This page provides a primer for waste reduction at home. It is rough sketch of a plan of action, your action, to reduce the generation of waste. These are just the easiest things that you can do. There are many more, but they will probably become apparent to you if you make these a part of you daily life.
Public service announcements (PSAs) on several of the topics mentioned on this page can be found on the CalRecycle PSA page.
The waste management hierarchy--reduce, reuse, recycle--actually expresses the order of importance of these ideas:
- Reduce needless consumption and the generation of waste.
- Reuse any item that can be reused or give it to a person or charity that can reuse it.
- Recycle whatever discards remain if you can and only dispose what you must.
Please keep in mind that recycling is your least preferred option. Reducing the generation of waste so there is no waste left to recycle would be the ideal. Make it your goal. Also keep in mind the concept of "cycle" in the term "recycle". For there to be a complete cycle, the things you send to be recycled must come back to you. So, look for recycled content products whenever you buy, otherwise you are not truly recycling.
The terms reuse and recycle have specific meanings, but they are often confused, switched, and misused, especially in commerce. Just so you know which is which, you might want to review the definitions of these terms on the definitions page.
- Buy food in large quantities or in bulk. Grains and cereal are especially easy to purchase this way. Avoiding small individual packages of any product or consumable greatly reduces the amount of paper or boxboard that you buy and throw away. Of course, don't buy large quantities if the food would spoil before it is used.
- Vote with your dollars. When comparing products of different manufacturers, consider giving preference to those that use less packaging.
- Unwanted Mail
- Fight back! You can reduce the amount of junk mail you receive.
- Find uses for things you discard. Consult your phone directory to see if your community has a reuse center. Other options for reuse are as indicated below:
- Consult the E-Recycle Directory.
- Consult the E-Recycle Directory.
- Everything Else
- Consult the CalRecycle Reuse website.
- Donate to charity.
Substitute Reusable Items for Consumables
- Use towels, rags, and sponges for most cleaning and wipe-ups. Keep a large enough supply of rags and wash cloths so you will always have some clean ones. Even if you need to buy a supply of small towels and wash cloths to get yourself started, the initial cost will be quickly offset by your reduced need to buy disposable substitutes, and you might think they work better than disposables. If you frequently need a damp rag or wash cloth close at hand, just find an ordinary old plastic bottle or old spray bottle and fill it with your own home-made cleaning solution. You could mix up a mild cleaner of one part vinegar to seven parts water, or something much stronger with diluted alcohol, bleach, or ammonia. (Do not mix bleach and ammonia. The combination creates an asphyxiating gas.)
- Use cloth napkins. Buy a large supply of inexpensive cotton napkins to use every day, the initial cost will be quickly offset by your reduced need to buy disposable paper substitutes.
- Are you still collecting bags every time you shop? STOP! California voters approved the statewide Single-Use Carryout Bag Ban in November 2016. Since then most stores have been unable to provide single-use plastic carry-out bags. Instead of paying the state mandated 10 cent fee for each paper bag, invest in a set of reusable shopping bags. They hold more, they make carrying heavy loads much easier, they hold larger volumes than most plastic bags, they protect glass jars and bottles better, they last seemingly forever (expect well over 15 years from cloth grocery bags), they save energy and resources, and they prevent litter. Even if you recycle your paper or plastic grocery bags, you consume some energy and resources.
- Collect and use leftover glass jars as food storage containers. They are more durable than plastic bags, leak less, reduce odors in the refrigerator, and keep moths out of dry goods in the cupboard. Best of all, you will be practicing reuse!
- Invest in rechargeable batteries and a battery charger. You can run almost anything, from flashlights to digital cameras, with rechargeable batteries. In the long run it is cheaper and better for the environment. For more information on recycling and proper disposal of batteries, please visit CalRecycle's Batteries home page.
- Food Waste--Californians throw away nearly 6 million tons of food scraps or food waste each year. This represents about 18 percent of all the material that goes to landfills. For more information see Food Scraps Management:
- Compost--To learn how to compost, see the CalRecycle home composting page or contact your city or county government. If you prefer to compost in a bin instead of an open pile, or if compost bins are required in your community, see the CalRecycle About Composting Bins page.
- Vermicomposting--Get a worm bin and some worms and practice vermicomposting. Download The Worm Guide to read all you need to know about starting a small worm bin.
- Yard Waste--Leaves and grass account for about 8% of the waste discarded to landfills in California. But in a landfill they generate significantly more greenhouse gas than they would in compost piles or bins.
- Compost--To learn how to compost on see the CalRecycle home composting page or contact your city or county government. If you prefer to compost in a bin instead of an open pile, or if compost bins are required in you community, see the CalRecycle About Composting Bins page.
- Grasscycle--What could be easier? Set your mower to cut a little long, and leave the clippings on the lawn. No bags to empty when you mow, reduce the water needed on your lawn, reduce the need to fertilize and thereby reduce toxic runoff to creeks and lakes via the storm drains. Read more. Alternately, compost your grass clippings or use them as mulch directly from the lawn mower bag, and be miserly with your watering and fertilizing.
Buy Recycled Products
If you are sending your waste to be recycled, but you are not looking for recycled content in the products that you buy, then, in theory, you are not completing a cycle, and are not truly recycling.
Find recycled content products with the following directories:
- Recycled-Content Building Products--This section of the Recycled Content Product Directory lists manufacturers of recycled-content building products.
- Recycled Content Product Directory--May include products of any business in any country that manufactures or produces with recycled material. This directory is intended to be used by all types of buyers: government, business, and consumers.
- RecycleStore--This database lists only products of businesses that are located in one of California's Recycling Market Development Zones. The RecycleStore is targeted at consumers.
Don't stop here! Find more waste prevention information below:
- Construction and Demolition--Find new lives for construction materials.
- Electronic Product Management--What to do with your old computers, TVs, radios, cell phones, etc.
- Environmentally Preferable Purchasing--Every product purchased has an impact on human health and the environment. What kind of impact are you making?
- Holiday Parties--Going easy on the environment during the holiday cheer.
- Organics--Commercial agriculture, backyard gardening, composting, lawns, vermiculture, and much more.
- Packaging--Resources for manufacturers and suppliers.
- Paper Information and Resources--Everything you need to know about paper.
- Recycled Content Product Directory and RecycleStore--If you don't buy recycled, you are not really recycling.
- Reuse--Because new is often not the best option, and because there are better places to get rid of your stuff than the trash can.