Action 234: Learn to say “no”

zero_waste_hierarchyDate: 22 August
Action: 234
Cost of taking action: £/$/€ NIL


From our guest write Divya Hari in Singapore

Saying “no” can make an environmental impact

Do yourself and the environment a favour by knowing when to say no.

It’s a simple way of thinking about the waste hierarchy; when it comes to saving our environment, our planet, the power of NO goes a long way.

What’s this about?

By this, I mean the aggressive implementation of the first of the four ‘R’s in the Waste Reduction Hierarchy, which is to REFUSE.


Click for full size diagram

Refuse … Reduce … Reuse … Recycle … are the order of importance in the Waste Reduction Hierarchy (AKA the Waste Reduction Pyramid, see diagram). The hierarchy serves as our cardinal rules for saving our environment, with refusing being of paramount importance.

Excessive consumerism is depleting natural resources and is the fundamental cause of most pollution. Self-reflection is important in assessing the choices we make and how we impact the planet each day.

So know when to refuse!


Refuse any product that you do not need and/or that can be harmful to environment.

Freebies ought to be refused if we don’t really need them.

Below are just a few of the things we can very well live without:

  • junk mail
  • single use plastics, disposable items
  • produce wrapped in plastic
  • flyers and business cards (using your phone, just take a picture instead)
  • freebies handed over during events, meetings or conferences
  • mailed, physical copies of financial statements etc.
  • shop receipts for low value items
  • plastic items where alternatives exist
  • single use items where reusables exist
  • (this list is potentially endless … Ed)

Also, although refusing is the first and critical step, think about the other steps in the waste hierarchy too:

Reduce consumption and in turn our carbon footprints by purchasing only things we really need and not just at whim. Especially, when it comes to click-click online purchases, give yourself a couple of days before checking out that cart.

“The most environmentally friendly product is the one you didn’t buy”
Joshua Becker

Get in to the habit of reusing; buy a good quality reusable water bottle, cutlery, reusable bags preferably made of cotton or any other natural fibre to cut down on waste created from disposable items. Remember that reusable items come with their own significant carbon foot print and have to be used many, many times to offset their environmental impact.

For example … Did you know that instead of using cardboard boxes which generate more waste while moving to a new home, there are companies such as that lend you reusable boxes (and deliver and collect them)?

Understand the benefits of recycling, which prevents pollution by reducing the need to procure and utilize new raw materials, conserves energy and valuable natural resources, and limits the amount of waste sent to landfills or incinerators. According to National Geographic, 90% of the plastic ever created still remains in existence!

Sometimes you will see another R added to the hierarchy, which is Rot. This is the disposal of food waste, green waste and other compostable materials by using a composter or fermenter. Click through to these links to our previous articles to learn about the best way to do this though, because without proper aeration and conditions organic matter can release methane which is a very potent greenhouse gas, hastening climate change.

Take action

Whenever buying, think about the waste reduction hierarchy and the first level of the pyramid … do you really need that item, or could you refuse it?

If you can, just say no!

This article has been contributed by Divya Hari in Singapore
Follow Divya on Twitter at @IvyKriss