Skip to Content

Source Reduction

As a result of it's pro-active programs, St. Mary's County currently receives 4% out of a total of 5% of the Source Reduction credit(s) offered by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Source reduction is the first priority among waste management options because it has virtually no negative effect the environment, conserves energy and resources, and does not require new facilities. Source reduction simply means making better use of what we buy and throwing away less. Source reduction can be defined as any activity that prevents waste at its source. Reduction practices often save money both directly and indirectly. For example, by using compact fluorescent light bulbs, a business can reduce maintenance, trash and energy costs. Sometimes, projecting long-term costs will determine whether money saved through reduction will offset an initial investment. For example, a school cafeteria considers whether to use reusable trays, which require washing, instead of single-use dishes. The long-term cost of the dishwasher and labor may turn out to be less than the cost of purchasing and disposing of single-use dishes over the lifetime of the reusable dishes and dishwasher.

Source reduction can be readily measured on a product-by-product basis. For each change that is made, costs as well as weight and volume of waste can be determined. If hauling truck scales are used, it is possible to measure the change in an entire facility's waste over time. Measuring the changes in a community's waste is possible, but expensive. However, too much emphasis on measuring may divert money from the actual reduction program. There are other ways to assess the effects of reduction. Surveys can help determine how well people have incorporated source reduction practices into their daily routines. This information may help predict the success of a community source reduction program.

A Source Reduction Checklist

Source reduction is an activity that prevents waste at its source. It is first among waste management options because it has virtually no negative effect on the environment, it conserves energy and resources, and it does not require new facilities. People often want to know which products are best for the environment so they can make environmentally friendly purchases. But determining which products are most environmentally friendly is difficult. Such a calculation must take into account the toxic materials and resources used and the waste produced through:

Gathering and refining raw materials. Manufacturing the products, including construction of the factory where the products are made and the energy needed to make the products. Transporting raw materials and finished products. The consumers' use and disposal of the products. An evaluation this comprehensive is beyond the capabilities of most organizations. However, people can focus on one element: the waste created through their own use and disposal of products. Choosing to produce less waste reduces the need for facilities such as landfills to manage the garbage. Having fewer or smaller facilities means less impact on the environment. What Can Your Office/Business Do? Ten Steps to Home Composting

To reduce your waste:

Choose less packaging

Buy refillable bottles of milk, soft drinks, beer and other beverages. Look for products with minimal packaging. Buy the ones with the fewest layers. Bring your own cloth or paper bag when shopping. Reuse plastic bags when buying produce or bulk items. Use reusable storage containers instead of single-use plastic bags. Buy items in bulk to avoid extra packaging and expense. Products available include nails, screws, bolts, cereals, pasta, spices, candy and dried fruit. Avoid individually wrapped items. Buy economy-size packages of products you use a lot. Make a shopping list of items you really need and stick to it. Impulse buying may add to waste. Use products that last a long time before they wear out.

Products that last a long time create less waste, and you will often save money in the long run. Buy well made products that are easy to repair and have long warranties.

Use reusable cloth napkins, diapers and towels. Take a reusable coffee mug to work. Use silverware and heavy-duty, reusable plastic plates and glasses for parties and picnics. Ask for high-mileage tires. They usually cost less per mile traveled. Keep them filled to the proper air pressure for maximum wear. Buy compact fluorescent lights instead of incandescent ones. Clean, maintain and repair your tools, appliances, vehicles, shoes and clothing. Check consumer publications for lists of durable items.

Borrow and rent

Rent or borrow such things as power and hand tools, landscaping equipment, specialized tools, audiovisual equipment, office furniture, medical equipment, baby furniture, ladders and moving equipment. Buy and share equipment such as rototillers or snow blowers with a group of neighbors or friends.

Reuse it

Use glass jars for storing foods, screws and nails, and sewing supplies. Make a kit of twist ties and plastic bags to take along when you go shopping. Save plastic tubs from prepared foods to use as storage containers in the refrigerator and freezer. Use plastic jugs from windshield-washer fluid to collect used oil for recycling. Reuse scrap paper that's printed on one side. Use the blank side for phone messages or notes. Reuse greeting cards by using the front flap as a post card. After you've read a magazine, give it to someone else to read, such as friends, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, doctors' waiting rooms or the library. Save plastic foam peanuts and other packing materials to use with your next fragile package. Save used gift wrap to use again on a smaller package. Cut old bedding, drapes and clothes into pieces for rags, or use them in braided rugs or patchwork designs. Remove nails and hardware from used lumber so it can be reused in smaller projects. Lumber that is not painted or treated can be safely used for firewood. Donate unwanted household items, clothes and appliances that are still usable to charitable organizations. You can also sell them through classified ads, community bulletin boards or garage sales. Buy used or remanufactured products and goods when they will do the job as well as new items. Use your consumer power

If the store where you shop doesn't offer returnable containers or products without needless packaging, ask for them. If the items are not provided, tell the store manager you intend to shop somewhere that does offer these items, and do it. Write to the manufacturers of products you like and tell them that you'd like these items in returnable, recyclable or less wasteful packaging.

Reduce waste at work

Examine the office, production and purchasing procedures where you work to see where wastes can be reduced. Offer incentives to workers to come up with new ways to reduce the company's wastes. Establish a quality control program to reduce wastes in your organization. Buy equipment that is well built and easily repaired. Maintenance contracts can help extend the life of equipment. Old equipment can be sold or donated to others who can use it. Reduce waste paper by circulating and posting memos instead of making copies. Copy documents on both sides of the paper. This will save file space, paper costs and mailing costs while reducing wastes. Reuse inter-office envelopes, file folders, boxes and pallets. Scrap paper can be used for notes or donated to schools and day care centers for use in art projects. Use convenient send-and-return envelopes for billing. The envelope goes out to the customer, who returns it with payment enclosed. Eliminate unnecessary forms, reports and publications to reduce the number that end up being thrown out. Always print or copy double-sided. For your cafeteria, parties and company events, buy or rent reusable glassware, table settings, silverware, table linens and serving equipment. Ask caterers to provide these items.

Steps to Implement a Source Reduction Program

More and more organizations are finding that source reduction – preventing waste at its source – is an essential companion to recycling. Reducing waste is a practical way to reduce both costs and the need for landfills. Source reduction does not require the construction of waste management facilities. What is does require is informed choices. Through the dozens of small choices employees make each day, large amounts of waste can be prevented at the source. The following eight steps can help your organization get started:

  1. Management decides to support source reduction efforts. Upper management must understand the need to prevent waste. By informing employees of cost and environmental waste issues, management communicates its concern and encourages employees to become involved. Management can show its support by:
    • Announcing its authorization for the program.
    • Developing a mission statement and goals.
    • Seeing that regular announcements and recognition take place.
    • Staying involved.
  2. Choose a reduction team. Managers request a volunteer from each department. Purchasing, custodial, maintenance and clerical departments are particularly important.
  3. Choose a facilitator. The facilitator, selected from the team membership, needs strong organizational and communication skills as well as enthusiasm for the project. The facilitator collects information from outside sources, relays definitions and priorities, educates and tracks job assignments for the team.
  4. Educate. Management provides general education on waste issues and program goals. The facilitator educates and inspires the source reduction team by presenting specific information about waste issues. The team surveys the facility's waste and learns about its economic and environmental impact. The team members take what they've learned back to their departments.
  5. Brainstorm source reduction ideas. Though many excellent ideas often come from the reduction team, many more ideas come from the entire staff. No criticism of ideas should be allowed in this step. Make it easy for ideas to flow. Circulation memos or suggestion boxes work well. The following questions can be used for brainstorming.
  6. Evaluate the ideas. Prioritize the suggestions and evaluate them to determine how each suggestion would affect waste and cost. Ninth grade math and a calculator are usually sufficient. With several people researching different suggestions in cooperation with the purchasing department, this step can be accomplished quickly and decisions made as to which ideas to try.
  7. Implement the most promising ideas. Some suggestions can be put into practice immediately. Use these ideas to add momentum to your program. This helps win support for more difficult ideas, those that must be phased in over time. A month after new measures are undertaken, the facilitator asks for comments from the staff on how the actions are working. The team writes up how much waste and cost have changed so far and distributes the information to management and employees.
  8. Continue the program. Source reduction is an ongoing process. Regular announcements about the program help maintain enthusiasm. Give awards for innovative ideas. Inform new employees about the program. Remind staff about the suggestion box. Make sure that everyone hears about all the measures undertaken. Everyone has a part to play in reducing an organization's waste because everyone plays a part in creating waste. Involve everyone in your organization, follow this outline, and chances are your organization will successfully reduce waste and cut costs.

Popular Ways for Businesses To Reduce Waste

Source reduction prevents waste at its source. Here are 14 increasingly popular actions that are reducing waste and saving money for many institutions and businesses:

  • Use solar-powered calculators and battery rechargers. Solar-powered calculators eliminate the need for batteries. Solar-powered rechargers use sunlight, not generated electricity, to recharge batteries.
  • Use refillable pens, pencils and tape dispensers. Americans throw out 1.6 billion single-use pens each year. Refillable pens and mechanical pencils often don't cost more over the long term, and their use prevents unnecessary waste.
  • If your company must use wooden pencils, hand-powered sharpeners are often as fast as electric sharpeners. Refillable tape dispensers eliminate the need for single-use ones.
  • Use reusable calendars. Hard-surfaced, perpetual calendars can be wiped clean and reused year after year. By using water-based markers, you can avoid petroleum-based markers.
  • Use two-way envelopes. If your office conducts a large amount of regular correspondence with other facilities, use two-way envelopes. These envelopes can be sent back and forth dozens of times before being recycled. More durable mail pouches may also be an option.
  • For billing, use convenient send-and-return envelopes. They look like standard envelopes, but after a slight twist they can be used again. If your envelopes need windows, order them without plastic.
  • Reuse file folders and binders. Applying new labels extends the usefulness of file folders and binders. Unused mailing labels work, but if you plan to buy labels, get those with gum instead of adhesive. Gum labels don't contaminate recyclable paper.
  • Refurbish office equipment. Many agencies and business are reusing office furniture instead of buying new furniture. Sometimes inhouse maintenance people recondition the furniture; sometimes businesses that specialize in office furniture repair do the job. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Furniture Repair and Refinishing Office." Computers are also repairable. Businesses that recondition and sell them are now flourishing.
  • Use bulletin boards. Rather than routing memos, post information on bulletin boards or use computer networks for electronic mail.
  • Change to cloth towel dispensers. Changing to modern cotton towel dispensers in place of paper towels reduces solid waste, makes for tidier restrooms and can save money.
  • Reuse printer toner and ribbon cartridges. Remanufactured cartridges can cut these costs 50 percent yearly. Some remanufacturers use higher quality replacement parts than those that are originally installed.
    • Questions to ask your vendor are:
    • Do you refill or remanufacture cartridges?
    • If you remanufacture, what parts do you replace?
    • What do you do with the old parts and toner?
    • Do you service both ribbon and toner cartridges or do you send one out?
    • How long have you been in business?
    • What does your guarantee cover?
  • Retrofit exit sign bulbs. According to the U.S. EPA, there are over 100 million exit signs in buildings across the nation, operating 24 hours/day, 365 days/year. Their energy consumption alone totals over $1 billion annually. New models are available that use substantially less energy and have a longer life – warranted for over 25 years – saving money on electricity bills and labor costs.
  • Convert four-bulb fluorescent fixtures to high-efficiency two-bulb fixtures. By replacing standard four tube-two ballast fixtures with rare-earth phosphor two-tube-one-electronic-ballast retrofits, lighting costs can be significantly reduced. The modern tube produces 17 percent more light than the old. The new ballast is silent, eliminates any perceptible flicker and uses 75 percent less power. In addition, only half the waste is produced to fulfill the same lighting need. Old but still functional bulbs can be given away to citizens for reuse in their shops or garages.
  • Use reusable cafeteria dishware. Reusable dishes are often cost-effective, even when dishwasher installation expense is included. A decrease in refuse-hauling cost can accompany the change because it can result in such a notable reduction of waste.
  • Use least-waste milk containers. Cardboard milk cartons are made of plastic-coated paperboard and are not readily recyclable. In a landfill, they take up approximately 10 percent of their original volume and take decades to decompose. A change to bulk milk or reusable containers reduces a major component of cafeteria waste. It can also can save money and teach reuse. If bulk or reusable containers are not an option, plastic pouches are next best.
  • Plastic pouches take up 1/25 the volume of paper cartons in a landfill and are made of LDPE, a relatively recyclable plastic.
  • Use reusable forced-air filters. By installing completely reusable aluminum forced-air filters in County garages, vehicle maintenance facilities and government buildings the county can save money and eliminate the amount of waste produced each year.
  • Eliminate single-use cups. Many offices and businesses have eliminated single-use cups in favor of employees using reusable cups. Progressive coffee shops are charging five cents less to customers who bring reusable cups.
  • Reuse single-sided paper. Use a box next to the photocopier for stacking single-sided photocopy paper "waste." With the simple use of a paper cutter and binding glue, this waste paper can be made into note pads. The glue is not absolutely necessary. Employees can stack quarter sheets beside their phones for note paper. Try to print on both sides of a sheet of paper whenever possible and appropriate.
  • Eliminate aerosol spray cans. Significant cost savings and waste reduction can result when businesses use concentrates and mix them in reusable pump-spray bottles.
  • Spread the word. As your organization implements these or any other source reduction activities, please contact the Department of Public Works & Transportation so that the information can be made available to others.