Getting to Know the 5Rs of Recycling

Growing up we learned the 3 Rs of Recycling; reduce, reuse, recycle. We recognise those three folded arrows that have been around since 1970 (which were actually created as part of an Earth Day contest).

Over the last 50 years we have focused on the recycling part. We can now see how ignoring the reduce and reuse has led to a crisis that recycling alone can’t fix.

Nowadays we have 5 Rs; Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose or Repair, and Recycle. You can also make a case for another R- Rot, aka compost.

Notice recycle is last on the list.

The UK can be confusing for recycling because every local authority has it’s own rules and certain facilities for handling waste (unless you live in Wales as they have a country-wide policy).

As of now the UK doesn’t have the capacity to recycle all of the plastic it produces and has no choice but to send it to other countries or to landfill. This is why reducing the plastic in our life is so important and we need to focus on the other 4 Rs first.

If you can’t do one of the 5 Rs then ideally your waste would be compostable and using the landfill is the last resort.

So how well do you know the 5 Rs? Let’s find out.

1. Refuse

The first R is to refuse. If you say no to waste in the first place, the following Rs don’t even matter. For example, say no to straws with drinks (even the paper ones). Bring your own containers to the chippy so you can say no to polystyrene take-away boxes.

And here’s an important one; not buying something because it’s eco-friendly, like wax wraps. As nice as they are in theory the most eco-friendly thing you can use is something you already own like a food storage box.

If enough people refuse these types of items, then the demand goes down and ideally disappears or gives way to a closed-loop system of products.

2. Reduce

Reduce is next in terms of importance. We are living in a world of fast fashion, fast electronics, fast, disposable everything it seems. We don’t buy with the intention of keeping something, we buy with the intention of upgrading, which leads to a lot of waste.

Fast fashion accounts for 92 million tonnes of waste every year. E-waste is around 50 million tonnes a year.

By reducing the amount we buy and the amount we upgrade, we are reducing waste.

Instead of buying a new outfit every time you go to a birthday party, race day, or a night out with your friends, try rewearing something you already own. If you want something no one has seen, try borrowing something from a friend. If you want something fancy but know it’s a one time occasion try hiring an dress from By Rotation. It’s a fraction of the price, so you get to wear quality clothing and you aren’t left with the guilt of an expensive dress sitting unworn in your wardrobe, or holiday clothes you only wore for that week in Spain two summers ago.

Cheap clothing from fast fashion retailers has a reputation for not lasting, gets worn once, and has a low resale value (think like £1-2, max).

Buy quality over quantity. You want to buy things made to last. And if something goes wrong with your items skip to number four below.

3. Reuse

Plastic bags came along as the replacement for paper bags in an effort to save the trees. The problem is that while paper bags were repurposed into homemade textbook covers and costumes in primary schools, plastic bags weren’t being reused from one week to the next.

The waste got out of control and we now are drowning in that plastic.

Items like plastic bags and even bread bags should be used again and again until they fall apart before they are recycled.

Treating recyclables as disposables will not solve our plastic pollution problems. Recycling schemes just can’t keep up.

4. Repurpose or Repair

As mentioned in number 2, quality over quantity is what will help reduce waste. If we buy with the intention of keeping an item, we take better care of those items.

If your favourite coat loses a button or gets a rip in the lining, you repair the item as opposed to putting it in a charity bag or taking it to the tip.

If you have lovely Egyptian cotton towels that have been used to the point of fraying and getting holes or stains, repurpose the towel buy cutting them with pinking shears (to prevent fraying) and use the squares for cleaning cloths, family cloths, or make your own baby spit up rags like I did.

By repurposing or repairing, you are extending the life of your belongings and reducing waste.

5. Recycle

Recycling is a plaster for a stab wound. It doesn’t help much. With only 9% of the world’s plastic ever being recycled the best thing we can do is avoid, avoid, avoid single-use plastic as much as possible. You can check out my Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste for more tips.

Aluminium and glass are valuable for recycling as both can be recycled indefinitely.

When you recycle aluminum, particularly tin foil, first make sure it’s clean of any food waste and dry. Then ball up as much as you can before putting it in the bin.

Small foil wrappers won’t be picked up by the recycling machines so the bigger the ball the better. 

Paper is fairly easy to recycle but paper products can only be recycled about 4 times before losing it’s integrity and needing virgin material.

As with aluminium you need to make sure the paper or boxes has no food waste or things like acrylic paint, glue, glitter, or any other artsy embellishment. The food and art materials contaminate the paper making it unrecyclable, hence no pizza boxes, greeting cards, or your kids art projects.

Putting the wrong items in the bin or not disposing of the items properly can contaminate the entire truck of recycling resulting in it all going to landfill.

And then there’s plastic.

There are several types of plastic and though most can be recycled, it’s not as easy as throwing it in the recycling bin.

Plastic has 7 different recycling codes depending on the type of plastic material it is.

Code 1 PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

PET is typically used for bottled drinks and some packaging. It is meant to be a single-use plastic. Boo. The reason? Reusing these bottles increases the chance of the plastic leaching into the contents because the surfaces are porous which is what causes the plastic flavour coming through in the contents.

There are some reusable bottles made from PET but make sure it says so before reusing.

PET can be recycled though and should be. About 60% of PET bottles are recycled in the UK which is good but could be better.

The best alternative would be to bring your own bottle and purchase your soft drinks in in cans or glass bottles.

Code 2 HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE is a stiff plastic that is used to make things like detergent bottles, children’s toys, and milk jugs. It is one of the safest plastics to use and also very durable.

HDPE can be reused and recycled.

Code 3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC is used for food wraps, bouncy castles and soft play coverings, as well as shower curtains and inflatables. This plastic should not be heated and contains phthalates, which depending on the type used can lead to reproductive defects.

Though we don’t ingest PVC, continuing to use products that increase the production of phthalates can’t be good for the environment.

PVC is also hard to recycle and is generally not collected at the kerbside.

Code 4 LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

LDPE is found in carrier bags, bread bags, and things like squeezy bottles. It is one of the safest plastics to use and the number to look out for if you end up buying plastic bowls, plates and cups for your toddlers.

Before I changed to a lifestyle of avoiding plastic consumption, I bought what would be safe for my girls and IKEA’s childrens dinnerware is Plastic Code 4.

Despite being safer, LDPE is hard to recycle, hence having to recycle bags at large stores because they likely won’t be collected kerbside.

Code 5 PP (Polypropylene)

PP is most commonly used in things like yogurt pots, medicine containers and ketchup bottles. It is often labelled microwave safe because it is more resistant to heat, but you are still better off transferring the contents to a non-plastic dish and then heating.

Many recycling programs will accept PP, but you need to check with your local authority.

Code 6 PS (Polystyrene)

PS also known as Styrofoam is commonly used in take-away containers and packing peanuts. This type of plastic leaches toxic chemicals if heated and is hard to recycle.


Code 7 Other/PC (BPA, Polycarbonate)

Bisphenol A (BPA) is famous for leaching into baby bottles years ago and was ultimately found to be an endocrine disruptor that can disrupt normal hormone functions. Given that hormones regulate almost everything on our bodies this is scary.

BPA is now banned in baby products but can still be found in other products though many companies proudly write BPA-free, but have replaced it with similar bisphenol chemicals like BPS which turns out to be just as bad.

BPA and the alternatives have been found to disrupt sperm count and egg quality which can be passed down to future generations as well!

Avoid Products with number 7, Other or PC in the triangle.


Check out to find out what specifically gets collected in your area. Recycling should be a last resort when it comes to plastic. Try to avoid single-use plastic as much as possible.

If you have to buy plastic look for bulk containers of yogurt instead of individual pots. Section the yogurt into your own containers. You will reduce the plastic waste and you will save money as well as the single-serving yogurts tend to cost more.

You May Enjoy: 5 Easy Zero Waste Changes in Your Kitchen

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Make sure to check out the On-Pack Recycling Labels (OPRLs) as there will be additional information as to what parts of the packaging is or isn’t recycled.

One extra advantage to this is, if you are trying to avoid plastic all together, the OPRLs can tell you if there is hidden plastic packaging inside a box. I know so many (myself included) who have been duped thinking they bought zero-waste chocolates only to open the box and find everything is wrapped in plastic!

Often if you check the back of the packaging it will have an OPRL for each component of the packaging so you can easily see if there is hidden plastic lurking.

Beware of TetraPaks

Tetra Paks are the containers used for milk alternatives and for several juices. The cartons are made of a mix of materials and have a different recycling process. Some authorities will recycle them at the kerbside, others require that you bring them directly to your HWRC.

Tetra Pak had to spend time and money teaching authorities how to recycle their product. Now that they are recyclable, unless you go to the tip regularly chances are most people still won’t be bothered.

This would be a good point to bring up with your council asking them to collect more from the kerbside to encourage less waste.

Recycle More Through Terracycle

Let’s face it some products just don’t have a plastic free option and not everyone has the means, skills, or time to make their own from scratch. Luckily there’s a program that recycles the obscure items that your local authority won’t.


Terracycle has made it a point to recycle the things that “can’t” be recycled like contact lenses, crisp and confectionary wrapping, and ballpoint pens. You collect those items and take them to recycle points where they are recycled into useful things like picnic tables and park benches.

Many of the drop off locations are local schools and by dropping your waste off there, the school benefits from Terracycle’s point system that allows the schools to earn money.

This will take some extra effort on your part as it means saving your recycling and remembering to take it to drop off points. But at least you know that your waste has a better chance being recycled through these schemes and not becoming a problem in another country.


Food waste is a huge issue worldwide. In 2018 the UK threw away 6.6 million tonnes of food waste and 70% of it was food that could have been eaten.

Sending that food waste to the landfill creates methane gas because the food is in a bin bag that doesn’t allow oxygen in to break it down. So not only is it wasteful but is contributing to greenhouse gases.

By setting up a compost heap in your garden you can get rid of not only food waste but paper waste that can’t be recycled (like pizza boxes and used tissue) Instead of creating greenhouse gases, composting creates lovely compost for the garden and can also provide a habitat and food for insects, frogs and toads.

If you aren’t ready to go full compost you can get a bokashi bin (or just the bran if you have another bin) for just your food scraps.

My council is piloting a food waste bin (not in my area, boo), so it is worth writing to your council to see if they plan to implement a similar program and in my case ask when it will be rolled out to my area.

Of course, the best way to reduce food waste is to not have it in the first place, see number two above. Meal planning and sticking to a shopping list are both easy ways to reduce your food waste and save money on your shopping bill.

What Happens to Waste in Landfills?

Waste heading off to a landfill will have one of two options; either to get incinerated or buried. Burning the waste will lead to carbon dioxide air pollution but Sweden burns their waste to provide heating and electricity for almost 2 million people. Yes, it still produces waste in the terms of air pollution, but is it any worse than what manufacturers produce and vehicles and…landfills?

Landfills are like garbage cemeteries. The waste gets buried where it will slowly decompose (like thousands of years if it’s plastic). And because there is no oxygen to help break down the waste, garbage like food scraps will release methane gas which makes up 10% of the world’s greenhouse gases. The gases that contribute to global warming.

The best thing we can do is to keep as little waste going to landfills as possible. If you can afford to, make the switch to compostable bin liners so when the waste does arrive at the landfill (ideally), the bag will break down and allow air in to break down the contents of the bag.

The More You Know

Having a better understanding of how you can use the 5Rs to reduce your waste and leave a smaller footprint on the planet is key to making changes. If we consciously think about where each purchase fits in those Rs we can make better choices including the choice to not buy at all. I hope this helps you reduce your waste.

Grab Your Recycling Cheat Sheet Here!

With this Cheat Sheet you will never again be confused with what can and can’t go in your recycling bin. There’s even a sheet of tips with items that you might not think can be recycled but actually can!


What Do Minimalism, Zero Waste, and Gratitude Have in Common?

Minimalism, zero waste, and gratitude are terms that seem to show up everywhere these days but, did you know they are all connected?

Living with less? Having an empty bin as a goal? Practicing gratitude daily? They may not seem like they are connected but I will show you that not only are they connected but they are dependent on each other. If you leave one out, you risk not getting the full benefit of a slower lifestyle and worse, risk a relapse to the status quo.

In a nutshell, all three are tools to get you off the consumerist hamster wheel and live a simpler more fulfilled life.

“Too many people spend money they earned…to buy things they don’t want…to impress people they don’t like.” -Will Rogers


Minimalism is a lifestyle choice to live with less. Less things. Less space. Less time commitments. And even less debt.

You live with the things you truly enjoy having and decide that keeping up with the Joneses is not only a waste of money, but a waste of energy, too.

Minimalist Home

Minimalism tends to be portrayed as white, clean, and bare aesthetics. But the truth is minimalism will look however you want it to look in your home. If you want jewel-toned walls with a couple of posters from your favourite bands, that’s fine. If you decide to paint your walls Wise Owl and have a gallery wall with photos displayed of your family, that’s ok, too.

The idea is that you keep things that you enjoy and want to display. If you have keepsakes from loved ones or certificates of your achievements then you should be decorating your home with those things. If it’s something that you would rather put in a box, in the loft then it’s probably time to part with that item.

What sets minimalists apart from non-minimalists is they have less things. The things they do have all have a place to be stored away in leaving clear worktops, tables, desks, etc.

Cleaning a minimalist home takes less time because there is less stuff to manipulate or work around.

A minimalist home is a relaxing space. When you aren’t worried about finding stuff or the daunting task of cleaning and maintaining a bunch of stuff a weight is lifted from your shoulders.

Minimalist Wardrobe

Capsule wardrobes tend to be all the rage. Pinterest is filled with tons of capsule wardrobes for work, for holidays, for every season, and this may seem like a minimalist wardrobe.

There’s plenty out there who will give you an exact number of items you should own and lead you to believe that’s a minimalist wardobe.

But, it’s not.

Your wardrobe should contain clothes that you love wearing. Chances are you know what those items are already. They are the ones that always seem to end up in the washing pile. It’s not a set number and it doesn’t need to be.

Your other clothes (the ones that don’t end up in the wash) seem to sit inflicting guilt because you never wear them, or hope to get back into them, or they still have tags on them or whatever the reason are the ones that shouldn’t be there.

A minimalist would let those clothes go and not worry about guilt and “maybe somedays.”

Joshua Fields Millburn said in The Minimalists, that everything in his closet is his favourite and this should be the approach you take. Even when it comes to your I-don’t-have-anywhere-to-be-today-and-I-didn’t-have-time-to-shower-anyway clothes should still be your favourite sweatshirt and trackie bottoms.

If you have a top or a dress that you like, but always choose something else when given the choice. That’s the stuff that should go.

Steve Jobs aside from being the co-founder and CEO of both Apple and Pixar, he was also known for wearing the same clothes every day. Why? Decision fatigue.

Every decision from what to have for breakfast, to what you are wearing, to what order to get ready all takes brain power. We use so much of our freshest hours making so many little decisions that it’s no wonder we are dragging by the afternoon. So instead of staring into the wardrobe thinking, I have nothing to wear or What should I wear? you can pare down your clothes. Not only will you own just your favourites, you are giving yourself more energy or brain power in the morning because choosing what to wear isn’t a tedious task.

Once you have reduced what you have, you may also find that you take better care of your clothes, shoes and accessories as well since you don’t have “backups” or other alternatives lying around taking up space.

Minimalist Schedule

A minimalist would look not only at her home but at her schedule as well. Are we trying to create the smartest, well-rounded kids in the world? Jamming the family’s schedule so full of extra-curricular activities beyond school and work will also take a toll.

Rushing around to get to appointments or lessons or practices or rehearsals leaves little down time for you or your family to decompress and just be. Weekends suddenly revolve around activities and family meals are eaten on the run.

By cutting back on the scheduling, we find out what is the most important to keep in your schedule, but more importantly you gain free time. Time to have a family game night, time to go to the park for an impromptu picnic, time to just do nothing.

Minimalism allows you to take life a little slower. It gives you time to notice little things. It gives you time to spend with your friends and family.

So how does zero waste fit in to all of this?

“The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change.” -Greta Thunberg

Zero Waste

Zero waste is a form of minimalism with the focus being on reducing or eliminating waste.

Waste comes in many forms and not just what ends up in our bins, but that’s where most tend to start.

With the plastic problem and climate crisis at the front of many of our minds the zero waste movement is gaining a lot of traction. You may notice shops trialling bulk buy schemes, eliminating plastic from the produce section, and even stores eliminating plastic carrier bags all together.

You may see bamboo being used more widely as a disposable alternative and suddenly companies are using green in their products’ colour-schemes.

The problem with this is that while bamboo is a sustainable material, the disposable part of these and other “green products” are not. Replacing plastic with bamboo is a step in the right direction, but the fact is bamboo needs to be disposed of properly to break down or it will still contribute to landfill space and greenhouse gas production.

Tossing bamboo items in the bin prevents the breakdown process from happening because it’s in a plastic bin liner. Instead of being a solution, bamboo replacements can become part of the problem quickly.

So what do zero waste minimalists do?

Zero Waste is about reducing first.

You may remember the 3 Rs of recycling- recycle, reduce, reuse? Well this has since been updated to the 5 Rs of recycling- refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose or repair, and lastly, recycle.

Recycling is not a bad thing but it’s clear that it’s not a solution to the world’s overconsumption.

A zero waste minimalist is a minimalist in the sense that they do not fall into the trap of buying happiness- hence both groups know how to refuse.

What happens with minimalists though, even though they are doing the right thing in refusing to buy more, more, more, for many the underlying motivation is purely aesthetics.

Zero wasters are living closer to our grandparents’ lifestyles when single-use plastic didn’t exist.

So, instead of accepting the bamboo cutlery as a replacement for plastic, the zero waster carries her own reusable set. Instead of replacing plastic water bottles with glass or water in a can, he carries his own bottle wherever he goes. It means carrying the same bag week in and week out during her weekly shop and avoiding the plastic “forever” bags. He is also more likely to make snacks or food from scratch to avoid single-use plastic.

Reduce and reuse are the first steps to zero waste.

Zero waste is about repurposing and repairing.

Sure, there are so many lovely, zero waste products made from cottons, bamboo, metals, wood, but chances are there is a replacement in your home already so you don’t need to buy anything new, eco-friendly or not.

For example a zero waster will cut an old towel to make cleaning rags instead of buying new, pretty, eco-friendly ones. He will wash an empty jar of passata and use it to store dry foods. If your clock accidentally tips over and the glass cover comes off (me) she gets some gorilla glue and takes the time to fix it.

When a zero waste minimalist does make a purchase, it’s about quality not quantity. She buys with the expectation that it will last forever and like other minimalists will take better care of said purchase if the goal is to not have to replace it. She is also going to try to source the needed item second hand without hesitation because that is what zero waste is about.

And just like minimalism when you have less and don’t intend to constantly replace items, you take better care of your things. This is an important habit to pass on to your kids. As well as teaching them to be responsible with their things you show them that running out and buying a replacement is not a sustainable option.

And ultimately zero waste means just that-zero waste.

When all is said and done the goal of a zero waster is to have an empty bin and not just the rubbish bin, but the recycling bin as well. This was a huge “ah-ha” for me.

The U.K. alone ships and average of 800,000 tons of plastic away to other countries (countries that don’t have the capacity to handle it) to deal with so having an empty rubbish bin and a full recycling bin is still waste at the end of the day. The recycling also has a carbon footprint when created and must undergo a process to be reused creating a further footprint.

So a zero waster will reuse the recyclables as many times as she can before tossing them in the recycling bin.

Ok, so maybe the connection between those two was pretty obvious but connecting gratitude is what makes any type of minimalism successful in the long run.

“If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never have enough.” Oprah Winfrey

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Gratitude is simply being thankful for what you have. It can be expressed in different ways like being thankful for past experiences, not taking good things (no matter how small or trivial) for granted or, feeling hopeful and optimistic about things to come.

However you choose to express your gratitude, it’s an important piece of the minimalist lifestyle.

Gratitude is a great way to fight advertising and consumerism.

You see around 3500 advertisements a day. Your child is exposed to about 40,000 a year. Companies spend millions upon million of pounds trying to figure out how to get you to buy. They play on your fears; fear of missing out, fear of being out of the loop, fear of not looking good or appearing clever, rich, or cool, fear of not being like everyone else.

Gratitude can change your outlook on what you buy and suddenly keeping up with the Jonses’ seems silly.

Gratitude allows you to live your best life doing, buying, and wearing things that make you happy because you like it.

When you are happy with what you have things like “this season’s trends” and “Panetone’s colour of the year” don’t make you bat an eye because you know what you like and don’t need someone else to tell you what to do.

When you combine gratitude with minimalism and zero waste, you then pare everything down to your favourites and you are happy about it and the drive to buy something for the little rush of dopamine you get isn’t there anymore. Shopping no longer becomes a recreational activity.

Gratitude makes the transition to minimalist lifestyles easier.

If you are grateful for what you have, having less isn’t a punishment. Researchers from UC Davis and the University of Miami found that practicing gratitude daily leads to more optimism and contentment in our lives. They found that those who show gratitude exercise more and go to the doctor’s less than people who focus on the negatives.

So often we assume that minimalism is like self-imposed austerity and you aren’t allowed to buy anything and that’s just not true. At the end of the day when your home and life are decluttered you are grateful for the space and grateful for the time that has been created with your choice of less. When you chose to buy something, your criteria will have changed. You will buy quality; you will make sure you need the item before allowing it to occupy your space and time and if you are more eco-minded you will have no problem looking for alternatives in your home or second-hand before you buy new.

Gratitude Helps with the Eco-Anxiety Caused by Going Zero Waste

Eco-anxiety? Yes. When you spend a lot of time reading negative news stories about the planet, the countdown timer of irreversible climate change, the uphill battle fighting plastic, and hundreds of other stories demonstrating humans causing our own extinction can leave you feeling helpless and depressed.

You may start to think things like, What’s the point? I bought my fruit without plastic this week but everyone else around me could care less and the shops are still filled to the brim with single-use plastic. It’s easy to feel like your efforts don’t matter. It’s easy to be overwhelmed at the world your kids are growing up in. It’s tempting to just give up.

But, don’t.

Gratitude can help. By looking for the good things in your day, you are making your days more about the positives and not letting the negatives be the highlights of your day.

I have been battling post-partum anxiety for almost a year now and have found practicing gratitude has been a helpful addition to my Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and for good reason. According to researchers at UC Berkley, practicing gratitude on top of counselling leads to greater benefits than when counselling alone and that’s even if gratitude doesn’t ultimately become a habit because it has a lasting effect on your brain.

So much of your time, money and energy is spent pursuing the things you don’t have. Gratitude changes your priorities to appreciating what you do have.

Once you have gratitude ingrained as a habit, suddenly you look around and realise you do have enough and now being minimalist (and sticking to it) is easy.


When you put gratitude together with minimalism and zero waste it’s like opening your eyes and seeing the world a different way (and it’s not always rosy). You see how fast the world is moving and how much waste is everywhere-whether it’s rubbish in the streets, the aisle after aisle of single use plastic, the hundreds of shops peddling the latest trends at the lowest prices, or families spending less and less time together as a family.

And suddenly it’s easier to not be a part of it.

You may start to feel like you are doing a good thing making the switch and know that you are making a difference.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” -Dr. Suess, The Lorax

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