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Waste Wise: Waste Prevention

Waste prevention, also known as source reduction, means using less material to get a job done. Waste prevention methods help create less waste in the first place—before recycling. If organizations take a good look at their recycling collection data, they are likely to see ways to reduce waste first through waste prevention, thereby decreasing purchasing costs and the amount of material that must be managed for recycling. For more information, visit our waste prevention publications and related links.

Sample Goals

Waste prevention offers the greatest environmental benefits and provides substantial cost savings to organizations. WasteWise partners commit to establishing three waste prevention goals when they join the program.


Businesses can often modify their current practices to reduce the amounts of waste generated by changing the design, manufacture, purchase, or use of materials or products. Sample goals set by WasteWise partners in this
area include:

  • Reducing office paper waste by implementing a formal policy to duplex all draft reports, and by making training manuals and personnel information available electronically.
  • Improving product design to use less materials.
  • Redesigning packaging to eliminate excess material while maintaining strength.
  • Working with customers to design and implement a packaging return program.
  • Switching to reusable transport containers.
  • Purchasing products in bulk.


Reuse of products and packaging prolongs the useful life of these materials, thus delaying final disposal or recycling. Reuse is the repair, refurbishing, washing, or just simple recovery of worn or used products, appliances, furniture, and building materials for internal reuse. Sample goals set by WasteWise partners in this area include:

  • Reusing corrugated moving boxes internally.
  • Reusing office furniture and supplies, such as interoffice envelopes and file folders.
  • Using durable towels, tablecloths, napkins, dishes, cups, and glasses.
  • Using incoming packaging materials for outgoing shipments.

Donate and Exchange

Organizations can donate products or materials to charities or nonprofits, or exchange materials through a commercial materials exchange. Sample goals set by WasteWise partners in this area include:

  • Donating unwanted supplies to local schools or nonprofit organizations.
  • Donating cafeteria food scraps for use as animal feed.
  • Advertising surplus and reusable items through a commercial materials exchange.
  • Donating excess building materials to local low-income housing developers.

Sample Results

Listed below are some examples of WasteWise partner achievements in waste prevention.


  • Kitsap County, Washington, piloted a junk mail and fax waste reduction program in its Public Works Department, eliminating more than 1,200 pieces of junk mail and 1,000 junk faxes in 2005.
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District practices an "Offer Versus Serve" program in school cafeterias to reduce the amount of food wasted, helping it avoid $600,000 in food disposal costs in one year.
  • Verizon Communications Inc. offered businesses the option of receiving directories on CD, which resulted in the company printing 482,000 fewer directories in 2004, and reducing paper use by 888 tons.
  • The Walt Disney Company has excelled with its paper reduction program, saving the company $1.9 million in2005 alone. Much of these savings can be attributed to Disney’s commitment to switching from paper to electronic media. The company’s Electronic Pay Stub Initiative gives employees the option to receive pay stubadvisory notices online. In 2005, Disney also implemented the Hummingbird Imaging System, a secure electronic receiving and storage program for credit files and collection reports, saving enough paper to equal morethan 750 trees.
  • Pacific Gas and Electric Company uses biodegradable products including cups, plates, coffee stirrers, and tooth-picks to serve refreshments for events and meetings at the Pacific EnergyCenter.


  • Eastern Illinois University supports the university community through the reuse of furniture and office supplies. It also has a creative reuse program with its township—the school donated 615 tons of boiler ash to road supervisors in 2005 to provide better traction on snow- and ice-covered roads.
  • In 2004, NEC Electronics America’s manufacturing plant in Roseville, California, saved more than $360,000 by reusing test wafers, eliminating the need to purchase approximately 36,000 new wafers and preventing the use of more than 4,000 pounds of virgin material.
  • One of Limited Brands Inc.’s most successful waste reduction activities is its packaging reduction program. In 2004, Limited Brands established new design standards for cardboard boxes used for apparel merchandise, allowing multiple uses from a single box. This effort prevented 87 tons of cardboard from being discarded as waste and saved the company approximately $215,000 in avoided purchasing costs.


  • The U.S. Postal Service Alabama District created an Online Swap Shop after a postmaster noticed excess materials in its facilities such as forms, office supplies, and furniture. In 2005, this effort saved the Alabama District more than $40,000 on supply purchases.
  • Donation and reuse are not only central to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s waste reduction program, but also help the local community. Its materials exchange center serves as a distribution center for donated items suchas silverware, furniture, and tires. Umatilla also reused more than 1 ton of carpet by distributing it to the community.

Employee Education

  • The Genzyme Corporation—Cambridge Campus implemented an extensive educational program requiring environmental awareness training for all employees, including a PowerPoint slideshow and a 10-question quiz. The Cambridge Campus also uses its intranet to educate employees about waste reduction, recycling, and environmentally preferable purchasing. In addition, employees who take the Genzyme Recycling Pledge commit to waste reduction activities, such as using less paper and purchasing recycled-content products. These employees receive a Genzyme Recycles mug in recognition for their efforts.
  • In honor of it's 25th anniversary, Amgen, Inc. published "25 Ways That You Can Make Every Day Earth Day at Amgen!” This fact sheet offers employees tips on preventing waste, recycling, buying recycled, and other environmentally friendly activities.

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Washington, DC 20460