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Source Reduction (Waste Reduction)

What is Source Reduction?

Source reduction, also referred to as waste reduction, is at the top of the solid waste management strategy hierarchy.  The term source reduction is used to describe those activities that decrease the amount (weight or volume) or toxicity of waste entering the solid waste stream, i.e., activities that decrease the amount of garbage generated that would otherwise have to be recycled or disposed in a landfill or incinerator.  It also includes those activities that increase product durability, reusability and repairability.

Why Is Source Reduction Important?

Source reduction activities not only protect the environment, but also make economic sense since there will be less waste to manage through the recycling or disposal system. 

Benefits of Source Reduction:

•        Prevents pollution by reducing the need to harvest new raw materials
•        Saves energy
•        Reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change
•        Helps sustain the environment for future generations
•        Saves money
•        Reduces the amount of waste that will need to be recycled or sent to landfills and incinerators
•        Allows products to be used to their fullest extent

Source Reduction Strategies:

Source Reduction At Home:

“Pay-as-You-Throw" Systems - In communities with Pay-as-You-Throw programs (also known as per container systems, unit pricing or variable-rate pricing), residents are charged more or less for trash collection, depending on the amount they throw away. This encourages residents to reduce the amount of waste that they generate and to separate recyclables more carefully. Eight towns in New Jersey now use such systems. Residents from these towns believe that this type of system promotes fairness. Comparison studies show that these towns recycle more and dispose of less waste than their neighbors.

New Jersey Municipal Pay-As-You-Throw Programs

"Grass - Cut It and Leave It" – The objective of these programs is to get residents to leave grass clippings on the lawn when they mow as grass clippings provide a natural and healthy fertilizer for a growing lawn. By cutting your lawn short and removing the clippings, you are robbing your lawn of its own natural fertilizer and creating a waste that must be hauled away for disposal or recycling by a truck. This, of course, adds to the negative environmental impact of this practice since disposal vehicles use fuel and produce air pollution. By cutting your lawn higher and leaving the clippings on the lawn, you can use less water, fertilizer and pesticides, and expose yourself to fewer toxic materials.

Grass - Cut It and Leave It

DEP estimates that as much as a ton of clippings is generated for every acre of turf grass each year. With nearly 900,000 acres in New Jersey covered in turf, that adds up to big transportation requirements, fuel use, and air emissions.

Backyard Composting (Yard waste and Food waste) – Reduce waste by composting your food scraps and yard trimmings in a backyard compost pile. For more information, visit the following websites:





Source Reduction in the Garden

Toxicity Reduction – People are exposed every day to toxic materials in their own home in the form of cleansers, pesticides and from fumes from paint and carpeting. Fortunately, comparable products with little or no toxic constituents are available in today’s marketplace. Visit the following websites to learn how to reduce toxics in your home:

Reducing Toxic Chemicals in the Home

Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Information

Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse

Green Shopping –Think green before you shop. When you’re out shopping, carefully choose what you buy and how much of it. Purchase durable items instead of disposable products whenever possible. Buy in bulk to save money and reduce packaging waste.

Think Green Before You Shop

Reduce Waste While Shopping

Green Grocery: How To Shop To Support the Environment

Junkmail – Consumers can reduce the amount of junk mail - unwanted catalogs, unsolicited credit and insurance offers and more - they receive using the following resources:  

Pay Bills Online – Pay major credit card and utility bills online, and eliminate incoming and outgoing mail.

Source Reduction and the Holidays:

American households generate 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year's.  That's about 1 million extra tons of trash each year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  Thankfully, there are many simple and easy things that people can do to reduce the amount of waste generated during the holiday season.  Learn more at:

Source Reduction at the Office:

Conduct a Waste Audit - A waste audit is a formal, structured analysis of an organization’s waste stream that enables one to determine what types of recyclable materials and waste one’s office or facility generates and how much of each type is recovered for recycling or discarded. By using the data generated by a waste audit, organizations can identify ways in which they can reduce their waste generation, improve their recycling program and determine the potential for cost savings.  Check out the waste audit resources on the New Jersey WasteWise Business Network homepage at https://www.nj.gov/dep/dshw/recycling/wastewise/brbn03.htm.

Paper Reduction:

•      Reducing Paper Use in the Office
•      The Paperless Society
•      The Pull Printing Option 
•      Take Paperless Notes
•      Reducing Paper and Printer Ink Usage
•      Catalogs - Contact Catalog Choice to opt out of receiving catalogs

Non-Paper Waste Reduction Ideas:

•      Reusable Transport Packaging
•      Reduce Waste and Save Money Through Purchasing
•      Four Easy Non-Paper Waste Reduction Ideas
•      Cut It and Leave It (leave grass clippings on your company’s lawn)
•      Donate Unwanted Office Furniture
•      Donate Unwanted Office Supplies - Check with local schools and charities.

Other Workplace Source Reduction Suggestions:

  • Use refillable products such as pens, pencils, tape dispensers and calendars
  • Use solar powered calculators
  • Reuse bank deposit bags
  • Eliminate single use cups
  • Buy less toxic and energy friendly products.

Reuse Strategies:

In setting source reduction strategies, the first priority is the elimination of waste; the second is reuse. Reuse programs keep materials that would otherwise be discarded out of the waste stream and make quality products available to people and organizations with limited means, while generating jobs and business activity that contribute to the economy. Reuse includes conventional reuse where the item is used again for the same function, and new-life reuse (often referred to as “repurposing’) where an item is used for a different function.

Donation - It has often been said that one person's trash is another person's treasure. Instead of discarding unwanted items, try donating them. Not only will you be reducing waste, you'll be helping others. Local churches, community centers, thrift stores, schools, nonprofit organizations and other organizations may accept a variety of donated items.  Check out the reuse opportunities on the weblink below and look for additional opportunities in your area.

Reuse Opportunities Listed By Material (list includes names and websites of organizations involved in reuse of various materials)

Resale – Garage sales and consignment stores allow used goods to move from hand to hand, and return a portion of the original cost to the former owners. By purchasing used items, you help to keep materials out of the landfill and cut down on the number of new goods manufactured.

Rental – Consider renting those tools that you may only need for one project rather than buying them and having them sit idle for years and deteriorate unused. For example, big power tools, landscape tools, snow blowers and even furniture can be rented.

Sharing – Your neighbors and family can share big items like extension ladders and chain saws.

Freecycle Network - Freecycle aims to keep items out of landfills by providing an internet listings service to help people give unwanted items to someone else for free in their own community. Keeping stuff out of landfills helps build a sustainable future, is good for the environment and builds local and world communities.  Freecycle (officially known as The Freecycle Network) is made up of thousands of groups with millions of members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving and getting stuff for free. Freecycle groups operate in specific towns or areas - so it's local as well as global. Visit https://www.freecycle.org/ for more information.

NJDEP Recycling Award Winners - Source Reduction, Resource Management, and Sustainability Category:

2021 - Matriark Foods: Matriark Foods is an organization that works with farmers, aggregators, and food service providers to rescue edible food. Matriark uses surplus vegetables from these sources to make a healthy vegetable stew that is then provided to those in need. Matriark Foods partnered with Table to Table, a community food rescue organization, during the 2020 pandemic to rescue, upcycle, and donate 620,000 pounds of food (the equivalent of more than 500,000 meals) that would have otherwise gone to waste. Matriark Foods used the proceeds of a grant from ReFED, a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the U.S. food system, to purchase surplus vegetables from farmers which were then made into vegetable stew that was distributed to the hungry in Bergen, Essex, Passaic, and Hudson Counties. If the 620,000 pounds of food that were rescued had instead been disposed, the disposal alone would have generated greenhouse gases in excess of 20,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. 

2021 - Goodwill Home Medical Equipment:  Goodwill Home Medical Equipment reduces medical equipment waste by accepting donations of gently used medical equipment at all Goodwill donation sites.  The organization also picks up large medical items at consumers’ homes free of charge.  This service continued during the pandemic of 2020.  Goodwill Home Medical Equipment sanitizes and refurbishes the medical equipment and provides it to individuals in need at affordable prices without a prescription from a physician. The organization believes that this program helps individuals live more independently and improves their quality of life.  It also supports the environment by keeping many tons of medical equipment out of the waste stream.  In serving over 5,400 customers in 2020, Goodwill Home Medical Equipment kept the following items out of the landfill:  257 hospital beds, 920 wheelchairs, 90 scooters, 47 specialty chairs, 2,000 walking aids, 83 pieces of pediatric equipment and 830 pieces of general medical equipment and much more.   

2020 - Merck & Co., Inc.:  Merck & Co., Inc., a pharmaceutical company with its largest New Jersey sites located in Rahway and Kenilworth, has a comprehensive waste reduction, recycling and sustainability program. The company recycles food waste through two on-site food waste composters, recycles difficult-to-recycle lab plastics, implemented a reusable coffee mug program and strives for zero waste in all its in-house events. https://www.merck.com/company-overview/responsibility/

2019 - Second Chance Toys:   The non-profit Second Chance Toys keeps rigid plastic toys out of landfills by promoting their collection and then arranging for the toys to be donated to local organizations serving disadvantaged children. In 2018, Second Chance Toys collected 13,520 plastic toys in New Jersey, a 20 percent increase from the 10,875 toys collected in 2017. Since 2017, the program has saved solid waste disposal tipping costs for participating communities and kept more than 140,000 pounds of plastic toys from being disposed in landfills.  http://www.secondchancetoys.org/

2018 - Pioneers, Chapter 99 and Ericsson:   Members of Pioneers, Chapter 99 and Ericsson diverted from landfills more than 183 tons of surplus office supplies, equipment and furnishings resulting from a redesign of two of the Ericsson company’s locations. The items were instead donated to more than 240 schools and nonprofit organizations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Liberia and Belize. The voluntary effort dubbed “The Big Sweep” involved cleaning out office supplies from 808,000 square feet of office space, organizing the supplies into an inventory, finding non-profit organizations in need of the supplies and sending the items to those organizations.  Contact Laurene O’Donnell, lari.odonnell1@gmail.com.  

2017 - Pedals for Progress:  Pedals for Progress, a nonprofit organization, has diverted an estimated 100,000 pounds of materials in 2015 and 88,000 pounds of materials in 2016 from landfills and other waste streams by collecting and shipping used bicycles and sewing machines to partner organizations. The equipment supports economic development in developing countries, and helps underprivileged individuals overseas in need of non-polluting transportation. Since its founding in 1991, Pedals for Progress has diverted more than 4.5 million pounds of materials from the waste stream.  https://www.p4p.org/

2017 - New Jersey Habitat for Humanity ReStores:  Habitat for Humanity ReStores are building supply outlets that sell new and gently used building supplies, furnishings and appliances to help promote neighborhood revitalization while reducing landfill waste.  The Northern Ocean County Habitat ReStore in fiscal year 2016 diverted nearly five times more waste than it did in 2001, while the Warren County ReStore has seen a steady improvement of 5 percent annually that is projected to continue for at least the next three years.  https://www.habitat.org/restores


Contact: Steve Rinaldi, NJDEP, Bureau of Sustainability – Steven.Rinaldi@dep.nj.gov or 609-633-0538