Skip to content
In this post, we explain each of the 5 R's (refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle) and how putting them into practice will benefit your business.
Recycling // Thought Leadership // Knowledge Base

The 5 R's: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle

In this post, we explain each of the 5 R's (refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle) and how putting them into practice will benefit your business.

RoadRunner | November 8, 2023

Recycling is usually number one on our list, but today, it's last...

According to the 5 R's, four actions should be taken, if possible, prior to 'recycling': refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, and then recycle. Incorporating this methodology into your business' waste reduction and recycling efforts will minimize landfill waste and help take your recycling program to the next level, helping you enter the world of sustainable waste management. In this post, we explain each of the 5 R's and the benefits of putting them into practice at your business.

How to Apply the 5 R's

Applying the 5 R's to your business' waste management and recycling strategies can positively impact the outcome of your program by significantly reducing the amount of waste your business generates. In the 5 R's hierarchy, remember to treat recycling as a last resort after attempting to refuse, reduce, reuse or repurpose. Before disposing of your waste, walk through each of these steps in the following order:


Refuse: the first element of the 5 R's hierarchy. Learning to refuse waste can take some practice, but incorporating this step into your business' strategy is the most effective way to minimize waste. Talk to your procurement team about refusing to buy wasteful or non-recyclable products. When working with vendors, refuse unnecessary product packaging and request reusable or returnable containers. Making smarter purchasing decisions and setting standards and expectations early in the process makes it easier for organizations to “refuse” waste in the first place. An expert fully-managed waste services partner can make it even easier for your business.


Reduce the use of harmful, wasteful, and non-recyclable products. Reducing dependency on these kinds of products results in less waste materials ending up in landfill and the associated negative environmental impacts. We recommend always using the minimum amount required to avoid unnecessary waste. For example, when printing a document, print double-sided to cut your waste output in half. Other commonly used items businesses can focus on reducing include single-use plastics, plastic packaging, organic waste, and Styrofoam cups.


Single-use plastics have created a "throw-away" culture by normalizing consumer behavior of using materials once and then throwing them away. The rate at which we consume plastics has become unimaginable, and the plastic crisis has become one of the world's greatest environmental challenges. In an effort to reduce waste, reuse items throughout the workplace instead of buying new ones. Begin by focusing on one area of your business at a time, like the break room. Replace all of the single-use eating utensils, Styrofoam cups, water bottles, and paper plates with compostable or reusable alternatives. Once you master one area, prioritize reuse for other products in your facility like packaging peanuts, printer cartridges, cardboard boxes, food containers, and rechargeable batteries. 


For every item that can't be refused, reduced, or reused, try repurposing it. Many people in the green community refer to this method as upcycling. You may be surprised to learn how many common office products serve more than one purpose. Sometimes it requires using some creativity, but the possibilities are endless. Try using wasted printer paper for scrap paper, cardboard boxes for storing supplies, binder clips to hold power cords and chargers in place, and even mason jars, coffee mugs, and tin cans for holding pens and pencils. Designate an area of your office as an Upcycle Station for collecting and storing supplies. Encourage your colleagues to add items to the station they no longer need and to check there before purchasing new supplies. Embrace technology to help find more ideas and new ways to repurpose your items.


Last but definitely not least: recycle. Once you've gone through all of the other R's, recycling is the most environmentally friendly waste disposal method. If your business doesn't already, it should start collecting cardboard, mixed paper products, commingled materials (plastics, aluminum, glass) and organics. Most companies we speak with are surprised by the amount of waste they reduce by establishing an effective recycling program. Click here for a breakdown of how RoadRunner can work to save your business on waste and recycling management costs.

[How RoadRunner's RecycleMORE™ program can work for your business]

Closing The Loop

Which of the 5 R's could your business focus on improving? Think about your current waste and recycling strategies and then come back here and let us know what you think! Or ask your coworkers which of the R's they want to focus on improving individually. Some of the answers may surprise you. If you're interested in learning how RoadRunner can help your business RecycleMORE™, please reach out to set up a time to talk with one of our representatives today.


Let's get the conversation started on how to drive recycling and cost savings for your business.