The 4 "R"s -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rebuy
Materials efficiency and waste prevention require a cyclical rather than typical linear "extract, use, and dump" approach to manufacturing and utilizing resources. The "4Rs" Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rebuy provide a simple yet powerful way of envisioning how we must individually and collectively change our material use patterns.
"Reduce," or Source Reduction, is the first and most important step in materials efficiency and waste prevention practices. It is the crux of the matter because it involves actions to eliminate or reduce the amount or toxicity of materials before they enter the municipal solid waste stream. According to the California Integrated Waste Management Statute of 1993, Source Reduction includes the following actions:
reducing the use of nonrecyclable materials
replacing disposable materials and products with reusable materials and products
reducing the amount of yard wastes generated
establishing garbage rate structures with incentives to reduce the amount of wastes that generators produce
increasing the efficiency of the use of paper, cardboard, glass, metal, plastic, and other materials
Individuals also may choose to reduce consumption in their own lives by making a conscious decision to use fewer resources and simplify their consumption patterns.
"Reuse" is the next step in materials efficiency and waste prevention. Effective reuse preserves the present structure of a material or article and does not require additional time or energy for utility. Examples of goods that are effectively and efficiently reused include intact or repairable home appliances, industrial appliances, household goods and furniture, clothing, intact materials in demolition debris, building materials, sinks, business supplies and equipment, and lighting fixtures (Source: "Solid WasteReduction, Reuse, and Recycling," Building Sustainable Communities, The Global Cities Project, 1991).
"Recycling" is the third step, which involves converting manufactured articles into raw material for remanufacture. By replacing virgin materials with recycled feedstock, natural resources and energy are preserved. Additionally, recycling contributes to the economy. According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology, more than 100,000 people in the Northeast alone are employed by recycling companies, which are adding an estimated $7.2 billion of value to recyclable materials.
"Rebuying," the final step that both ends and begins anew the cyclical 4R process, involves purchasing products that are designed for source reduction and/or constructed from recycled materials. This practice encourages market and technology development for materials and products that conserve resources and prevent waste.
The following resources will help you and your community learn
more about how to successfully implement 4R technologies and
practices for materials efficiency and waste prevention. For
information and resources specific to construction, see the
section. For information and resources practices specific
to the industrial/commercial sectors, see the Sustainable
U.S. Government Programs
EPA has an Environmentally
Preferable Purchasing program that offers guidance,
reports on federal pilot programs, and tools online for implementing
environmentally preferable purchasing in everything from conference
planning to office purchasing.
EPA's Pollution Prevention
home page offers information on pollution prevention activities,
events, efforts at the regional, state, local and tribal levels,
and grants and other resources for pollution prevention.
Program encourages citizens to reduce and recycle waste
by requiring payment for solid waste disposal directly based
on the amount of waste generated. The less citizens toss, the
less they pay.
EPA also sponsors the Resource Conservation Challenge, a voluntary partnership program that encourages makers, sellers and buyers of goods to conserve energy and materials, prevent pollution and promote recycling. The program includes America's Marketplace Recycles!, an initiative that promotes recycling at shopping centers.
The U.S. General Services Administration offers an Environmental
Products and Services Guide online, with listings for
products that have recycled content, are energy efficient, or
reduce pollution. Listings include office supplies, equipment,
cleaning and chemical products.
a voluntary partnership program between EPA and the business
community to reduce municipal solid waste through implementation
of innovative and cost-saving waste reduction and reuse programs.
There are one thousand business partners participating in this
Many states have active materials efficiency agencies and programs.
Individual states usually have pollution prevention specialists
and recycling coordinators. Some states also offer additional
resources, such as business waste reduction consulting, or industrial
materials exchanges. Examples are the Oregon
Commercial Waste Reduction Clearinghouse, and the Iowa
Wasate Reduction Center.
Preferable Purchasing Guide from the Minnesota Solid
Waste Management Coordinating Board is an online directory that
identifies environmentally preferable alternatives for more
than 30 product types used by schools and government agencies,
including materials that have recycled content or prevent waste.
World is a website of the California Integrated Waste
Management Board (CIWMB) created to provide information on source
reduction techniques and technologies for businesses and residences.
The site offers an on-line database of articles, reports, and
factsheets, as well as links and publications on resource efficiency.
CIWMB also sponsors calMAX,
the California Materials Exhcange, with listings online.
Waste Reduction Resource
Center provides technical Pollution Prevention (P2)
support to the states in EPA Regions III and IV, the Mid-Atlantic
and Southern regions.
Business Alliance (BRBA) is a group of organizations
committed to increasing the procurement of recycled content
products through education and leadership by example. It is
a partnership of the National Recycling Coalition.
Center for Waste Reduction
Technologies, a project of the American Institute of
Chemical Engineers, shares non-proprietary technologies for
sustainable solutions. Publications on water management, reducing
VOCs, and sustainable manufacturing are offered online.
Run is an organization that serves the university and
college community in waste prevention techniques, by extending
the useful life of materials, raising money for nonprofit organization,
and educating groups about natural resource consumption reduction.
Dump & Run helps coordinate the salvage and reuse of materials
Earth 911 / 1-800-CLEANUP
is a public/private partnership to provide on-line geographically-specific
information on recycling centers. The website provides a powerful
nationwide search function for locating the recycling center
nearest you, as well as featured information and demonstration
Global Recycling Network
(GRN) offers a one-stop on-line solution to the recycling
information needs of business users, researchers, publishers
and purchasing agents, while spurring the development of international
trade of recyclable goods and services. Provides an excellent
reference library and extensive links.
was developed by the World Wildlife Fund and the Center for
a New American Dream to encourage more environmentally friendly
purchases among young people. The site includes a downloadable
Community Action Guide and lets visitors see how many resources
are saved by individual actions.
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
(ILSR) works with citizen groups, governments and private
businesses in developing policies that extract the maximum value
from local resources. In particular, their Waste
to Wealth program offers publications, reports, technical
assistance services, and case studies of waste reduction record
setters among communities and businesses.
Association of Counties offers information on Environmentally
Preferable Purchasing for counties, including the Local Government
Environmental Purchasing Starter Kit.
The National Recycling
Coalition works to maximize recycling as a strategy
for resource conservation, waste reduction, environmental production,
energy conservation, and economic and social development.
The coalition is dedicated to advancement of recycling, source
reduction, composting, and reuse by providing technical information,
education and training, outreach, and advocacy services.
The National Waste
Prevention Coalition provides resources and technical
assistance to local governments, state governments, non-profit
organizations, universities, consultants, and others to prevent
waste from being created, and to reduce the use of resources.
The National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative has been created to bring stakeholders together to develop solutions to the issue of electronic products management, addressing collection, reuse and recycling of electronics. Governments, manufacturers, retailers and recyclers are participating.
The Pacific Northwest Pollution
Prevention Resource Center offers an online report on
Environmental Purchasing which includes extensive
listings of further sources of federal, state, international
and nonprofit information on environmentally preferable purchasing.
The report also includes lists of references pertaining to products
used by specific industries.
Principles for Purchasing Environmentally Preferable Computers, Monitors, and Peripherals were developed by more than 50 agencies and organizations, so that institutional purchasers can identify cleaner computers in the marketplace and award contracts to companies making the greatest difference in lessening the environmental and health consequences of the high-tech industry.
Recyclers World serves as an on-line world wide trading site for information related to secondary or recyclable commodities, by-products, used and surplus items or materials. The Recyclers World site provides directories of links to Recycling Associations and Information and Material Exchanges.
at Work Project of the U.S. Conference of Mayors provides
cities across the U.S. with technical assistance, market information,
data, and guidebooks for setting up office paper recycling programs
and for purchasing recycled products.
Recovery Forum is an international network of more
than 300 organizations with a shared interest in seeing society
achieve more sustainable waste management - making better
use of waste that is produced.
Reuse Development Organization
(ReDO) is a national and international nonprofit organization
promoting reuse on every level. ReDo provides education, training,
and technical assistance to start up and operate reuse programs
and is working to create a national reuse network and infrastructure
The Solid Waste Association
of North America (SWANA) offers educational services,
publications, and professional training to advance economically
and environmentally sound solid waste management practices.
SWANA has one of the most extensive municipal solid waste (MSW)
management libraries in the world, with over 7,000 listings
on all aspects of the MSW field, from collection to ultimate
The Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has a mission to develop, evaluate, and promote cleaner products and cleaner technologies that minimize pollution at the source and contribute to long-term sustainable development.
Management Institute conducts research, outreach, training,
and technical assistance programs in solid waste disposal, management
and planning. Includes PDF files of conference proceedings
on specific waste reduction topics.
Toxics Use Reduction Institute
(TURI) at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell was
created to promote reduction in the use of toxic chemicals and
the generation of toxic byproducts in industry and commerce
in Massachusetts. Programs include training for toxics use reduction
planners. The TURI website features the opportunity to submit
research requests for staff searches, as well as a Technology
Transfer Center with extensive resources. The site includes
specific assistance for communities, and downloadable case studies
and reports on cleaner technology demonstration sites, as well
as a newsletter.
Last updated: January 31, 2005
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