Chapter Five Source Reduction
Overview and Goals
“Paper or plastic?” the store clerk asks. “Neither, I brought a canvas bag!” With one simple act, you have done a lot. You have eliminated the need to cut a tree or drill for oil for raw materials. You also eliminated the need to use up energy to make and transport the bag to your store. This reduces your greenhouse gas impact. Lest we forget, you also eliminate the need to recycle those bags. If you were not a recycler, you have no bag to throw in a landfill or litter the highways with. All these benefits come from one decision to practice “source reduction,” the first “R.” The following chapter will discuss source reduction in depth and offer a number of good ways to make it a part of your community’s practices. Toxicity reduction is a related and important topic that is included here as well. The chapter will also examine the sometimes overlooked tool of “reuse”, the second “R,” as an additional smart strategy. Source and toxicity reduction and reuse are great ways to lessen the amount and hazards of waste that must otherwise be recycled, composted, incinerated or landfilled. The information and activities presented in this chapter 1 include: The importance of source reduction Residential and commercial approaches to reducing waste at the source How to encourage toxicity reduction Reuse, the Second “R”
Organics source reduction is covered in Chapter 9. _______________________________________________________________________________________
I. Source Reduction at a Glance
The NC Solid Waste Management Act of 1989 (Senate Bill 111) places source reduction at the top of the list in implementing plans. It is the first “R.” And for good reason. Source reduction is defined as “a reduction in the amount and/or toxicity of waste entering the recycling and/or waste system - or waste prevention.” It can also be called “Pre-cycling.” Strategies include: Simply not buying something Borrowing or renting items rather than buying Repairing broken items or mending clothes Buying multi-use items rather than disposable items (sponge or cloth napkins) Buying more durable goods that will last Purchasing in bulk quantities Buying items with minimal packaging Using returnable packages like milk bottles and egg crates Shopping at farmers markets to get minimally-packages items Getting off junk mail lists and trying to reduce multiple phone book deliveries For industry, enrolling in ISO 14000 type efforts
In 2005-06, North Carolina produced 1.36 tons or 2,720 pounds of waste per person. That is an alarming 27% increase since FY 1991-1992
Benefits include: Saves money on products for consumers and businesses in the long run Saves money on recycling and waste disposal in the short run Conserves our precious natural resources for future generations
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Reduces Greenhouse Gases (GHG) and global warming Prolongs the landfill life Decreases the toxicity of materials in our lives and in the waste stream Prevents or reduces air and/or water pollution Source reduction encourages an ethic of responsibility and permanence in opposition to of our throw-away society
Consumerism and Source Reduction
Talking about source reduction brings up controversial issues. It is no secret that American is a consumer-oriented society – one of the greatest in human history. Our environmental footprint, as mentioned in Chapter One, is very large and we use more resources per capita than all other countries. With 5% of the world’s population, we consume 25% of the world’s resources. We buy a lot, and often buy so-called “cheap junk” that either quickly breaks or is disposable by design. Disposable razors, paper napkins and plastic utensils end up in the trash almost as soon as they are unwrapped. Our fast-paced society also means much consumption of fast foods and on-the-go products. This moves in the opposite direction of source reduction. But Americans do like their consumer goods. Recycling advocates must be careful to avoid alienating citizens and offending businesses. Advocates do not want to be seen as holier-than-thou. Despite great efforts, Americans have not been convinced yet to curb their buying habits. It is worth noting that, as the old sayings go, many of the best things in life are free and you can’t buy happiness. Communities can work together to create a high quality of life that is not dependent on consumer sales. Europeans with their high standard of living (higher than the U.S. in many cases) tend to derive happiness less from “things” and more from social relations and public goods like parks and plazas. Americans may move in that direction someday, which would reinforce source reduction goals.
Note: Some have argued that disposable items are more sanitary and less harmful to the environment to make than durable items. Most studies show that this is not the case, although it is true that durable goods are not perfect. Information on this issue is found at www.environmentaldefense.org under “Myths.”
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II. Residential Strategies
The big opportunity for source reduction lies with the typical family in your community. Unlike the commercial or industrial sector, families are unlikely to have been touched by organized waste reduction efforts that are more common in the business world. Yet, improving even small practices among thousands of residents can have a big impact.
A. “Buy Less Stuff” Efforts
Suggest ways that residents can give gifts that are services rather than products. This can be especially helpful at the holiday season. “Give a massage or music lessons rather than an expensive gadget.” Encourage activities other than shopping as leisure pass-times. Investigate the “International Buy Nothing Day” held each November. Encourage neighbors to share items like newspaper and magazine subscriptions, power tools or ladders and highlight cost savings. Remind residents that renting items that they rarely need is a smart choice. Encourage green event choices like greener weddings and parties which can involve rented items and avoid paper plates and plastic utensils. Encourage the use of lending institutions like the public library. Banner from a Buy Nothing Day event in the UK.
Remind residents that repairing items and mending clothes are old-fashioned virtues that save money and are good for the environment. Support repair clinics for items like computers and bicycles.
When consumers must buy an item, they can be encouraged to make the most environmentally-sound purchase. We can call this “Enviro-shopping.” . Citizens can be reminded to buy durable, well-made items that will last. They can be discouraged from buying disposable items.
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Citizens can be given examples of products that are favorable like rechargeable batteries, sponges and cloth napkins. Such items can be displayed at events and booths with examples of cost-savings. Citizens can be reminded to seek less packaging and to find places where packaging is minimized like a farmers market or flea market Residents can be informed about the benefits of bulk purchasing. Most supermarkets offer bulk goods, for example, with very little packaging. Encourage residents to buy items like milk and eggs in returnable packages (milk bottles and egg cartons). Such arrangements are increasingly common at farmers market around North Carolina and some supermarkets. Maple View Dairy near Chapel Hill sells most of its milk in returnable bottles with a deposit.
C. Reducing Junk Mail and Unwanted Phone Books
100 million trees are used for junk mail every year according to the Bay Area Junk Mail Reduction Campaign. This is the same as deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park three times a year. This amount of paper would fill 450,000 garbage trucks. Junk mail includes catalogues, solicitations and newsprint ad circulars. Companies send 300 pieces per year for every person in the U.S. and the number rises every year. Citizens spend hours sorting through junk mail and important items can be lost amongst it. Legislation is pending in 14 states, including N.C., to regulate junk mail and unwanted phone books. There are 59 junk mail reduction programs in N.C. It is possible to get off of some junk mail lists, but it is unlikely that all junk mail can be stopped. Governments can distribute “stop junk mail” kits. These kits are readily available on the Internet and do make a difference. Junk mail is a key source of revenue for the Post Office, so they may not cooperate with efforts to reduce its volume. Some businesses rely on its use.
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D. Promoting Source Reduction to Residents
The concepts of source reduction can and should be integrated into all recycling public awareness campaigns, if at all possible. Campaigns can be simply informational or can include incentives. Creativity is encouraged. 1. Educational materials can include: Information on “buy less stuff” and enviro-shopping, especially with testimonials of local people Distribution of stop junk mail kits Concrete suggestions for source reduction at the personal/consumer level, with real-life examples and testimonials from residents Costs and difficulties of residential waste disposal Description of the waste problem locally and in the country and the state Information on potential local government savings as a result of residential source reduction| Information on the availability of residential waste exchange services Educational fliers for elementary schools and adult public education 2. Incentives Following the principals of social marketing (see Chapter Ten), incentives keep people interested and participating. This is a short list of some proven ideas: Establish awards programs for residential source reduction excellence. Encourage economic incentives by retailers such as dry cleaning discounts for returning hangers or discounts on coffee if customers bring their own mugs. Implement variable rate collection fees to provide a financial incentive for source reduction. (RecycleBank type programs can work against source reduction, unless measures are taken to deal with this. See Chapter Ten.) Practice source reduction in government operations to serve as a model
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III. Commercial and Industrial Strategies
Commercial and industrial sectors generate well over half of the waste stream. These sectors have the potential to significantly decrease the quantity of waste disposed through implementation of aggressive source reduction programs. Some segments of the industrial sector already participate in strong waste minimization as a cost savings, Total Quality or consumer marketing strategy. It is important to inquire about what companies are doing before assuming that they are producing excessive waste. Small businesses may be less organized around source reduction. The construction industry generates a huge amount of waste; this industry is discussed in the C&D section. Product stewardship (or extended producer responsibility) is a growing industry trend (see Chapter One). Companies look at the full life cycle of their products and their total impact on the environment. William McDonough wrote “Cradle to Cradle,” now a classic discussion of this topic. The Product Stewardship Institute works on particular products and tries to get companies within industries to work together. NCSU Industrial Extension, Waste Reduction Partners and other DPPEA staff are available to assist industry to reduce waste and be more efficient. (See Chapter Two.) Source reduction activities for the non-residential sector can be grouped into the following categories:.
A. Product Redesign
Product redesign involves these changes: A reduction in the amount of material used and/or waste created during the production of goods and services. Examples include changing a product so that it reduces the number or complexity of parts. Waste may be reduced by reverse engineering the waste products of a product to see where they start
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and then redesigning the product to reduce the waste. A reduction in the amount of waste the consumer will discard from the product. Examples: Coffee packaged in the brick pack results in an 85 percent source reduction over the conventional tin can. Deodorant sticks are now often sold with no box and no plastic or paper packaging.
B. Changing Purchasing Procedures
Changes in material procurement can significantly affect the amount of material generated for disposal since purchasing decisions control the quantity and type of material brought into the facility. Such changes may include bulk quantity purchases or requests that suppliers eliminate excess packaging. Requiring reusable plastic shipping boxes, rather than corrugated boxes, is a common example. Flour can be purchased in reusable sacks rather than paper bags.
C. Improving Inventory Control
Methods for controlling inventory range from simply changing the ordering procedures to implementing just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing techniques. Improved inventory control can significantly affect the three major sources of waste resulting from improper inventory control: excess inventory, out-of-date inventory, and raw materials no longer used. Toyota pioneered JIT.
D. Production Process Modifications
Process modifications include: Equipment changes Improved operational procedures Preventive maintenance Material changes Improvements in measurement
E. Housekeeping Practices
Good housekeeping practices are important in prevention of needless waste generation. These activities include proper storage of chemicals and maintenance of a clean, even surface in transportation areas.
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F. Employee Training and Awareness Programs
Employee training is critical for successful implementation and maintenance of source reduction activities. A program should be established to train employees when they begin employment and at periodic intervals thereafter. In addition, an employee incentive program encourages participation in the source reduction efforts and generates new ideas.
G. Promotion of Source Reduction to Comm./Industrial
Listed below are ways governments can encourage source reduction in the nonresidential sectors. It is smart to use existing State resources. Conduct site visits to help facilities develop a source reduction program, including waste audits. Offer to conduct waste assessments to evaluate source reduction program options. Connect them with Waste Reduction Partners. Develop and present workshops/seminars. Offer to speak at facility planned workshops. Bring in State speakers. Establish awards programs or partner with existing ones. Offer a grants programs and/or publicize State program. Send direct mail to encourage source reduction activities. Generate news releases of business success stories. Provide informational pamphlets and fact sheets Survey businesses to determine the components of the local waste stream and sites that need the most assistance. Develop a blue ribbon team of businesses practicing source reduction and develop a letter or pledge for those businesses to sign. Consider tying waste reduction to permitting. Local government can require a source reduction plan or evidence of waste reduction practices as a condition of obtaining permits to discharge air or wastewater, or proceed with development. Assist retailers by providing information for in-store education on source reduction or by drafting letters to suppliers detailing community interest in packaging changes to foster source reduction and recycling.
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IV. Toxicity Reduction
Synthetic chemicals are controversial. While a number of chemicals are necessary and useful for society, highly toxic chemicals can pose real problems in their manufacture, transportation, use in homes, schools and businesses, and disposal. How much of a problem no one really knows. The federal government has banned about 100 chemicals because they are too dangerous. But 72,000 chemicals are registered with the EPA to use just in cleaning products alone.
Our understanding of many chemicals is incomplete. Some may cause cancer or other diseases about which we are unaware. In particular, science does not know much about what happens when various chemicals are mixed together. The number of combinations is just too great to conduct tests.
Indoor Air Quality is a Concern
In 1989 the EPA determined that indoor air quality is more dangerous for Americans than outdoor air. Why? Because of the chemicals we have introduced to indoor spaces through cleaners, carpets, paints, plastics and wood products.
Costs to Society are High
Chemicals carry costs that are not borne by the purchaser. Proper disposal of chemicals is a cost borne by communities and it is very expensive. Household hazardous waste programs which are successful and bring in a lot of materials can cost thousands of dollars to run. Toxic dump clean-ups are very expensive.
Natural Alternatives Are Here
Natural alternatives to chemicals are readily available and can be cheap. While they too can pose hazards, in general they are less dangerous, are less persistent (they break down quickly) and can be disposed of with the usual MSW.
More citizens are buying organic food and gardening organically. Communities can join this bandwagon. Beneficial insects like honey bees will be thankful, too.
Children may be at Special Risk
Evidence shows that children are more vulnerable to chemical exposure than adults. A new law in N.C. requires all public schools to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to reduce pesticide use in schools. (See www.ipm.ucdavis.edu.) And accidental childhood poisoning is a real concern.
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B. Program Development
In North Carolina, there are 23 toxicity reduction programs, but the number is declining. Considering the cost of household hazardous waste programs and the risks outlined above, the number should be expanding. To help citizens reduce household hazardous materials and select less toxic products: Give citizens examples of non- or less hazardous cleaning and pest products that can work just as well as hazardous ones. Examples: Marigolds instead of pesticides in the garden ward off certain insects. Baking soda and vinegar are excellent cleaners. Alternatives to lye for plumbing problems are available. Promote alternative paint products that contain fewer or no hazardous substances. Example: Use water-based paint instead of oil-based paint. Safecoat is one name brand to investigate. Promote using the least amount possible of a product with hazardous components. Encourage citizens to follow directions for handling and storage of products with hazardous components. Promote the use of materials only for their intended purpose. For more information, see the excellent book: “Clean House, Clean Planet,” by Karen Logan published by Pocket Books in 1997. Also see “The Safe Shopper's Bible: A Consumer's Guide to Nontoxic Household Products, Cosmetics, and Food” by David Steinman published by Wiley and Sons in 1995. For examples of less hazardous home products, see the websites of Seventh Generation and RealGoods.
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V. Reuse: The Second “R”
Oh, the middle “R,” the one that we rarely talk about. Yet, reuse is a powerful strategy and one that saves citizens money and spawns viable programs, businesses and non-profit enterprises. Let’s look at several examples of reuse in action.
A. Yard sales, garage sales and estate sales
Items exchanged or sold through these types of sales stay out of the waste stream. How can a community encourage this type of waste reduction? In many areas, no encouragement is needed because residents love these events. Program coordinators have the opportunity to remind citizens that when it comes time to clean out the garage or attic, a sale is a great option for them. Ads or news articles can highlight the waste reduction of yard, garage and estate sales. In addition, programs may want to check on rules and ordinances that may prohibit such sales. Can those rules be modified to allow this popular activity?
B. Swap shops at landfills or drop-off centers
Another popular way to encourage reuse is to set up swap shops at places where recycling and garbage collection happen. There are about 37 recycling programs in the state that use swap shops as a strategy and the number is growing. Swap shops are typically a low-cost shed like the one shown below. To have a successful swap shop, remember to set up rules to govern how it operates. Clear signage is needed to explain the rules, as shown in the photo. Attendants can remind patrons that if they have usable items to put them in the swap shop and not dumpsters. Attendants can also monitor that problematic items are kept out of the swap shop (for example, a sofa full of fleas or items with broken glass.) After a set number of days, items that have not been taken away should be discarded to allow the inventory to rotate. Swap shops are great for diverting bulky items.
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Swap shops can be decorated in fun, artistic designs. Some are open and airy and others are close- in buildings. An open structure with lots of natural light is probably ideal. In addition to toys, bikes, clothing, appliances and tools, some swap shops function as paint exchanges. This is a service that is appreciated by residents. Extra care is required when starting a paint exchange to deal with HHW issues. Some paint exchanges only accept latex paint. Orange County is an example of a locality with experience in paint reuse.
C. Thrift stores, flea markets and antique shops
Americans love to go to thrift shops and flea markets. There are national chains like Goodwill Industries as well as many Mom n’ Pop establishments. Antique shops also provide reuse services, but at a higher price and lower volume. Thrift stores in particular are useful for low-income residents, students, teachers, artists and theater groups needing low-cost items. In Durham there is a specialty thrift store for artists and teachers called The Scrap Exchange. Recycling programs can help to promote thrift shops via advertisements or listing on their websites. This may be especially helpful at certain times of year: the holidays, when college students come and go from school, at Halloween, etc.
D. Building reuse centers
C&D debris is a serious solid waste problem. Building reuse centers are typically privately-run thrift stores that specialize in building items like windows, doors, cabinets, sinks, tubs, lumber, hardware and plumbing supplies, and hard-to-find architectural features. Owners of these stores scavenge from buildings being torn down. Habitat for Humanity has a series of these stores in North Carolina. Recycling programs can promote or help start these stores.
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1. It is early November and Christmas shopping is beginning in earnest. Every year you see a large spike in trash around the end of the year. What can you tell your residents that might reduce the waste that will be coming in December? Who would you partner with to get the word out? How would you put a fun or positive spin on buying less or using fewer disposable items? 2. Your citizens are calling you about excessive junk mail and two or three phone books delivered to their door. What would you tell them? Who could you work with to tackle this problem? If your state legislator called you, what would you tell him or her is the answer? What about source reduction? 3. You run a solid waste/recycling program at a major manufacturer and notice a large amount of styrofoam packaging waste all of a sudden. You recycle cardboard, but don’t know what to do with the styrofoam. What source reduction ideas might help? Who would you need to involve in solving this issue?
U.S. EPA webpage on Source Reduction and Reuse www.epa.gov/msw/sourcred.htm Alameda County, CA Recycling Program (Oakland/Berkeley) www.stopwaste.org Eco-Cycle Recycling in Boulder, CO www.eco-cycle.org The Product Stewardship Institute, Boston, MA www.productstewardship.us Grassroots Recycling Network www.grrn.org
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Swap & Shop
Hours of Operation: Monday - Saturday: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm Location: Mitchell Road Recycling & Convenience Center - 566 Mitchell Road How It Works: Operates on a first come first serve basis. Leave an item and if you see something you want take it. Donated items must be in good condition and in working order. Please place items neatly on the shelves and arrange so that like items are together. Rules: Keep Swap Shop and area clean. Place boxes in paper recycling bin. Put bags in trash can. Failure to keep area clean will cause Swap Shop to close!
The following list describes the items that may be swapped and items that are not accepted:
What Can Be Swapped Housewares Sporting Goods Holiday Items Small Appliances Pots and Pans Garden & Lawn Items Office Items Toys Books Tools Linens Games Televisions Furniture Baby Items Small Children's Clothes
What's Not Accepted Fuel operated appliances Food Mattresses & Box Springs Large Appliances Paint Car parts Batteries
Swap shop rules from Wayne County, N.C.
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