What Is Source Reduction?

Learn about the benefits and methods behind source reduction

Source reduction is the process of decreasing an amount of waste or lowering the levels of toxicity in waste in a manufactured product. It is one of the strategies of ecologically minded businesses, and it attempts to address waste issues where they begin — at the start of the manufacturing process. Whereas traditional recycling only concerns itself with the constructive re-use or re-fabrication of packaging or products, source reduction attempts to lower toxicity levels and lessen amounts of waste at the beginning of the industrial process. Here are some of the ways source reduction is achieved and some of its benefits.

Re-use of packages

Recycling of packaging is good, but this is even better. This type of re-use reduces the need for packaging materials at the beginning of the industrial process. Instead of breaking down old packaging and re-creating another package, source reduction involves re-filling the original packaging with more of the same product. One example: A company produces glass bottles and fills them with milk, and then distributes and sells the product. But instead of throwing away the bottles, consumers may be offered a small monetary reward for returning the bottle to the original company. Once returned, the bottles are washed and refilled, and then put back on the market at the grocery store.

Less material

Certain types of packaging are more difficult to re-use. But materials like plastic can be harmful to the environment. So either replacing the type of material used or simply using less of it can be a good example of source reduction. According to the EPA, in 1977, two-liter soda bottles were made of 68 grams of plastic. Now they use only 51 grams of plastic, and that results in a savings of about 250 million pounds of plastic waste per year!

Common sense solutions

There are many simple methods for companies to reduce the amount of waste they produce. For example, Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E), a non-profit organization co-founded by the United States EPA and dedicated to making health care more environmentally friendly, says that companies should simply use electronic means to distribute company-wide memos to save paper. Another example: Large companies with break rooms or cafeterias for their employees should use bulk dispensers for milk, juice and soda, rather than provide individual cartons, cans or bottles.

Fewer chemicals

To practice source reduction, agricultural companies may decide to use natural predators for pest control instead of pesticides. Manufacturing companies that must clean materials and equipment with harsh chemicals may choose to re-use the chemicals several times before disposing of them. Or, they might simply want to lower the quantity of chemicals used in each cleaning to a minimal amount.

Benefits of source reduction

When companies practice source reduction, they're not only helping the environment — the reduction of raw materials makes the industrial process cheaper. The cost of the extraction of materials, transportation costs, processing costs and manufacturing costs are all reduced, and the savings can be passed on to the consumers. Shoppers can reduce amounts of waste by buying in bulk, because there is less packaging per item, or they can buy reusable products like rechargable batteries or reusable cloth diapers.

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