Reduce - Reuse - Recycle
Waste prevention, or "source reduction," means consuming and throwing away less. It includes:
Source reduction actually prevents the generation of waste in the first place, so it is the most preferred method of waste management and goes a long way toward protecting the environment.
Reusing items -- by repairing them, donating them to charity and community groups, or selling them -- also reduces waste. Reusing products, when possible, is even better than recycling because the item does not need to be reprocessed before it can be used again.
Recycling is one of the best environmental success stories of the late 20th century. Recycling, including composting, diverted 82 million tons of material away from landfills and incinerators in 2006, up from 34 million tons in 1990. By 2006, about 8,660 curbside collection programs served roughly half of the American population. Curbside programs, along with drop-off and buy-back centers, resulted in a diversion of about 32 percent of the nation's solid waste in 2005.
Buying Recycled Products
There's more to recycling than setting out your recyclables at the curb. In order to make recycling economically feasible, we must buy recycled products and packaging. When we buy recycled products, we create an economic incentive for recyclable materials to be collected, manufactured, and marketed as new products. Buying recycled has both economic and environmental benefits. Purchasing products made from or packaged in recycled materials saves resources for future generations.
Another form of recycling is composting. Composting is the controlled biological decomposition of organic matter, such as food and yard wastes, into humus, a soil-like material. Composting is nature's way of recycling organic waste into new soil, which can be used in vegetable and flower gardens, landscaping, and many other applications.
Common household items such as paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, and pesticides contain hazardous components. One way to help determine if your household waste has hazardous components is to read the labels on products. Labels that read "danger," "warning," "caution," "toxic," "corrosive," "flammable," or "poison" identify products that might contain hazardous materials. Leftover portions of these products are called household hazardous waste (HHW). These products, if mishandled, can be dangerous to your health and the environment.
Although we cannot completely stop using hazardous products, we can make sure that leftovers are managed properly. The best way to handle HHW is to reduce the amount initially generated by giving leftover products to someone else to use. Although federal laws allow the disposal of HHW in the trash, many communities have collection programs for HHW to reduce the potential harm posed by these chemicals. These programs ensure the safe disposal of HHW in facilities designed to treat or dispose of hazardous waste. More than 3,000 HHW collection programs exist in the United States.