Garrett Hardin's tragedy of the commons is an analogy that shows how individuals driven by self-interest can end up destroying the resource upon which they all depend. The proposed solutions for humans rely on highly advanced skills such as negotiation, which raises the question of how non-human organisms manage to resolve similar tragedies. In recent years, this question has promoted evolutionary biologists to apply the tragedy of the commons to a wide range of biological systems. Here, we provide tools to categorize different types of tragedy and review different mechanisms, including kinship, policing and diminishing returns that can resolve conflicts that could otherwise end in tragedy. A central open question, however, is how often biological systems are able to resolve these scenarios rather than drive themselves extinct through individual-level selection favouring self-interested behaviours.