Source reduction, often called waste prevention, means eliminating waste at the source of manufacturing by modifying production processes (using less raw materials), using nontoxic or less-toxic substances, conservation techniques, and reusing material when applicable. For consumers it means throwing away less, purchasing durable, long-lasting goods and seeking products and packaging that are as free of toxics as possible. Because source reduction prevents the generation of waste, it’s the preferred method of waste management and goes a long way toward protecting the environment.
When shopping, ask yourself:
- Is this an impulse purchase you don’t really need or may not use?
- How long/often will you use it? Is it something that can be rented instead? Do you already have a broken one at home that can be repaired instead of purchasing a new one?
- Is the item made from good-quality and long-lasting material, or is it something cheap and flimsy that’ll probably break quickly?
- Does the item contain recycled materials? Try to select items with the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content material.
- What is the product’s end destination? Will it be tossed out quickly after only one use? For example, choose a reusable razor instead of a disposable one.
- Can this product be recycled at the end of its life, or will it have to be thrown in the garbage? Choose a recyclable item such as a glass or aluminum juice container over a nonrecyclable container made of polystyrene (Styrofoam).
- Is the item packaged in the least amount of material?
- When leaving the store with your purchase, do you really need to get a bag for only one or two items? If you’re purchasing several items, bring your own durable bag. Also remember that brown paper bags can be recycled with newspaper in your curbside recycling bin.
Reusing items by repairing, selling or donating them to charity and community groups also reduces waste. Using a product more than once, either for the same purpose or for something different, is preferable to recycling because the item does not need to be reprocessed before it can be used again.
Ideas for reuse include:
- Using durable coffee mugs.
- Using cloth napkins or towels.
- Refilling bottles.
- Donating old magazines or surplus equipment.
- Reusing boxes.
- Turning empty jars into containers for leftover food.
- Purchasing refillable pens and pencils.
- Participating in a paint collection and reuse program.