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A Comprehensive Definition of Source Reduction

written by: Vasanth•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 11/23/2010

Source reduction is a process which reduces the amount of waste that is produced. Using less material in the manufacturing of goods is one way to reduce waste. Another way is to utilize products for functions other than what they were initially produced for.

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    What is Source Reduction?

    What is source reduction? Source reduction is a way to reduce the amount of waste that is produced. It involves modifying the design of a product, altering the manufacturing process, selecting different raw materials, or utilizing the finished product for other functions than initially intended. Together, these steps constitute a concept called pre-cycling. The goal is to eliminate waste before it is formed.

    PET bottles in a trash can (Prague) Image by Hyena from Wikipedia

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    Benefits of Source Reduction

    The primary benefit of source reduction is less production of waste. This reduces the burden on local, city, and state governments to collect, process, and eliminate trash and recyclable materials. Less trash also means less impact on the environment.

    Source reduction reduces the amount of raw materials required for the production of a product. This helps to slow down the depletion of natural resources, which in turn saves existing reserves for future use.

    Another benefit of source reduction is saving money. Redesigned products that use less materials generally cost less. Also, reusing products, instead of buying new products, saves money as well.

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    Examples of Source Reduction

    A notable example of source reduction was the reduction of plastic in soft drink bottles in 1977. The amount of plastic in each bottle was reduced from 68 grams to 51 grams. As a result, 250 million pounds of plastic was eliminated from the waste cycle per year.

    Another remarkable example of source reduction involves the size of napkins used by McDonald's. A reduction of 1 inch in the size of the napkins saved 12 million pounds of paper. McDonald's also reduced their packaging for certain sandwiches in 1999, saving roughly 3,200 tons of boxboard containers.

    Insurance giant State Farm also utilized source reduction when they started using digital cameras for claims processing. It is estimated that the company saved about 50 tons of photo film.

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    Common Tasks That Utilize Source Reduction

    You don't have to be a large company to take part in source reduction. For example, mulching is a common gardening practice that can utilize the principles of source reduction. By using leaves and natural plant debris as the source material, you can add nutrients back to the soil without buying expensive, pre-packaged mulch. Leaving cut grass on the lawn is another way to add nutrients to the soil and reduce waste. Composting with existing natural materials also improves soil conditions.

    There are several source reduction methods utilized in the home and office. Making two-sided copies and reusing old envelopes saves paper. Use refillable toner cartridges, refillable pens, and mechanical pencils instead of the disposable versions. Buying items in reusable containers is a good way to utilize the product for other functions. Also, rechargeable batteries can be used for a longer period of time than regular batteries.

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