, plastic bags, water bottles), junk mail / flyers, and freebies handed out at events. By refusing these items, you limit the amount of trash you bring into your home, where ultimately, you would be the one who has to dispose of them, hopefully in a responsible manner. Using reusable water bottles, dining-in more, having a drink and refusing the straw, and bring out a reusable shopping bag instead of taking a bag from the store – these are ways in which you eliminate the need for fleeting disposables. Read More...


Step 2. Reduce

Reduce what you do need. This calls for a reflection of what are the things essential to our daily lives; the need and use of past, present, and future purchases. Taking into consideration the realities of your family life, financial situation, etc, it is important that you are aware of your current consumption habits, and reduce unsustainable ones or finding alternatives where possible. Reducing results in a simplified lifestyle that allows you to focus on quality over quantity and experiences versus stuff. Over time, you get better at purchasing stuff that have longer life span, and choosing to buy things that you can reuse/repurpose to extend its usage period. 

Shopping is a habit hard to kick in a consumer driven economy like Singapore. I used to work in the fashion industry. It was a place where you constantly feel the need to buy new clothes and stuff every season to stay relevant. Over time, I amassed a ton of clothes there were 'off-trend' and never wore them anymore though they were in good condition. In an effort to reduce my 'stuff', I sent the neglected clothes off to the Salvation Army. I retained less than half of my initial wardrobe. Read More...

Step 3. Reuse

Reuse what you consume. Reusing entails the repeated use of a product in its original manufactured form to maximise its usage and increase its useful life, therefore saving resources otherwise lost through the process of recycling. For example, using a jam jar as a glass mug for the home, a whisky bottle as a vase for flowers, or even simply using plastic bags from supermarkets as bin liners, or carrying dirty shoes when traveling.

Reusing addresses both consumption and conservation: it can 1) eliminate wasteful consumption (swapping disposables with reusables); 2) alleviate resource depletion (through sharing/renting, second-hand/thrift shopping); and 3) extend the useful life of product by considering repairs, returning freebies, and creative repurposing before ultimately disposing or recycling. Read More...

Repurposed mason jars for the bathroom

Repurposed mason jars for the bathroom

Step 4. Recycle

Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse. After we have refused what we don't need, reduced what we need, and reused what we consume, there is little left that needs to be recycled. At the end of a product's life, they either end up getting recycled or in landfills/incinerators. Recycling is always a better option than the latter. When purchasing new items, always choose products that support reuse, and are made of materials that are compatible with your community's recycling program. This ensures the items are likely to get recycled over and over (with steel, aluminium, glass & paper) versus downcycled (e.g. plastics). 

Furthermore, throwing items labelled as "recyclable" in the recycle bin is not the end of the recycle story. There are countless articles online on what are the different types of recyclables and how to responsibly recycle them. First, you'll have to find out how recyclables are processed in your country. Read More...

Step 5. Rot (compost)

Rot (compost) the rest. Rotting is the process of composting, which is simply the recycling of organic materials where they decompose over time and its nutrients return to the soil. Composting diverts organic waste from landfills and incinerators. What materials can be composted? Fruit & vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves, crushed egg shells, dried leaves, wood, paper, cardboard boxes. 

Common reactions to composting range from "I live in a HDB, don't have the space" to "Eww, must be smelly and icky". I don't have much knowledge on this, but I'll be attempting to compost without a garden (Yes, I live in a HDB flat - public housing in Singapore), and will chronicle my experience here. Read More...


In that order, the first and second Rs address the prevention of waste, the third R conscious consumption, the fourth and fifth Rs the processing things you'd throw away. Pretty much like an expansion of the 3Rs we learned in school.


Benefits of The Zero Waste Lifestyle

Whilst living zero waste provides obvious environmental advantages with reducing pollution from waste, and encouraging conservation by decreasing the strain on Earth's natural resources, it also benefits the home and our standard of living directly. By avoiding careless consumption, the most obvious benefit is money savings! The second R advocates reducing the amount of things you buy and the frequency of which. Health benefits include keeping away from harmful chemicals present in disposables (plastic leaching into our food) and household products. Living a simplified life also frees up time by renouncing the time-consuming activities that plague our lives (e.g. clearing out junk mail), and less material belongings also mean less time required to store, clean, organize, and maintain.

With more time, better health, and more savings, how would you live your life?


I've written individual articles about each of the Rs of Zero Waste.
Click on the "Read More..." links above to learn more about zero waste, and how you can adopt habits that promote conscious living.