Source Reduction Practices

With organic and non-organic materials alike, reducing consumption and reducing waste are always the best environmental practices. For paper, this includes double-sided copying or electronic memos; for yard trimmings, this includes greater attention to native vegetation and the use of grasscycling; for food scraps, this means buying only what you need and supporting food donation programs. Read on for many more examples of programs and practices for the source reduction of organics.

CalRecycle lays out several onsite management techniques to reduce the amount of yard waste generated. These practices should be adopted by all public agencies and strongly encouraged at all residences, businesses, and institutions.

  • Controlled irrigation: Water just enough to maintain plant health and appearance.
  • Precise fertilization usage: Only apply precise amounts of necessary plant nutrients.
  • Grasscycling: The natural practice of leaving clippings on the lawn when mowing.
  • Selective pruning: Use techniques that result in less green waste and healthier plants.
  • On-site composting and mulching/backyard composting: Use site-generated trimmings as feedstock.
  • Proper organic materials application: Buy and apply local soil amendments and mulch processed from local yard waste programs.
  • Environmentally beneficial design: Install low maintenance, drought tolerant plants and waste-efficient landscape design features to reduce yard trimmings.

Many, many communities promote grasscycling and backyard composting to residents through education campaigns, and these programs are essential in all areas with and without organics collection. On top of providing educational outreach, other effective strategies include rebates on mulching lawn mowers and compost bin sales and classes.

While nearly all these programs are voluntary and education based, some communities are laying down the law on source reduction. The Town of Markham in Ontario, Canada collects green waste from residents at the curb but bans grass from both the trash and the green waste collection. Residents must leave grass clippings either on their lawn or manage them through a backyard composter. There is also a ban on the use of non-essential pesticides on all public and private property. The town collects recycling and compostables every week, trash every other week, and yard waste (leaves and brush) seasonally in open top containers. The town boasts a diversion rate of 69%.

From food donation programs to rendering to onsite composting, there are several methods for reducing food waste. After waste prevention, the highest priority is feeding people, and there are two primary outlets for leftover food, food banks and food rescue programs. Link up with America’s Second Harvest to find food banks or food rescue organizations in your area.

Food donation best practices:

For unusable household leftovers, the next best use is home composting through backyard compost bins or piles, or through vermicomposting. There’s a wealth of information on how to get started with home composting and how to encourage it in your community. Here are a few links to get started:

The first step in reducing the climate and environmental effects of paper is to reduce our use. U.S. consumption of paper per capita is roughly 60% higher than that of our Western Europe counterparts, and the drive for a paperless office has fallen far short of expectations. Here are some programs and tools to help drive paper reduction in your community, business or organization.


City of Seattle PaperCuts program
Mayor Greg Nickels challenged city of Seattle employees to set an example for local businesses and residents by reducing waste through the “Wasteless in Seattle” program. The PaperCuts initiative challenges city departments to reduce paper use by 30% by the end of 2006 and to maintain that level of consumption in subsequent years. Compared to 2004 baseline levels, city departments reduced paper usage across the board by 24% during 2007, with several departments reducing more than 50%. The city estimates for every 1% reduction in paper consumption, the city saves $2,882-on top of impressive environmental benefits.

City and state goals

State of Washington
Reduce the use of office paper by 30% compared to 2003; Increase the percentage of environmentally preferable paper (100% recycled content paper with a minimum of 50% post consumer waste) to at least 50%; recycle 100% of used office paper; and significantly reduce the environmental impacts of janitorial paper products through increased use of post consumer recycled products.

City of Portland
Reduce paper use 15% by 2008, meet minimum EPA recycled content guidelines for all paper purchases, and purchase 10% of paper with specific sustainability criteria.


GreenPrint software eliminates unnecessary printing by scanning your documents for wasteful characteristics such as a last page with only a url or legal jargon. The program works for homes and businesses.

Website resources