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Waste Reduction

Waste Reduction Photo Banner
"A human being has a natural desire
 to have more of a good thing than he needs"
                                              ~ Mark Twain (1835-1910) Following the Equator

Connecticut residents generate an estimated 5 pounds of garbage everyday!

More than 17 billion catalogs were distributed in the United States in 1998, about 64 for every man, woman and child. ~Environmental Defense Fund

In 2005, 5.8 million tons of catalogs and other direct mailings ended up in the U.S. municipal solid waste stream – enough to fill over 450,000 garbage trucks. Parked bumper to bumper these garbage trucks would extend from Atlanta to Albuquerque. Less than 36% of this ad mail was recycled.

In 2000, the national recycling rate of 30 percent saved the equivalent of more than five billion gallons of gasoline, reducing dependence on foreign oil by 114 million barrels.
~EPA, "Resource Conservation Challenge: Campaigning Against Waste," EPA 530-F-02-033, 2002

For every garbage can placed at the curb, the equivalent of 71 garbage cans of waste is created in mining, logging, agriculture, oil and gas exploration, and the industrial processes used to convert raw materials into finished products and packaging.
~Grassroots Recycling Network

The amount of waste produced is influenced by economic activity, consumption, and population growth. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. generates the largest amounts of municipal solid waste per person on a daily basis.

Waste reduction (consuming less and/or throwing away less) is also referred to as pollution prevention, source reduction and pre-recycling and results in a reduction in the amount and/or toxicity of waste generated. Waste is generated throughout the life cycle of a product, beginning with extraction of raw materials, throughout transportation, processing and manufacturing, during use and by its disposal at the end of its useful life.

In general, reduction and reuse are cost-saving, resource-conserving, environmentally sound alternatives to traditional forms of solid waste management.

Waste reduction is anything that reduces waste by using less material in the first place. Reducing waste can be as simple as using both sides of a sheet of paper, using ceramic mugs instead of disposable cups, or buying in bulk rather than individually packaged items. The end result for producing less waste is money saved, resources conserved, pollution reduced, and landfill space saved.

The idea is not to generate waste, but to  reduce waste at or near the source of generation (in our homes, businesses, and institutions). Practicing waste reduction and reuse are the best ways to divert the growing volume of waste.

Reducing waste reduces needless consumption. Reducing needless consumption preserves renewable and non renewable resources. Reducing waste conserves energy and reduces the air, soil, and water contamination that is often caused by the manufacture of those materials and supplies that become waste, and from the fossil fuel powered transportation that delivers those goods and hauls them away after they become waste. Reducing waste also reduces the use of landfills and resource recovery facilities.

The less waste we generate, the less waste there is to dispose.


Is it the Same as Recycling?

No. Recycling is an important part of any waste management strategy, however, the greatest environmental benefits are achieved through source reduction or waste prevention and reuse . Consider a simple example: we can reduce trash disposal and save raw materials if we collect plastic grocery bags for recycling and incorporate them into a new product such as plastic lumber. However, a better option would be to take no bag at all, as no natural resources or energy are used to first produce, then collect and reprocess disposable bags. Using a reusable canvas or string bag would have similar environmental benefits as the bag could replace thousands of disposable bags over its useful life. Any organization reviewing their waste management strategy should first consider ways to reduce waste and incorporate reusable products to achieve the maximum benefit to the environment.

How Do We Practice Waste Reduction?

Like we practice most new things, take on a new strategy one at a time. Once you’ve mastered one strategy in your home, business or institution, add more.

Waste reduction is the highest priority in the hierarchy of effective waste management and is generally acknowledged to have the greatest benefits. It is also perhaps the most challenging option for managing waste since it involves changes in how we live, work and have fun.

Ideas to Get Started: Reducing the Amount of Our Trash

  • Print on both sides of paper

  • Read/subscribe to on-line newspapers

  • Switch to paperless bills

  • Reduce your junk mail

  • Implement tray-less lunches in the cafeteria

  • Eat ice cream only in cones!

  • Buy items that you can recycle

  • Use reusable bags when you shop 
  • Avoid products with excess packaging

  • At work, use a reusable coffee mug

  • Practice GrassCycling; Leave grass clippings on the lawn

  • Write your favorite company to rethink how they package their products

  • Reduce food waste by eating leftovers and/or prepare only what you will eat

  • Buy in bulk

  • Avoid using single-use packages


Ideas to Get Started: Reducing the Toxicity of Our Trash

Major concerns regarding toxicity in solid waste relate to the presence of toxic substances such as mercury, lead, dioxin and cadmium in products and materials that are disposed and the generation of those toxic substances during the manufacturing process.

Look for the signal words: Poison, Danger, Warning, Caution

Try using alternative less toxic products in your home

When you need to use solvents or toxic chemicals, use up all the product before disposing of the container

Take household hazardous products to a Household Hazardous Waste Collection event

If you’re a business, learn if you’re a small or large quantity waste generator

Learn More about the toxicity of your trash

General Waste Reduction Resources

What Do I Do With…?  (CT DEEP)  A list of materials by name. 

The Story of Stuff  A short interactive on-line movie about the extraction, manufacture, distribution, consumption, and disposal of stuff.

The High Price of Materialism  (New American Dream) In this short animation, psychologist Tim Kasser discusses how America's culture of consumerism undermines our well-being. When people buy into the ever-present marketing messages that "the good life" is "the goods life," they not only use up Earth's limited resources, but they are less happy and less inclined toward helping others.

Junk Your Junk Mail  (New American Dream)

Reduce Unwanted Junk Mail (Direct Marketing Association)

Getting Rid of Catalogs (Catalog Choice)

Yellow Pages Opt-Out  (Association of Directory Publishers)

Learn About Zero Waste

Waste Wise: Climate Change Benefits from Reducing Waste (EPA)

Source Reduction and Reuse (US EPA)

National Waste Prevention Coalition

Paint Calculator  Reduce paint waste by calculating how much paint you need. (King County, WA)

Alternative Gift Registry (New American Dream)

42 Ways to Trim Your Holiday Wasteline  (Use Less Stuff)

Simplify the Holidays (New American Dream)

Break the Bottled Water Habit (New American Dream)

Life Cycle Analysis  Learn the environmental impact associated with the life cycle of a product’s manufacturing process (Environmental Literacy Council)

Water-Disaster  A slide presentation about bottled water (P M Architecture, PC)

Responsible Purchasing Network

Plastics Primer  Learn about BPA  (CT DPH)

Waste Reduction Week in Canada  WRW informs and engages Canadians about the environmental and social ramifications of wasteful practices. Provides educational resources and "take action" messaging.

Waste Reduction Resources for Businesses

Business Guide for Reducing Solid Waste (EPA)

Why Should You care About Preventing Waste?  Small Business Guide  (EPA)

Waste Reduction Tips for Hotels and Casinos in Indian Country (EPA)

Strategies for Waste Reduction of Construction and Demolition Debris from Buildings (EPA)

Waste Reduction: A Hospital Case Study (MN)

Practice Greenhealth  Waste reduction resources for health care facilities – includes how to conduct a waste assessment.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (Book, 2002, Bill McDonough)

Cradle to Cradle Community Forum A forum hosted by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry for the discussion of the Cradle to Cradle framework and it's implementation.

Waste Reduction Resources for Schools

Tips on Waste Reduction and Reuse in Schools (CT DEEP)

School Waste Reduction (California Integrated Waste Management Board)

Reuse + Recycling = Waste Reduction: A Guide for Schools and Groups (EPA)

A School Waste Reduction, ReUse, Recycling, Composting, & Buy Recycled Resource Book  (NYS DEC)

Toolbox for Community Change  Tools and resources about changing individual behavior and attitudes toward litter. (Keep America Beautiful)

Waste Reduction: Back-to-School Waste  (Greening Schools, Illinois EPA & Waste Management & Research Center)

Setting Up a School Recycling and Waste Reduction Program  (RecycleWorks, San Mateo Co., CA)

Waste Free Lunches  (

Getting an "A" at Lunch  (INFORM)

Waste in Place A classroom curriculum supplement  (Keep America Beautiful)

Tools for Zero Waste Schools K-12 (Grassroots Recycling Network)

Waste Reduction Resources for Universities

Campus Zero Waste  (Grassroots Recycling Network)

Water Bottle Refilling Stations (UCONN)

Resource Reduction Initiatives (Notre Dame)

Above and Beyond (NCSU) Additional resources for students

What Do I Do With…? (CT DEEP) A list of materials by name.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (Book, 2002, Bill McDonough)

Cradle to Cradle Community Forum  A forum hosted by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry for the discussion of the Cradle to Cradle framework and it's implementation.

Waste Reduction Resources for Municipalities

Spotlight on Waste Prevention: EPA’s Program to Reduce Solid Waste at the Source (EPA)

Waste Prevention, Recycling and Composting Options: Lessons from 30 US Communities (EPA)

Community Waste Prevention Tool Kit (INFORM)

Recycling & Product Stewardship Information  (Earth 911)

Toolbox for Community Change  Tools and resources about changing individual behavior and attitudes toward litter. (Keep America Beautiful)

Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (Keep America Beautiful)  Tools to prevent cigarette butt litter, which can be toxic when it enters our soils and waterways

Learn More About Litter (CT DEEP)

Municipal Recycling Resource Center  (CT DEEP)

Helpful Organizations

Grist  Environmental news and commentary

New American Dream  Mission is to help Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice

Earth911  An Organization that seeks to deliver local information on recycling and product stewardship

The Freecycle Network  Mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community

Craigslist  Provides a local classifieds and forums for more than 500 cities in over 50 countries worldwide - community moderated, and largely free. Can find just about anything.

Grassroots Recycling Network  A national network of waste reduction activists and recycling professionals

The Institution Recycling Network (IRN) Is a cooperative, member-led organization that offers several of its programs, including surplus property management and construction and demolition waste management

CT Green Building Council  (CT Chapter)  An organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Connecticut through the promotion of intelligently designed and constructed high performance energy efficient buildings.

Building Green (National)

Keep America Beautiful  National organizations with local affiliates that work to engage individuals to organize efforts to reduce and prevent litter and recycle

Institute for Local Self-Reliance  Provides innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development

Waste Prevention Resource Center  National Waste Prevention Coalition (NWPC) - information to help individuals and business prevent waste from being created, and to reduce the use of resources


Disclaimer: The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) maintains the content on this web site to enhance public access to information and facilitate understanding of waste reduction, reuse and recycling. The DEEP is not recommending these resources over any others and recognizes these represent only a partial listing of resources on this subject.

Content Last Updated February 2020