Waste Management

Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle...

trashcan_thinwaist.gifBetween 1960 and 2007 the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.6 pounds per day. The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place. When you avoid making garbage, you don't have to worry about disposing of waste or recycling it later. Changing your habits is the key -- think about ways you can reduce your waste when you shop, work and play. There's a TON of ways for you to reduce waste, save yourself some time and money, and be good to the Earth at the same time.

Waste reduction is the practice of designing, manufacturing, purchasing, or using materials (such as products and packaging) in ways that reduce the amount or toxicity of trash created. Reusing items is another way to stop waste at the source because it delays or avoids that item's entry into the waste collection and disposal system. It may also replace a new item.

What Can I Do?

  • Buy in bulk
  • Buy re-usable instead of disposable (water bottles, coffee cups, cleaning rags instead of paper towels…)
  • Take your own bag to the store
  • Compost your kitchen scraps and yard waste (see www.epa.gov/compost/ for more information.)
  • Repair instead of buying new
  • Take unwanted items in good condition to a thrift shop
  • Share big items like a rototiller with a neighbor
  • Rent big items like a pressure washer
  • Buy second-hand items like recreational equipment or clothing
  • Give edible gifts or gift cards for special experiences like the theatre—do your loved ones really need more stuff?

Waste Reduction and Reuse Facts

  • Waste reduction, including reuse, can help reduce waste disposal and handling costs, because it avoids the costs of recycling, municipal composting, landfilling, and combustion.
  • Waste reduction also conserves resources and reduces pollution, including greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
  • More than 55 million tons of MSW were source reduced in the United States in 2000, the latest year for which these figures are available.
  • Containers and packaging represented approximately 28 percent of the materials source reduced in 2000, in addition to nondurable goods (e.g., newspapers, clothing) at 17 percent, durable goods (e.g., appliances, furniture, tires) at 10 percent, and other MSW (e.g., yard trimmings, food scraps) at 45 percent.
  • There are more than 6,000 reuse centers around the country, ranging from specialized programs for building materials or unneeded materials in schools to local programs such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, according to the Reuse Development Organization.
  • Between two and five percent of the waste stream is potentially reusable according to local studies in Berkeley, California, and Leverett, Massachusetts.
  • Since 1977, the weight of 2-liter plastic soft drink bottles has been reduced from 68 grams each to 51 grams. That means that 250 million pounds of plastic per year has been kept out of the waste stream. But do we really need to use all those bottles in the first place?

Other Resources for Waste Reduction

www.use-less-stuff.com helps people Use Less Stuff™ by conserving resources and reducing waste.

Stop Junk Mail by contacting the Mail Preference Service and say "please remove my name from all mailing lists." This needs to be done periodically to keep your name off the lists. They can be reached at (212) 768-7277, at their website www.dmaconsumers.org, or write to Mail Preference Service/Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512-0643

The Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance provides great examples of waste reduction at www.reduce.org.

Benefits of Reduction

Saves natural resources. Waste is not just created when consumers throw items away. Throughout the life cycle of a product from extraction of raw materials to transportation to processing and manufacturing facilities to manufacture and use waste is generated. Reusing items or making them with less material decreases waste dramatically. Ultimately, less material will need to be recycled or sent to landfills or waste combustion facilities.

UnityPAYTbags.jpgReduces toxicity of waste. Selecting nonhazardous or less hazardous items is another important component of source reduction. Using less hazardous alternatives for certain items (e.g., cleaning products and pesticides), sharing products that contain hazardous chemicals instead of throwing out leftovers, reading label directions carefully, and using the smallest amount necessary are ways to reduce waste toxicity. See the Household Hazardous Waste page for non-toxic product recipes—make your own cleaning products.

Reduces costs. The benefits of preventing waste go beyond reducing reliance on other forms of waste disposal. Preventing waste also can mean economic savings for communities, businesses, schools, and individual consumers.

Communities. More than 7,000 communities have instituted "pay-as-you-throw" programs where citizens pay for each can or bag of trash they set out for disposal rather than through the tax base or a flat fee. When these households reduce waste at the source, they dispose of less trash and pay lower trash bills.

Businesses. Industry also has an economic incentive to practice source reduction. When businesses manufacture their products with less packaging, they are buying fewer raw materials. A decrease in manufacturing costs can mean a larger profit margin, with savings that can be passed on to the consumer.

Consumers. Consumers also can share in the economic benefits of source reduction. Buying products in bulk, with less packaging, or that are reusable (not single-use) frequently means a cost savings. What is good for the environment can be good for the pocketbook as well.

Source: U.S. EPA


Upcycling is taking useless items or waste and creating something useful.  You've probably done this lots of times.  For example, take an old milk crate and turn it into a table or storage unit.  Upcycling also includes more creative ideas such using a glass cutter and turning empty bottles into glassware.  Do an internet search of "upcycling" and you will turn up some very creative ideas--ones to use and ones to get your own creative juices flowing to think up your own ideas.