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Waste Reduction


This is a rough sketch of your plan of action to reduce waste generation. These are the easiest things you can do. These are just a few of many other things that you can do, but you will likely notice them if they become a regular part of your daily life.

You can find Cal Recycle PSA pages that contain public service announcements (PSAs) on many of the topics discussed on this page.

Also, see Back to School Waste Prevention.

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Substitute Reusable Products for Consumables
  • Recycle Products
  • Other Resource

These ideas are ranked in order of importance by the waste management hierarchy (reduce, reuse, and recycle).

  • Reduce wasteful consumption and the production of waste.
  • You can either reuse any item or donate it to someone or a charity who can.
  • If possible, recycle any items that are left and dispose only of what is absolutely necessary.

Recycling is the least desirable option. It would be ideal for reducing waste generation so that there isn’t any waste left to recycle. It is your goal. Keep in mind the idea of “cycle” when you refer to “recycle”. To have a complete cycle, all the items you send must return to you. If you don’t, you aren’t really recycling.

Although reuse and recycling have their own meanings, they are frequently misunderstood, confused, or switched around, especially in commerce. You might find it helpful to look at the definitions page to clarify which one you are referring too.


  • Packaging
    • Purchase food in large quantities. Cereals and grains are particularly easy to buy this way. You can reduce the amount of paper and cardboard you waste by buying large quantities of any consumable product. If the food is likely to spoil, you should not buy large quantities.
    • Choose products that are less packaged.
  • Unwanted Mail
    • Take back control! Reduce the amount of junk mail that you receive.


Find new uses for items you have already thrown away. Check your telephone directory to find out if there is a reuse center in your area. You can also reuse the following:

  • Computers
    • Refer to the E Recycling Directory.
  • Electronics
    • Refer to the E Recycling Directory.
  • Everything Else
    • Refer to the Cal Recycle Reuse Website.
    • Donate to charity

Substitute reusable items for consumables.

  • You can use towels, rags, sponges, and sponges to clean and wipe up most things. Always have clean rags and clothes. Even though you will need small amounts of towels and washcloths to get started, you’ll find that the cost is quickly offset by the reduced need for disposables. You might even think they are better than disposables. You can use an old plastic or spray bottle to keep a handy rag or cloth nearby. Mixing one part vinegar with seven parts water could make a mild cleaner. You can also use diluted alcohol, bleach, or ammonia to make something stronger. Do not mix bleach with ammonia. This combination can cause asphyxiating gases.
  • Use cloth napkins. The initial cost of buying disposable paper substitutes will quickly be offset by the lower price of cotton napkins.
  • Do you still collect bags when you shop? STOP! In November 2016, California voters passed the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ban. Most stores are now unable to sell single-use plastic bags for carry-out. You can save the 10 cent state-mandated fee per paper bag by investing in a set of reusable shopping bags. They are more durable, can hold heavier loads, make it easier to carry heavy loads, protect glass bottles and jars better than plastic bags, last longer than cloth grocery bags and help reduce waste and energy. Even though you recycle paper and plastic grocery bags, it still takes energy and resources.
  • Recycle old glass jars into food storage containers You will also be practicing reuse.
  • Get rechargeable batteries and a charger for almost any device, including flashlights and digital cameras. It is more economical and safer for the environment in the long-term. For more information about recycling and proper disposal, visit Cal Recycle’s Batteries home page.
  • Food waste Californians dispose of nearly 6 million tons each year of food scraps and food waste. This is 18% of all material that ends up in landfills. See here for more information Food Scraps Management .
  • Compost- To learn more about composting, visit the Cal Recycle page. Or contact your local government. To learn more about how to start a small worm garden, download the Worm Guide.
  • Yard waste – California landfills dispose of about 8% of all waste that is not made from leaves and grass. However, landfills produce more greenhouse gases than compost piles and bins.
    • Compost- To learn more about composting, visit the Cal Recycle page. Or contact your local government.
    • Grasscycle What could be simpler? You can set your mower to cut the grass a bit longer and then leave the clippings on your lawn. You don’t need bags when you mow. This will reduce water consumption, fertilize less frequently, and reduce storm water runoff into creeks and lakes.  Alternately, you can compost your grass clippings, or make mulch from them directly from your lawn mower bag. Be careful with your fertilizing and watering.

Buy Recycled Products

If you send your waste to be recycled but don’t look for recycled content in the products you purchase, then you aren’t technically recycling.

These directories will help you find recycled content products:

  • Recycled Content Building Products This section of the Recycled Content Product Directory lists producers of recycled-content building products.
  • Recycled Content Product Manufacturers (RCPM). May include products from any business that produces or manufactures with recycled material. This directory can be used by all buyers, including government and business.
  • Recycle Store This database lists products only for businesses located in California’s Recycling Market Development Zones. The Recycle Store is designed for consumers.

Other resources

Do not stop there! You can find more information about waste prevention below.

  • Construction & Demolition – Find new uses for construction materials.
  • Electronic Product Management – What to do with old computers, TVs and radios?
  • Preferable Purchasing – Every product you purchase has an effect on the environment and human health. How much impact do you make?
  • Holiday Parties -Less stress during holiday cheer
  • Organics-Commercial agriculture and backyard gardening, composting. Lawns, vermiculture and many other things.
  • Packaging-Resources to manufacturers and suppliers
  • Paper Information and Resources – Everything you need to know about papers.
  • Recycled Content Product Manufacturers (RCPM), and Recycle Store – If you don’t purchase recycled, then you aren’t really recycling.
  • Use – Because new is not always the best option and because there are better ways to dispose of stuff than in the trash can.
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Jane S. King

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