Even if the term “the 5 Rs” seems foreign to you, chances are you’ve heard of at least a few of them. The 5 Rs is a framework, created by Bea Johnson, which helps people lead a more zero-waste lifestyle. The Rs stand for refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot.

The key here? Using the 5 Rs in the order they’re listed. That means you have far fewer items to recycle or throw away, which is critical since only about 9% of all plastic worldwide is actually recycled, despite our best intentions. While a zero-waste lifestyle might seem overwhelming, the 5 Rs can provide a simple roadmap to being more sustainable.

We’ll discuss each in detail below, plus how you can use them in your own life today!


The first principle is refuse - it’s about learning to say no. Think about all the free items you’re offered in your daily life: plastic shopping bags, straws, cups, and junk mail. Your dentist offers you a free plastic toothbrush and you get free “swag” at work, which is usually unnecessary items like pens, t-shirts, and cups.

When you start to say “no thanks” to such items, you greatly limit the amount of stuff you have. That’s why it’s first on the list - it makes the greatest impact on waste reduction. It can have a global impact - as more people learn to say no, buying teams order fewer of these products and manufacturers make less.

amazon box character looking at computer screen

How to start:

  • Make a mental note to start noticing the freebies people offer you, like straws, water bottles, and flyers.
  • Each time, ask yourself whether you really need the item.
  • Keep reusable bags, cups, and straws in your backpack or car so that you can easily avoid the freebies.


The goal of living a sustainable life is to be more intentional about the products that you purchase and invite into your life. That’s where the second R comes into play: reduce. It’s all about limiting the number of products you own and living more simply.

Just ask yourself - how many times have you been so excited about a product, only to find that you rarely (if ever) use it? This is especially true with clothing, but it can extend into gadgets, housewares, and more. That’s not to say that your goal should be zero consumption - that isn’t attainable. Instead, it’s about analyzing what you own, letting go of what you don’t need, and buying the necessities, which are totally unique to you.

This is why LIM Living’s mission is centered around the concept of “less is more.” We strive to keep our ADUs (additional dwelling units) as minimal as possible. This way, we maintain a smaller carbon footprint and create less waste. Meanwhile, you get to choose to add the items that really matter. Plus, we prefabricate our ADUs in a warehouse, which allows us to reduce the amount of waste, pollution, and damage we could contribute to the environment.

donation box full of scarves and other clothing items

How to start:

  • Go through the rooms in your home and declutter, then make the items you don’t need available to your community by donating or selling them.
  • Look around your home before buying something new to make sure you don’t already have duplicates.
  • When you feel the impulse to buy something, tell yourself to wait one week before buying it. You’ll often find that you no longer “need” or want the item.


The third principle is about reusing what you have and extending an item’s usefulness for as long as possible. That means choosing items that are reusable over single-use products, too. For example, you can bring your own thermos to the coffee shop rather than accepting a single-use plastic cup.

It also means repairing what you have, like patching your jeans instead of buying a new pair. Likewise, when you buy second hand, you’re reusing what already exists rather than purchasing something new.

At LIM Living, we practice modular construction, meaning we use as much of the allotted material as possible while building. Then, we repurpose any leftover materials to construct other parts of the unit or to contribute to other units. We find innovative ways to use leftovers rather than sending them to a landfill or leaving them at a construction site, as happens with many new build projects.

multiple pairs of denim on the the table with a sign that read "upcycling"

How to start:

  • Swap disposables for reusables. As Bea says, you probably already have the essential swaps at home - look around your house before you rush online to buy a new reusable!
  • Before you throw away or recycle an item, ask yourself if you can repair it.
  • Before buying a new product, check your local thrift stores.


When you can no longer use an item or repair it, recycle as much as possible. Check out your local government’s website to learn what’s included in your residential recycling program. You can also search the internet for alternate ways to deal with hard-to-recycle items. For example, Target has bins at every store to recycle plastic shopping bags, cell phones, and ink cartridges.

When buying new, you can also choose to purchase items made from recycled materials. LIM Living practices this principle. For example, our Studio’s kitchenette countertops are made of 100% recycled paper, which is produced using WE Technology, an exclusive waste-to-energy process. Our windows are made of 40% reclaimed wood fibers.

clothing tag with tag indicating item is made from recycled material

How to start:

  • Do a Google search for your city’s recycling program.
  • Start collecting your recycling and sorting it per the information you find online.


In the US, 30 to 40% of all food is never eaten. When we send that food to the landfill, we generate methane gas, which is a potent greenhouse gas. We can help those foods rot naturally and avoid this issue altogether by composting. There are a variety of ways to compost, whether you want to compost at home or utilize a local service.

woman holding container of compost turned into fertilizer

How to start:


There you have it - the 5 Rs! It’s important to highlight that the access you have to resources, like thrift stores and recycling programs, will vary depending on where you live, impacting your ability to control your waste. We encourage you to use the 5 Rs as a simple roadmap to being more sustainable. Use them to guide your decision-making, but be flexible with yourself. Most importantly, remember that every time you utilize one of the 5 Rs, you’re doing better for the planet, which is something worth celebrating!

July 05, 2023