Source reduction (which is also called waste prevention) means finding ways to reuse or otherwise manage materials so that they never enter the waste stream. Reusable beverage containers and mulching lawnmowers are good examples of source reduction. Source reduction also includes design, manufacture, purchase, or use of materials to reduce their amount or toxicity before they enter the MSW management system. Substituting lighterweight materials (such as plastic) for heavier materials is a form of source reduction.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in 2000 Americans source reduced more than 55 million tons of municipal solid waste. EPA’s estimates are based on changes in how we manufacture products and in how we manage our waste. Almost half (25 million tons) of this reduction came from backyard composting piles and grasscycling. Yard waste in a backyard compost pile and grass left on the lawn when it is cut with a mulching lawnmower are not sent to disposal sites.
The next largest component was containers and packaging (28 percent) followed by non-durable goods such as newspaper and clothing (17 percent), and durable goods such as appliances, furniture, and tires (10 percent). These savings were caused by changes in the materials used to make products, such as substituting plastic for metal or glass, and by changes in how we use some products. Newspaper generation, for instance, is declining due to lower circulation, smaller newsprint sheets and a switch to other forms of advertising. Table 2 shows the steady increase in source reduction since 1992.
Table 2. Source Reduction from 1992 to 2000
||Million Tons of Waste Reduced
Data from Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2009 Facts and Figures, US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste, 2003
EPA has not updated this material. However, as the recession of 2008 and 2009 has made clear, waste generation is a function of population size and the strength of the economy. With a weakened worldwide economy in 2009, waste generation has diminished. This decline is also a function of changing material usage patterns. As newspaper circulation and size diminishes, for instance, due to competition from on-line news and advertising sources, the amount of newspaper in the waste stream has diminished. EPA waste generation data for 2007, showed the first ever decline in waste generation during a strong economic period. Although the decline was small. only 40,000 tons of municipal solid waste, nonetheless it was precedent-setting. A 2.7 million ton decrease in paper usage - in the newspaper, commercial paper and printinga and writing paper categories, offset slight increases in other products we use.