Smart Communities Network banner

WelcomeContactSite IndexNewsletterEspanol

Resource Efficiency - Materials


Success Stories

Codes / Ordinances

Articles /


Other Resources

Materials Efficiency Strategies

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 packaging 

• 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 Waste—Reduction, 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 Green Buildings section. For information and resources practices specific to the industrial/commercial sectors, see the Sustainable Business section. 

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.

EPA’s Pay-As-You-Throw 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.

WasteWise is 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 program.

State Resources

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.

Environmentally 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.

Waste Prevention 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.

Non-governmental Organizations

Buy Recycled 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.

Dump & 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 on campuses.

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 projects.

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.

The National 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.

Recycler’s 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 Recycler’s World site provides directories of links to Recycling Associations and Information and Material Exchanges

The Recycling 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. 

Resource 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 disposal. 

Academic/Research Programs

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.

Cornell Waste 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

Back to Top