blog: What is Source Reduction? |

blog: What is Source Reduction?

Pallavi Mukerjee
Vail CO, Colorado

Source Reduction, (as per Environmental Protection Agency) refers to any change in the design, manufacture, purchase, or use of materials or products (including packaging) to reduce their amount, or toxicity, before they become municipal solid waste.

In simple language, “source reduction,” means consuming less and throwing away less.

It includes:

– purchasing durable, long-lasting goods

– seeking products and packaging that are as free of toxics as possible

– Redesigning products to use fewer raw materials in production, have a longer life, or to be used again after its original use.

Source reduction actually prevents the generation of waste in the first place, so it is the most preferred method of waste management and goes a long way toward protecting the environment. It also refers to the reuse of products or materials and is an important way of keeping our daily waste from growing and growing.

Source Reduction and Reuse Facts (source ‘EPA website’):

– 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 2 and 5 percent of the waste stream is potentially reusable.

Source Reduction and Reuse Benefits:

– Saves natural resources: Reusing items or making them with less material decreases waste dramatically. Ultimately, fewer materials will need to be recycled or sent to landfills or waste combustion facilities.

– Reduces toxicity of waste: Selecting non-hazardous 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.

– 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. 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.

– Reduction in waste: Reducing waste at the beginning means there will be less waste to be recycled, burned, or land filled.

An interesting Link:

I find this to be an extremely interesting link detailing case studies of how certain companies have initiated and benefited from innovative and ambitious practices aimed at source reduction. This includes the Mall of America, in Minnesota and the Westfield Shopping town Mission Valley and IKEA.

Next week we will talk about the different methods available for achieving source reduction, and look in depth at reduction in packaging, as a means to achieve source reduction.

Pallavi Mukerjee can be reached at

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