Lead a Circular Lifestyle by Practicing the 7 R’s of Sustainability

by Janelle Rolke @sustainablestepswithjanelle

As children we were taught a fluffy version of an ugly reality happening in the world; “If you Reduce, Reuse and Recycle you are being a superb environmental steward.” However, as adults, we learn that it is far more complicated than that.

For instance, the recycling industry is broken, food insecurity continues to be a growing issue, meanwhile food waste is higher than ever, plastic is toxic to produce, consume and recycle, and the concentration of CO2​​​​​​​ in our atmosphere is the highest it has been in human history.

The current state of the world is unsettling, but rather than sitting back to see what happens we can all take action and do our part to initiate change. I strongly feel that making changes on an individual level will make an exponential difference at large. By making intentional decisions, large companies and manufacturers will eventually make the changes their consumers want to see.

Our lifestyle and economy have been linear: resources are used to make products, products are consumed and then disposed of. This linear model traps materials in landfills.

By living the below practices to rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, refill, recycle and rot, we are closing the loop of the linear lifestyle we’ve become so accustomed to and creating a circular lifestyle and economy.

By this I mean including more than just the three “R’s” that we learned about as children as we make decisions about purchases. There are seven “R’s of Sustainability” that I will be covering in a series of posts for Unpacked Living. Let’s begin!

The R’s of Sustainability

  1. Rethink
  2. Refuse
  3. Reduce
  4. Repurpose and Reuse
  5. Refill
  6. Recycle
  7. Rot

Here’s the low down on the first R of Sustainability - RETHINK - and how you can easily begin to implement it in your daily life to reduce your waste and lessen your carbon footprint.

1) Rethink

Rethink, The R's of sustainability


Stop cluttering your home and life! If something is not going to add value to your life, then you can do without it.


Whether you are online shopping or at the store, you should always be asking yourself “is this necessary?” If the answer is yes, then consider what options you have to acquire the item.

Rethink Your Food 


  • Produce such as apples, carrots, cucumbers, and peppers are often sold in plastic packaging. Instead, purchase these items loose and use reusable mesh produce bags and don’t forget your reusable grocery bags!
  • Are you buying granola bars that are individually packaged? make your own granola bars at home and purchase the ingredients at a bulk store.
  • Peanut Butter - Be sure to purchase a brand that is in a glass jar and does not contain palm oil (Palm oil plantations are a huge contributor to climate change; they cause wildlife habitat loss, and pollute the air, soil, and water...) Or, go the extra mile and make your own peanut butter.
  • Rather than purchase tomato soup packaged in a carton (many curbside recycling programs do not accept this type of packaging), make big batches of tomato soup to freeze!
  • Consider swapping cow’s milk with a plant based option (almond, oat, cashew, etc.) or look to see if you have an option to buy in a returnable glass bottle
  • Grow your own vegetables and herbs
  • If you consume meat, consider reducing your carbon footprint drastically by switching to a more plant based diet (even if this means just a few meat-free meals per week!)
  • If you’re a fellow coffee drinker, consider where your coffee is from and what it’s packaged in. The Best Sustainable Coffee Brands for 2020 My recent go-to’s have been Allegro Coffee from Whole Foods Market that comes in compostable packaging (once the metal tie is removed), and refilling my coffee canister with freshly ground coffee beans at Front Street Coffeehouse located in Salem, MA. Not from around there? Look for a local coffeehouse near you that offers a refill service!


Rethink at Home


If you need something for your home, Rethink how you can get the item.

  • Does it need to be brand new?
  • Can you make it by reusing other materials?
  • Would a friend or family member have one you can have or borrow?


Check out your local second hand shops; Beverly Bootstraps and Witch City Thrift are two of my local favorites! A great place to find second hand items online is through your local Buy Nothing page on Facebook.


Improve your home's efficiency and save money while you’re at it.  Sign up for a no-cost energy assessment through Mass Save. 


Rethink Cleaning & Decluttering


Spring cleaning is HERE and I have been on a cleaning and decluttering rampage. I love giving items from our household to members through my neighborhood Buy Nothing Facebook group.  I’ve posted clothing, winter boots, pots and pans, kitchen gadgets and utensils, holiday décor, a sink part, picture frames, tools, and children’s toys…just to name a few.  Instead of packing bags and dropping them off at a thrift store, they were given to people (for free) who actually needed or wanted them.  Of course, I will still bring some items to second hand shops so they can benefit from what I do not need. It’s important to know exactly what your local thrift shops do and don’t accept so your items do find their way to the landfill.


Instead of using cleaners that contain harmful chemicals, consider purchasing cleaner from a refill store or making your own DIY green cleaning products.


Here are two of my favorite DIY cleaning recipes:


Green Powder Scrub (I love using this in my kitchen sink)

  • 1 cup of Borax
  • 2 cups of salt (use sea salt for more grit)
  • 2 cups of baking soda
  • 8 drops of essential oils


Daily antibacterial spray (Ideally in a colored spray bottle to avoid the hydrogen peroxide from going bad. To ensure it lasts as long as possible, store mixture in a cool, dark place)

  • 1 cup of vinegar (buy in glass or find a refill store that carries this product!)
  • 1 cup of club soda (buy in aluminum cans rather than plastic!)
  • ¼ cup of hydrogen peroxide
  • 8 drops of tea tree oil (for disinfectant)


Rethink your Clothing

Rather than putting old clothes in a plastic bag and dumping them in a bin (who knows what else is in there or where the clothing will end up), get your clothes into the hands of someone who wants them.  Post them on your local neighborhood Buy Nothing Facebook group or post them for sale on your local FB selling pages. This can be time consuming if you have a lot of items to give, so donating all at once may be your best route.  If so, do your research on your local organizations that accept clothing (and find out what they do with the textiles they do not sell).

Of course, if the clothing is too worn and unable to be used again, please be sure to bring them to a facility that accepts Textile Recycling or consider donating them to a charity that recycles the specific item(s).

Rethink your Transportation

  • Plan your weekly tasks and errands according to the location of your destinations to avoid wasting fuel.
  • Can you walk or bike instead of driving?
  • Are you planning your shopping trips during times with the least amount of traffic?
  • Are you looking to buy or lease a car? Consider an electric vehicle.

Rethink Summary

Bottom line, take a step back to re-evaluate your habits to be more efficient and declutter your surroundings.

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