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Waste Reduction

Preventing waste in the first place

Preventing waste can help you save money and reduce your impact on the environment.  Preventing waste includes:

  • Purchasing durable, long-lasting goods and making them last longer by repairing them when necessary.
  • Reusing products and packaging, and reducing the amount of packaging that is discarded.
  • Seeking products and packaging that are as free of toxics as possible.

Practicing the Three R's                                                                                        Colleen Hetzel, Do It Green Magazine

Most of us have heard of at least one of the three environmental R's - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Minnesota has one of the highest recycling rates in the United States. The recycling rate was over 47% in 1999. However, reducing and reusing waste is harder to quantify. Waste reduction or "source reduction" is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as "any change in the design, manufacturing, purchase, or use of a material or product (including packaging) to reduce its volume or toxicity before it becomes municipal solid waste."

Simple examples of waste reduction are buying juice in a concentrate form and mixing it with water at home instead of buying pre-mixed juice in a bottle or printing information on both sides of a piece of paper rather than using two sheets. Reuse is defined as "the use of a product more than once in the same form, either for the same purpose - such as refilling a soft-drink bottle at the bottling company - or for a different purpose - such as reusing an empty peanut butter jar as a container for leftover food." Usually reusing a product not only prevents the old product from entering the waste system but it also avoids the consumption of new resources to make a new product. However, quantifying reduction and reuse can be difficult.

What does it mean to reduce waste? If the EPA's definition does not work for you, here is another: reducing waste can be defined simply as making less garbage. Becoming proficient at waste reduction boils down to changing some habits. For example, making a sandwich for lunch instead of taking a Lunchables or buying items such as cereals or laundry detergent in bulk. Although these changes may not seem significant when you do it at first, the benefits will add up over time.

Sometimes reducing waste can save some time and grief as well. Another good opportunity for reducing waste is in your yard. Most of us mow our lawns far more often than we need to. The ideal length for grass is 3 to 3.5 inches high. Keeping grass at this height will not only save time from mowing, but will also reduce the amount of watering you'll need to do because the grass will develop deeper roots, allowing them to reach more water during dry periods. You can also reduce the need for fertilizers by leaving the clippings on the lawn where they can return nutrients to the soil. Like any new habit, learning to reduce waste takes some practice and some learning, but it's definitely worth the effort!

Reduction and reuse often go hand in hand. An example of reuse is using a cloth napkin instead of a paper napkin so that it can be used more than once. You've probably heard about the grocery bag debate, "paper or plastic," right? Well, there's a third option - pick up a sturdy cloth shopping bag and use it over and over again with no more worries about ripping! Another good example of reusing is renting or borrowing something that you don't need to use often, such as extra tables and chairs for a party or heavy-duty lawn care equipment. A terrific way to reuse is buying used items; sometimes you can get these in good shape for free! A great service offered in the metro area is the Twin Cities Free Market. The Free Market is a listing service for Twin Cities residents who want to get or give away free reusable goods for the home, garage and garden. It is part of an effort to reduce the amount of reusable goods being thrown away. Check it out at

Find out more about how you can prevent waste at home, work, or school visit:

Reducing your waste at City of Saint Paul
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