Source reduction is about preventing waste at the source by minimizing the materials in products, and moving away from single-use disposable products toward durable, reusable, and repairable goods.
Extending Producers’ Responsibility for Reducing Waste
Waste is the output of a global system of ever-faster production and consumption. America’s waste problem continues to grow because companies have no legal responsibility for what happens to their products and packaging once they’ve been sold. As a consequence, products and packaging are often “designed for the dump,” and quickly end up their because of poor design and a lack of infrastructure to effectively capture our unwanted stuff and reuse or recycle it into new products.
While much can be achieved by voluntary product stewardship initiatives by companies, UPSTREAM believes it is essential for government to do what is good for people and the planet, not just corporate bottom lines. Implementing extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies that include source reduction requirements in addition to sufficiently funding packaging reuse and recycling will help reduce packaging before it can become waste or litter. Some products should be banned (for example, plastic bags, Styrofoam). Quotas may be needed to increase reuse in some product categories. Experience has shown that financial incentives, like container deposits, are effective at reducing litter and recycling beverage containers. Deposits could be applied to other types of products and packaging to increase recycling rates.
Producer Action for Source Reduction and Reuse
Source reduction can be applied by companies at the design and production phases to minimize the amount of materials in products and packaging, and deliver products using natural resources as efficiently as possible. Source reduction can also be applied by food-service and hospitality establishments through minimizing the use of single-use disposable containers, providing reusable cutlery and encouraging the use of reusable take-out containers, including coffee cups, beverage containers and “to-go” boxes.
Single-Use Disposable Items (SUDs)
Some of the worst contributors to our waste crisis are single-use disposable (SUDs) items, like plastic bags, styrofoam take-out containers, and water and soda bottles. Much of these SUDs are made of plastic, a material designed to last forever, yet used as “throw-away” packaging. Even though the majority of plastic used is recyclable, most of it (90%) ends up either in the garbage or in the environment as litter.
Things We Can All Do to Reduce Waste
Avoid using disposable utensils, napkins, and paper towels, and other disposable products; Buy durable items that will last longer; Purchase breakfast cereal, rice, or other grain-related foods in bulk, and store these items in reusable containers until needed. This eliminates the boxes used to package and store smaller portions.
The EPA suggests that changing our habits and following these ideas will also reduce our trash contributions:
- Maintain and repair durable products;
- Reuse bags, containers, and other items;
- Borrow, rent, or share items used infrequently;
- Sell or donate goods instead of throwing them out;
- Choose recyclable products and containers and recycle them;
- Select products made from recycled materials; and
- Compost yard trimmings and some food scraps.
UPSTREAM is working for voluntary source reduction efforts by business, and for public policy solutions that make companies responsible for source reduction.
Policy Options for Reducing Marine Debris and Packaging at the Source in Extended Producer Responsibility Laws, UPSTREAM, 2013
EPR-Reuse-&-Redesign_Lynne-Pledger_Portland_2012 (pdf of ppt)