How to Practice the 5 Rs of Sustainability

Follow these tips for encouraging sustainability in the workplace.

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle – these five actions can help your workplace become more eco-friendly. They are known as the 5 Rs of sustainability. In this post, we’ll explain what each “R” stands for, and provide helpful tips to help you implement each one at your office.


Refusing is the first and most effective of the 5 Rs of sustainability. Refusing products is the most effective way to reduce waste at work. The refusal method prevents materials and products from entering your workplace in the first place, eliminating waste completely. So, what materials should you refuse? In short, any item with a short lifespan and those that can be replaced by reusable options.

Here are some examples of how you can incorporate the refuse “R” into your office routine to help encourage sustainability in the workplace:

  • Refuse unwanted freebies at trade shows and conferences
  • Refuse single-use disposables in the office kitchen, such as disposable cutlery, plastic bottled or boxed water, paper plates, and stir sticks – go for reusable instead
  • Refuse junk mail at the office by opting out of mailing lists


If you can’t refuse a product, reducing your usage is the next best step. By lowering the consumption of waste-producing goods, you’ll help diminish items that end up in the trash or recycling bin. Here are a few tips for practicing this “R” of sustainability:

  • Go paperless in the workplace to reduce paper usage
  • Buy office supplies in bulk, and that have little or no packaging
  • Stock the office cleaning supply closet with non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning products
  • Turn on energy-saving settings on office computers
  • Encourage responsible transportation to work, like carpooling and biking

Check out these 26 tips to reduce office waste for more ideas to help make your workplace more sustainable through reduction.


Switching to reusable alternatives is one way to practice the 5 Rs of sustainability.

Reusing items you already have at the office rather than buying new versions is another way to practice sustainability. When you do purchase products, focus on reusable products instead of disposable or single-use ones. For more implementation ideas, follow these tips for encouraging sustainability at the office using the reuse “R”:

  • Go for reusable water cups or bottles instead of plastic bottles
  • Stock the breakroom with traditional reusable plates and silverware instead of disposable paper plates and plastic cutlery
  • Refill your printer cartridges instead of buying new ones
  • Reuse boxes and packaging material from the mail for future packages
  • Switch from single-use Keurig pods to a different coffee machine or purchase a reusable Keurig pod
  • Purchase hand towels for the office kitchen instead of using paper towels
  • Repair broken or faulty office equipment or other items
  • Donate items the office doesn’t need so someone else can reuse them


Repurposing is another of the 5 Rs of sustainability. When you repurpose something, you reuse it for a different purpose. Here are a few tips for practicing this sustainability tip in the workplace:

  • Take office cardboard, paper towels, or toilet paper tubes home for crafts for kids
  • Repurpose trash-bound office paper for scrap paper or games like Pictionary
  • Use paper or Styrofoam to-go cups as a plant watering can
  • Remove the ink tube from old pens, and tuck rolled-up cash in the barrel to conceal your secret stash for travel

You can also repurpose household items at work. Many home products end up as waste, but with a little ingenuity, they can make for handy office supplies! Try using a pasta sauce jar as a pencil holder or the metal can from canned foods as the holder for your desk plant. Getting creative with items you’d usually toss in the trash can help make your office infinitely more sustainable.


Recycling is one of the tips for encouraging sustainability in the workplace.

Recycling is the last of the 5 Rs of sustainability because it should be the last resort in a green-minded office. However, it is still an important step—and it could even be good for business too! To practice earth-friendly recycling habits in the workplace, you need to know which items you can recycle and which ones you can’t, so you don’t contaminate a recycling batch with non-recyclable materials.

Recycle these office supplies:

  • Electronics
  • Batteries
  • Light Bulbs
  • Toner and ink
  • Office furniture
  • Chair mats
  • Office paper
  • Lightbulbs

Do not recycle these office supplies:

  • Carbon paper
  • Rubber bands
  • Food wrappers
  • Spiral and three-ring binders
  • Adhesive tape
  • Post-it notes
  • Padded envelopes
  • Pressure-sensitive labels

Read this guide to find out more on the basics of recycling in the office, and remember to always check the City of Madison recycling guidelines for the most up-to-date information.

These 5 Rs of sustainability can help provide guidelines for creating a more eco-conscious office. For more articles on recycling office supplies and other tips for encouraging sustainability in the workplace, check out our blog today.

Curious about how we incorporate sustainability here at EZ Office Products? Read more here!

Shop for eco-friendly office supplies online from our environmentally responsible suppliers now or call our local customer concierge to set up your business account at (608) 310-4300 today.