Waste Watch - tips for reducing your waste

Though this site has concentrated mostly on presenting the recycling opportunities available at San Jose State University, we don't want to leave out one of the most important aspects of any effective waste management program, waste reduction.

Waste reduction (also known as waste prevention) is the practice of minimizing or reducing waste generated from the beginning, in an effort to have less to discard or recycle at the end.

Whenever you buy disposable items or products with excess packaging, you're essentially buying trash. Every year, the average American produces nearly 1,600 pounds of trash, most of which still goes to landfills. Although we're recycling more and more, there's an even more effective way to cut down on excess waste. Simply stated, prevent it.

The key to any successful waste reduction practice is thinking ahead and determining the necessity of what you are generating. The following reduction tips are designed to reduce the amount of office waste that otherwise would have to be recycled, burned, or landfilled.

  • When preparing for a meeting where you need to provide printed information, determine in advance how many people are expected to attend and make copies based on that information.
  • Remember that a sheet of paper has two sides. Most photocopiers and printers today have convenient double sided copying features that are easy to activate. Consistent use of this practice can cut your paper usage in half.
  • Single space documents. A single-sided, double-spaced document uses four times as much paper as a double-sided, single-spaced document.
  • When creating handout slides for a PowerPoint presentation, put more than one slide on each page and double side the copies.
  • If you use an ink jet printer, consider using the blank side of previously used papers for printing when the document is for internal purposes or drafts. We don't recommend this technique for laser printers, as it can cause the toner cartridge to burn out faster.
  • Consider whether you need to produce hardcopies of information or whether you can simply distribute by email. And if you're on the receiving end of digital information, ask yourself whether you need to print the document or if it can be stored on your hard drive.
  • Think carefully about those on your distribution list and consider who truly needs the information you're disseminating. A quick phone call or email may reveal that the person you've been sending hardcopies to is no longer on campus. And while you're at it, find out whether the information you are providing is necessary to the people who are receiving it.

Switching from Disposables to Reusables

Many things used during the work day are designed to be thrown out after one or more uses, such as paper or polystyrene cups, paper towels, pens and pencils. Products that last less than three years, called nondurable goods, comprise 27 percent of the waste stream. Disposables constitute a significant portion of these goods. By using items that can be refilled or reused instead of thrown away, offices will not only help to eliminate unnecessary trash, but can save money. Many of these strategies require changes in current purchasing criteria as well as changes in behavior.

  • Use nondisposable tableware (mugs, silverware, plates)
  • Use cloth towels in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Refill laser cartridges and re-ink typewriter ribbons
  • Buy reusable filters for coffee machines
  • Buy mechanical pencils and refillable pens
  • Use reusable envelopes for interoffice mail
  • Buy refillable tape dispensers
  • Encourage employees to reuse lunch bags
  • Use undated, erasable wall calendars
  • Reuse envelopes with metal clasps
  • Consider purchasing a water cooler to replace individual bottled water or drink from the tap
  • Encourage the building manager to install reusable air filters in your buildings's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system
  • Encourage suppliers to ship material in reusable containers
  • Ship your own office's materials in reusable/reused packaging

Extending Product Life

While cost is a major consideration in purchasing decisions, product durability, repairability, and length of warranty and service contracts must also be taken into account. A product that lasts 20 years instead of 10 produces half the waste and saves money.

  • Buy or lease durable and repairable equipment, such as photocopiers, fax machines, computers, and coffeemakers
  • Consider length and coverage of warranties and service contracts when selecting products
  • Use longer-lasting light bulbs (CFLs)
  • Buy sturdy desk supplies, such as bookends, file holders, and staplers

Other Tips for Office Waste Reduction

  • Buy coffee, tea, and sugar in bulk
  • Share newspapers and magazines
  • Organize swaps of unnecessary items from your home with your colleagues
  • Donate food, furniture and other materials to local organizations, such as homeless shelters or charities
  • Share source reduction ideas among coworkers

By not creating waste in the first place - in the form of disposable products or unnecessary packaging - we don't just avoid having to send it to the local landfill. We also avoid expending the energy, consuming the natural resources, and creating the pollution that comes from making it in the first place. So when you're shopping, choose products that you can use over and over again and avoid excess packaging.

Did you know?

It is estimated that by 2010, United States residents will be generating about 280 million tons of waste per year. Approximately one-third of our waste is generated by businesses, such as offices, restaurants, and retail stores. The amount of office waste can be lowered through "source reduction," that is, by using less and thereby reducing the amount of material thrown out every day.

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