The 5 R’s of Recycling

I learned something new recently. Many of us have probably heard of the ‘three R’s’ of recycling: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

But I recently learned that there are actually—or at least were originally—five R’s. So, out of curiosity, and out of a genuine desire to be more sustainable, I decided to do a little research into these two new (well, new to me) R’s and write a blog post about it!

First, the three commonly known R’s. These I remember primarily from watching Bob the Builder as a child. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

But now I’ve learned that there are actually five R’s! There are actually an extra Refuse and Repurpose on that list. This brings the recycling mantra’s complete form to: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle. Just like in the version with the three R’s, the order of these words is important. Recycling is important but should be the final step, with genuine efforts to limit the amount of waste produced in the first place as the most important.

NOTE: the 5 R’s I have listed in this article are the ones I have heard of, but there are differing versions. I did a quick search to see how much these versions differed from one another.

  • Two website-blogs also cited the 5 R’s as being Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle here and here.
  • Another site claimed the 5 R’s are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.
  • Yet another has the 5 R’s as mostly the same as the prior site, with Refuse, Reduce, Reuse (and repair), Recycle, Rot.
  • One more states it as Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

I like to be honest on my blog, so I will admit that while I do usually try to reuse single-use/disposable plastics and other materials, I certainly am not perfect! I actively recycle when I can. I try to reuse materials. I try to stay away from acquiring heaps of single-use products by, for example, not buying bottled water unless I absolutely need to and saying no to plastic bags when buying something. I try not to buy things that I don’t really need or probably won’t use much. However, I definitely have moments where I simply recycle something without ever reusing or upcycling it, and I definitely have had moments where I’ve bought something and then rarely ever used it.

Below is what I have learned plus some examples of things I do and/or intend to do to follow these R’s and be more sustainable.


Refuse is important in the chain of recycling and sustainable waste management. In aiming towards sustainability, it is important to not only dispose of waste effectively, but further to limit the amount of waste acquired and produced in the first place. Refuse is about being thoughtful about what we are purchasing, and not buying things we don’t really need.

(Note that “Rethink” may often be used as the first ‘R’ as this first step relates to thinking carefully and being thoughtful about items we accumulate)

Try: making a habit out of saying no to plastic shopping bags, straws and cutlery.


  • Choosing not to use plastic straws unless we really need to
  • Choosing to not print something and instead using and accessing digital versions
  • Carefully considering whether you really need something before buying
  • Using more reusable items rather than single-use disposable items
  • Refusing plastic bags in stores and instead carrying items in your hands, handbag/backpack, or reusable shopping bag
  • Saying no to flyers, especially if you know you’re just going to throw it away when you get home anyway


Reduce is similar to refuse. We may do our best to refuse single-use items and limit how much/how often we buy things, but it is not always possible to always Refuse. After all, we do need some items to use/wear in our daily lives! Reduce is about thinking carefully about the waste we produce and acquire in our lives and actively trying to limit the amount of waste we accumulate and produce.

Try: being more thoughtful when buying things (or when being given free stuff)! Consider if you really will use an item multiple times.


  • Reducing the amount of plastic bottles we use by opting towards using filtered or tap water, and investing in a reusable drink bottle for when we’re out and about.
  • Printing on both sides of the paper, or only printing the most relevant/important pages of something
  • Using keep-cups/travel mugs as much as possible instead of using disposable cups
  • Using items we already have rather than buying new things
  • Resisting impulse buying
  • Investing in multi-use items which can be reused, rather than always depending on disposables


Reusing items is important. Accumulating things in our lives is inevitable. Once we have limited the amount of materials that we consume and accumulate by Refusing and Reducing, we can Reuse them as many times as possible.  For example, if you were to use disposable plastic bottles and reuse each one just once more by refilling it, you would ultimately halve the number of plastic bottles you end up using and throwing away in a year! Investing in reusable alternatives and reusing items you already own before buying new things will save you money and will be far better for the planet too!

Try: investing in reusable options for items you use often (e.g. a keep-cup if you buy coffee on-the-go a lot).


  • Rinsing out and reusing plastic food containers for leftovers.
  • Reusing disposable plastics at least one more time
  • Passing down items (clothes, books, etc.) second-hand so one doesn’t have to always buy new
  • Wearing clothes you already own instead of buying new things for one or two wears
  • Joining/forming ‘swap’ groups and passing on items that are no longer needed instead of throwing items away


Repurposing is great for items that are no longer functional, or are no longer needed by the owner in their current state. Instead of simply tossing something in the bin or the donation pile, it is a good habit to get into to try and see the potential in the thing. An item may not be needed as it is currently, but what can that item become? This ‘R’ is a great way to unleash your creative side and have fun experimenting with an item that you no longer need in its current state. Repurposing is about looking beyond what the item is now and trying to envision what it could become, to turn it into something you can use.

Try: Altering and repairing old items before committing to buying new objects.


  • ‘Upcycling’ old clothes by altering them to fit your current personal style, or repurposing/upcycling second-hand clothes to fit someone else’s style and then gifting the item (e.g. turning an old shirt into a crop-top by trimming it)
  • Altering clothes that no longer fit so that they fit again (e.g. hemming items, replacing elastic, adding a button)
  • Using materials in craft projects/diy-ing   
  • Repurposing old clothes as washable cleaning rags
  • Taking apart and using old garments for spare parts for other sewing or art projects (e.g. taking a piece from an old, torn garment and using the piece to patch up another garment or make a pocket)
  • Mending something that is torn or broken instead of replacing it (especially items that are ‘quick-fixes’)


Finally, there is recycle! Once we have limited the amount of waste we produce/items we consume, and we have gotten as much use as we possibly can out of these items, we can recycle them.

Try: a quick search online to make sure an item is recyclable in your area if you’re unsure.


  • Recycling plastic drinking bottles, cans and containers
  • Recycling paper
  • Sending materials that cannot easily be recycled to organisations which accept materials for arts and crafts

So there you have it, the 5 R’s of recycling, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle! Do you try to practise these steps, or is that an area you need to work on? For me, I can confidently say that I do somewhat follow these steps, but I definitely can (and am going to try to) do better!

The examples in this article are certainly not an exhaustive list. If you know of any other examples for being more sustainable, please let us know in the comments down below!

Thanks for reading!



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