Everybody is familiar with sustainability’s “3 R’s” – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  The idea, created by the EPA back in the 1980’s, is to reduce the amount of material that gets thrown away and ends up in our crowded, unsustainable landfills. Less waste to dispose of conserves natural resources, landfill space and energy.

EPA deliberately put the R’s in the order of their importance. Reducing consumption and reusing materials have by far the biggest overall impact on reducing waste. Too often, though, the emphasis is on the recycling component. Too many people think that by recycling material they are preventing it from entering the waste stream. In reality, all they are really accomplishing is delaying that process. There is, after all, a limit to how many times materials can be recycled before they lose all value and end up in a landfill or incinerator.

EPA’s hierarchy of waste management options:

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency, Solid Waste Management

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency, Solid Waste Management

The truth is that recycling, as a strategy, is only the third best option. At Sustrana, we talk (and write) a lot about reducing waste by reducing consumption. We work to develop strategies to help businesses function effectively and efficiently while minimizing their environmental impacts.

So let’s focus on the first two “Rs”.

Reduce:  First, reduce the materials you use and consume (and then dispose of). The most effective way to reduce waste is to generate less in the first place. You have less material to dispose of if you purchase and discard less material. Try conducting an office-wide waste audit.  Pictures are worth a thousand words, and the audit give you an indelible picture of exactly how much (and what) your office is throwing away. Even better, by analyzing your waste stream, you will probably discover that you can eliminate a lot of the waste your business produces.

Reuse:  Second, reuse what can be repurposed. A very cost-efficient method of reducing waste is to reuse products in their present form. It is usually cheaper to clean or repair products so that they can be reused rather than to buy new or recycled ones.

By tackling reducing waste through reduced consumption, a business can:

  • save money on materials supplies
  • reduce waste disposal costs

  • save on storage and handling costs (less material = less storage needed)

  • conserve natural resources and energy

  • avoid adding to the environmental burden caused by producing and disposing of unnecessary materials

  • give customers what they want: "green" products and environmentally conscious businesses

  • boost employee morale by providing staff an opportunity to work together on environmental goals

If you’re looking for information on how to implement and manage reducing consumption and waste at your office, check out Sustrana’s great new tool, the Project Selector, with lots of suggestions and how-to’s. Sign up for a free demo to see how many ways you can keep greening your office!

Author Note: Check out my second post for Simple Ways to Reduce Office Waste.