Keep America Beautiful


More than 55 million tons of municipal solid waste were source reduced in the U.S. in 2000, up from just over 500,000 tons in 1992. Source reduction, sometimes called waste minimization, is simply creating less waste.

It's shrinking the amount we throw out through changes in the design, manufacture, packaging or use of a product -- and using fewer toxics. Source reduction also includes reusing or extending the life of products and packaging.

About 28% of the material source reduced in 2000 was beverage containers and packaging. Through a process called "light weighting," the amount of raw material used to make these products has shrunk significantly, without having an impact on the products' performance.

On-site composting and grasscycling , or "leave it on the lawn" initiatives, also contribute to waste minimization. These materials represented 45% of the total amount source-reduced in 2000.

Get waste minimization strategies for home, office, and community. Start now to redouble your reuse efforts.

Waste Minimization Strategies

Communities - The U.S. EPA estimates that over 4,000 communities have "pay-as-you-throw" programs. Residents pay for each bin or bag of trash they set out for disposal rather than a flat fee. When households reduce the amount of trash, they pay less.

Businesses - Practicing source reduction helps industries decrease raw material use and cut manufacturing costs. Check out what this means for cans and bottles. Offices can shrink their waste stream, too. Get waste reduction strategies for large and small businesses.

Consumers - Buying in bulk, reusing products, buying products with less packaging, and refillable products all help to reduce consumer costs and the amount of waste going to disposal. Get a laundry list of tips from the National Recycling Coalition.

Source Reduction Examples

Cans and bottles - Aluminum and steel cans, and glass and plastic bottles have realized weight reductions of up to 30% or more. For example, in 1972, 100 12-fluid-ounce aluminum cans weighed 4.5 pounds. By 1992, these same 100 cans weighed 3.51 pounds, a 22% reduction. Steel beverage cans, which have steel sides and aluminum ends, are now 40% lighter than they were in 1970.

Today's glass containers are more than 40% lighter than they were 20 years ago. Since 1977, the weight of two-liter "PET" plastic soft drink bottles has been reduced from 68 grams each to 51 grams, a 25% reduction in raw materials. Of the 7 billion two-liter PET bottles made annually, that translates to 250 million pounds of material that has been "source reduced" from the waste stream.

Waste Reduction Chart

Polystyrene - Packaging made of polystyrene (e.g., foam egg cartons and meat trays, take-out containers and coffee cups, CD "jewel boxes," and packing "peanuts") now use 9% less raw material than in 1974 to manufacture the same quantity of products. About 30% of polystyrene "peanuts" are reused, reducing the demand for virgin polystyrene by 25% in 1997.

Electronics - Current wireless devices (e.g., cell phones) weigh approximately 79g, 42% less than earlier models. Manufacturers are also maximizing the use of recycled materials, and phasing out the use of cables containing lead, cadmium, and PVC from decorative parts of the wireless device-all toxic materials.

Reuse Strategies

Reusing products or packaging delays or avoids their entry into the waste stream. How can you practice reuse? Donate, repair, refill, reuse, rent, rebuild, resell. Think of new uses for used items.

If you can't reuse a product, there are usually others in the community that can. According to the Reuse Development Organization, there are more than 6,000 reuse centers in the U.S. Find one near you.

Many communities have also established resource exchange programs. Unwanted items from a business or other generator are matched with those that are seeking these materials to reuse or recycle into a new product. Schools are often the beneficiaries of these castoffs. Get a list of waste exchanges by state.

National Recycling Coalition source reduction strategies

1. Reduce product use.
2. Rent or lease products or equipment.
3. Purchase rebuilt, remanufactured or refurbished products.
4. Purchase more durable products.
5. Purchase products containing nonhazardous materials.
6. Purchase products that are reusable, refillable, or returnable.
7. Purchase products in bulk.
8. Purchase products with less packaging or reuse packaging.
9. Share or reuse resources.


Teacher Backgrounders

1. Garbage Basics
2. Composting
3. Recycling
4. Waste-to-Energy
5. Landfilling

Clean Sweep U.S.A., a Keep America Beautiful community.

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