Remember the Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle campaign? The new year is a great time to expand your sustainability mindset and move to the 5Rs: Refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle.

The first addition of refuse (just say, “No, thank you.”) can go a long way in preserving the environment. Many teachers and families use the new year to minimize clutter in the classroom and at home, and the first in the 5Rs is a great way to help clear out the clutter. We can opt out of accepting more stuff by simply saying “no, thanks” and refusing some of the many, many items that come into our schools and homes.

For example, when you’re planning a PTA event, consider NOT buying new supplies or only buying items that can be used more than once. When shopping at a store, instead of having your purchases bagged in single-use plastic bags, say “no, thanks” and use your reusable bags. Many times we don’t even need a bag for small purchases, so it’s easy to just say “no thanks” when we have the option.

Consider other points when you have the opportunity to refuse:

  • Say “no, thanks” to the plastic, single-use straws at your favorite restaurant and opt for a reusable straw (available at many retailers)
  • Say “no, thanks” to the piles of paper and opt for online communications instead
  • Say “no, thanks” to the toys that fast-food restaurants pass out with kids’ meals
  • Say “no, thanks” to junk mail by opting out of retailers’ mailings

Repurpose is another addition to the original 3Rs and can be a lot of fun for creative teachers and families. Repurposing takes items that might be manufactured for just one purpose and then finds a new purpose for the same item. For example, when you buy onions, they often come in plastic mesh bags, so when you’ve used all the onions, you can repurpose the mesh bag as a scrub for washing pots and pans.

Packaging and wrapping paper from all those holiday gifts can be repurposed to make cute organizers for our storage needs. Popular organizing methods such as the Marie Kondo movement and Marla Cilley’s (AKA The Flylady) home, health, and life organization approach can provide more tips on organizing and repurposing items to help you stay organized.

Think about how repurposing some so-called disposable items can make for super cool class projects and home crafts. Here are 10 ideas to get you started(including several good Mother’s Day gift projects for teachers to use in the classroom).

Learn more about the the 5Rs from the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center and from the Greening of Westford so you can instill a sustainability mindset in 2019.