Mindful consumption: the 5 Rs principle

Are you familiar with the 5 R’s? It’s a strategy developed by blogger Bea Johnson, who has become one of the most important figures in the zero waste movement, to reduce your ecological footprint on a daily basis.

Although I don’t fully adhere to the zero waste movement because for me it’s too restrictive, I find the 5 Rs principle very relevant. And I am convinced that by adopting these principles, we can gradually reduce our ecological footprint, and become more conscious of the way we consume, which can only be beneficial for our beautiful planet.

So this week, I wanted to introduce you to the 5 R’s and explain how I apply them at home. Note that the order is important here: these 5 Rs are ordered from the one with the highest impact (refuse) to the one with the least (rot).

The first R: Refuse

Preventing trash from showing up in your home is a good way to start!

Here are some of the ways that we apply this important principle:

  • At home, we bulk shop as much as possible, making sure to bring our cloth bags, mesh bags and jars or Tupperware.
  • We also refuse many things we don’t need, including promotional flyers (a simple “no junk mail” sticker fixes that!), but also unnecessary packaging (a plastic bag, a cardboard box, etc.), unsolicited gifts and more.
  • We also favour durable products, refusing most single-use items (like Ziploc bags and Saran wrap).
Mindful consumption: the 5 Rs principle

One thing that stuck with me and changed my way of consuming is becoming aware of all the “free” things you can accumulate… Like hotel samples, small travel kits, business cards (a snapshot of the card works fine!), a straw, beauty product samples.

Buying (or in this case accepting the free stuff) is voting… And we need to collectively say no if we want to move towards a world with less waste.

The second R: Reduce

To reduce the waste we generate, the easiest way is to buy just what we need and to consume in a mindful way.  

To achieve this, it’s definitely a good idea to declutter first, because it helps us to better determine what we have, what we need and what is absolutely unnecessary in our lives. 

Mindful consumption: the 5 Rs principle

Here are a few ways that we apply this principle at home:

  • We tidy, sort and purge regularly, to avoid accumulating lots of unnecessary items and become aware of the various things that make their way into our home, but shouldn’t!
  • We buy many things in bulk or in large quantities. Buying in bulk allows us to avoid unnecessary packaging and to have control over the quantities we buy. Buying in large quantities helps us minimize packaging for items that we consume a lot (a family of 5 with 4 guys eats a LOT of food!)… While saving money.
  • We make a shopping list so that we buy only what we need for meals and lunches in the next few days. The list helps us stay focused so we don’t end up wasting food on a daily basis!
  • We walk instead of taking the car when the distance and the schedule allow us to do so!

The Third R: Reuse

There are many ways to reuse! In our house, we always try to repair broken things (by going to the shoemaker, the seamstress, the mechanic or the technician for instance) instead of throwing the things away and buying new ones. We also buy a lot of second-hand things instead of buying them new … which is actually a genuine pleasure because we like “vintage” a lot—and old things are often made to last). 

Mindful consumption: the 5 Rs principle

We also donate the things we don’t use anymore, but you could also sell them! Personally, it gives me more pleasure to give them away, but for very expensive items or items that would not serve my loved ones, I think that selling can be a good strategy to give a second life to objects.

Using reusable alternatives instead of disposable products is also a great way to reuse! As you can imagine because of what I do, in our house we’ve replaced a lot of single-use products, like:

  • Handkerchiefs instead of paper towels
  • Disposable paper towels with washable ones
  • Paper napkins with cloth napkins
  • Cotton balls by reusable makeup pads…
Mindful consumption: the 5 Rs principle

At home, everyone also has an insulated water bottle and although we rarely have coffee on the road, we also have lovely reusable tea and coffee cups. And we have a great collection of silicone ZipTops, which replaces disposable Ziploc bags on a daily basis.

We reuse food—composing a menu with leftovers or dedicating a meal to leftovers. We also make broth with chicken leftovers and bake cakes with forgotten bananas.

The fourth R: Recycle

When it’s impossible to refuse, reduce or reuse, it may still be possible to recycle.

This strategy is 4th on the list, because contrary to popular belief recycling is not a very effective strategy. Indeed, given the amount of waste we generate, it’s impossible to recycle everything… And many of us throw out way too many things in our recycling bins (I call that wish cycling, to ease our conscience and yes, it happens to me too). So considering all this, it’s better to use this strategy only when the previous ones are not an option.

Mindful consumption: the 5 Rs principle

You can recycle

  • Paper
  • Cardboard food packaging
  • Some plastic packaging
  • Glass
  • Metal

Here is a more complete list of what is recyclable (and what is not)! https://www.recyc-quebec.gouv.qc.ca/citoyens/mieux-recuperer/quest-ce-qui-va-dans-le-bac/#ce-qui-va-dans-le-bac  

The most important thing to remember is what doesn’t get recycled and ends up in the trash … like plastic bags, styrofoam, and dirty single-use food packaging.

Another way to recycle is to buy recycled products when we can! As I said earlier, buying is voting so, in my opinion, it’s always good to show companies that you want to encourage the manufacture of recycled products!

The Fifth R: Rot

At this point, there should be mostly organic waste left in your garbage can. Anything organic can be composted.

It’s easy to think that by throwing our organic waste in the trash, it will end up decomposing in landfills, but note that it’s not the case! To decompose properly, food, paper and other organic waste need daylight and air. But when they end up in a landfill, they are buried under other garbage and can’t decompose properly.

Mindful consumption: the 5 Rs principle

So the best thing to do is to get a small organic waste bin. Not only does it make composting easy, but it’s a good way to be aware of what you’re wasting, since it’s not mixed in with the other garbage! If you’re worried about the smell, you can do what my mom does: freeze her compost in the city and dump it in her compost bin at the cottage when she goes up north. Pretty smart, huh?

If you like to garden, you can use your compost to fertilize the soil of your plants. If not, find out if there is a place to deposit your compost in your neighbourhood, if there is no organic waste collection near you!

Mindful consumption: the 5 Rs principle

So that’s the 5 Rs principle! Are you already practising one or more of these strategies? Do you have any other tips for reducing your ecological footprint on a daily basis? Share them with us below!

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