Beyond Recycling: Reduce and Reuse

One person's trash is another person's trash?

Make sure what you're donating is:

  • Accepted — Charitable organizations have lists of what they do and do not accept.
  • Clean — Nobody wants muddy shoes or dirty dishware.
  • Working — Nobody wants a stereo or coffee maker that doesn’t work.

Otherwise, you’re just passing along the cost of disposal.

The EPA’s waste management hierarchy says that waste reduction and reuse are preferred over recycling. Why? Because recycling — though still better than virgin resource extraction — still requires a considerable amount of energy and resources for collection, processing, manufacturing, and transportation. On the other hand, reducing waste is not creating waste in the first place. Reducing what you buy means less need for resources and energy to create new products, less waste going to the landfill and less pollution released into the environment.

What can I do?

You can take a number of actions to reduce waste:

  • Don’t purchase products you already have - Keep your belongings clean and organized so you can easily find what you need.
  • Donate — Donate unwanted items to friends, family, neighbors, charities and thrift stores.
  • Repair — Repair things that are broken instead of replacing them.
  • Maintain — Maintain your stuff: homes, vehicles, clothing, appliances, toys, etc. Well-maintained items don’t have to be repaired or replaced as often.
  • Buy durable — Buy well-made, durable products. They have a longer lifespan and are more likely repairable.
  • Reuse at work — Find out if your business or organization has a system for reusing, donating or selling surplus supplies and property. If not, suggest it.
  • image of hands repairing an electronic device with a screwdriver.Choose concentrated products — They often require less packaging and less energy to transport to the store.
  • Choose low- to no packaging — When choosing between two similar products, select the one with the least amount of packaging or — better yet — no packaging at all.
  • Choose economy-sized — Choose economy-sized items, which often use less packaging per unit of product. However, be sure you can use it all or have friends and family whom you can share with.
  • Share, borrow and rent — Share, borrow and rent items you use infrequently. It saves money and resources.
  • Use safe alternativesMany hazardous products have a low- or no-hazard counterpart.
  • Use durable bags Instead of paper or plastic bags, use reusable bags when shopping.
  • Use refillable mugs and water bottlesThey come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Use durable food storage containers for take-outThese can replace disposable paper, plastic and Styrofoam boxes.
  • Shop usedBe sustainable and save money by shopping for used items. Places to shop include:
    • Garage and estate sales.
    • Thrift stores, consignment shops, antique malls or pawn shops.
    • Habitat for Humanity ReStores.
    • Search classified ads, eBay or Craigslist.
    • Auctions.
  • image of bicycles for rent.Reuse everyday itemsSome common examples include:
    • Plastic grocery sacks as trash bags or thrift store donation bags.
    • Dairy tubs as cheap food storage containers.
    • Coffee cans as storage containers for hardware.
    • Old t-shirts as cleaning rags.
    • Popsicle sticks, paper towel rolls, egg cartons, etc. as art project supplies.