The 5 R’s to Sustainability: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, Rot, Refuse

By Arami Matevosyan

If you look up the word “waste” in the dictionary, you will find multiple meanings that include verbs, adjectives, and nouns; but what does waste really mean for society? Unwanted, no doubt, comes to the minds of many because in our society waste is trash, something we no longer deem useful or necessary in our lives.

In 2012, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash, about landfill4.38 pounds per person, per day [source: EPA]. After the city garbage truck picks up your trash, that trash typically goes to a Transfer Station—a checkpoint where it is sorted before it arrives at its final destination. The final destination can be a landfill, incinerator, or recycling center. Sadly, some people don’t even participate in trash pickup but rather litter in our communities and oceans.

Not all waste can degrade and a great majority of it decomposes to produce toxic gases that can lead to pollution and increase in greenhouse gases. Plastics are one type of waste that can find their way into our oceans and remain there until they break down into smaller and smaller pieces. These pieces are then consumed by sea creatures, which can have damaging effects to their bodies.

Admittedly, this is only a brief list of possible impacts but that does not mean that the problems stop where the sentence ends. ESchoolToday outlines some of the environmental and economic effects of waste and poor waste disposal on its website. Additionally, The Mindful Word discusses similar effects on the environment and the accumulation of waste in the ocean in an informative video, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Despite these saddening trends in waste disposal, we can find positive ways to be involved in the cycle of production, consumption, and waste. The 5 R’s can help us distinguish what is truly wasteful and what is not. Listed below are the 5 R’s and a tidbit about each one.

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Reduce suggests cutting back on the quantity and the kind of products you buy. The idea is to consume less, which results in less waste produced.


Recycling can get a bit confusing but it is worth taking the time to understand how plastics differ from each other. For more information on distinguishing recycling labels, check out Waste Management’s website.


Instead of throwing out products you no longer think you need, try repurposing them. Mother Nature Network outlines 50 ways to reuse your garbage so that you can not only save money but also create new and intriguing projects.


This includes the act of composting. Some items that are compostable are all types of food, plant trimmings, leaves, flowers, weeds, and solid paper products (such as used paper napkins/towels/plates, coffee cups, and paper to-go containers.


Refuse refers to municipal solid waste (household trash). Be proactive by designating specific trashcans for plastics, papers, metals, glass, and landfill. This will make sorting much easier in Transfer Stations and will allow you to keep a tab on how much of each type of product you use.



This entry was posted in Sustainable World Coalition Blog on by .

About Arami Matevosyan

Blog Coordinator for the Sustainable World Coalition - Sustainable Environmental Design Major, City & Regional Planning Minor at University of California, Berkeley. Passionate about urban ecologies and sustainable retrofitting with the concept of biomimicry and symbiotic relationship between the built and unbuilt environment.

4 thoughts on “The 5 R’s to Sustainability: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, Rot, Refuse

  1. Lorrie

    At first I thought “refuse” meant don’t accept as in over-packaged &or in non recyclable packaging. This needs to be addressed at a high level as well as the individual consumer level.


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