Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

In 1988, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) developed a 3-step solid waste disposal plan.  Our title - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle - represents this solid waste management hierarchy. 

SW collection hierarchy1.  Source Reduction and Reuse - The most important first steps. 

Source reduction means reducing the amount of solid waste entering the waste stream.  It is the first level in the EPA's Hierarchy for these reasons:

  • It involves individual consumer action
  • It is the level that has the greatest potential for reducing the amount of solid waste we generate.

There are basically 3 activities individuals can use while practicing Source Reduction and Reuse.

  • Precycling - Examining products for excess packaging, recyclability, and durability before purchasing them.
    Woman Examining Clothes
    People look for products that are recyclable or reusable, are made from recycled materials, are not over-packaged, use less hazardous chemicals, and are durable.
Shopper Examining Product


  • Reducing - Selecting products with less packaging.

    Over Wrapped BananasOver Wrapped Tic TacsOver Wrapped Medicine
  • Reusing - Finding new ways to use a product.

    Reusable plastic containers can be used over and over again; newspapers used as wrapping paper
    for gifts, and jars or cans used to store small items like nails or screws.
    Reused Jars

    Also donate clothes, books, and furniture to charitable organizations.

    You are only limited by your imagination!

    Reused Plastic Bottle

2.  Recycling and Composting - The next step to solid waste management

Unlike reusing materials where we just create another use for a product, recycling involves specific processing steps for materials to be reused.  Composting is a great example of recycling because composting follows the below processing steps (decomposition) and transforms discarded organic materials into another usable product - soil.
  1.  Purchasers separate materials for recycling.
  2.  Waste hauling companies collected materials and prepares/transports them to businesses.

    Collection programs include - curbside recycling, drop-off sites, and buy-back recycling centers

  3.  Businesses make the same or new products from collected materials.

    Example - newspapers are collected, shredded, transported, mixed and remade into another newspaper or other paper

  4.  Retailers purchase the products for people to buy.
The best way to learn what is recyclable in your area is by contacting your local city administration or the waste hauler that collects the materials!

3.  Incineration and Landfilling - Burning and burying is the last step in solid waste management.

Until the mid-1970s, areas where garbage and trash were disposed of were little more than unregulated, open dumps.  However, in 1979, the US Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that developed guidelines for proper solid waste disposal.
Typical waste disposal practices - 1950 to 1970Working Landfill
                                    Before  1979                                                                             After 1979