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Waste Prevention - Prevent Waste in the First Place

What is waste prevention?

Waste prevention, also known as source reduction, is an effort to decrease the amount of waste produced. The best way to reduce waste is not to create it in the first place. If waste is prevented, there is no need or cost for collection, processing and disposal.

Why is waste prevention important?

Solid waste management hierarchy 

By practicing waste prevention, essentially using less stuff, you are protecting the environment by conserving natural resources, extending landfill life and saving energy. Waste prevention also saves taxpayers money because Baltimore County doesn’t have to pay for collection, processing or disposal.

There are only a few options for handling solid waste, as shown in the solid waste management hierarchy diagram. Each of these options is ranked, with the most preferable option at the top. Waste prevention and reuse is the most preferred method for managing solid waste, followed by recycling. As indicated, landfilling and incineration without energy recovery are the least preferable options for handling solid waste.


Tips for Preventing Waste

At Work

  • Avoid bringing lunch in disposable packaging, especially items made of Styrofoam™  or "clam shell" plastic (which are not accepted for recycling in Baltimore County). Instead, pack lunches and snacks in reusable containers. Consider donating old dishware or serving utensils for use in the office kitchen.
  • Buy refillable ink and toner cartridges, pens, mechanical pencils and water bottles.
  • Repurpose, donate or recycle old computers and furniture.
  • Rent equipment instead of purchasing it.
  • Reuse old printouts as "scrap paper."
  • Circulate and edit documents electronically.
  • Use double-sided printing on copiers and printers.
  • Use shredded paper as a packing material, when appropriate.
  • Donate used packaging peanuts to a shipping store for reuse.

At School

  • Print documents double-sided, and use both sides of notebook paper. Print only as many handouts as you need.
  • Create "scrap paper" stacks in classrooms and libraries with unwanted (or erroneous) printouts. Use this paper for notes, math exercises or drawing.
  • Reuse classroom decorations, swap decor with other classrooms or create new decorations from existing items.
  • Collect unwanted school supplies (including binders, folders, notebooks, pens, pencils, rulers and backpacks) that are still in good condition at the end of the school year. At the beginning of the next school year, students can go through the collection and pick out items to reuse.

At Home

  • Purchase items with minimal packaging.
  • Buy food items in bulk when possible.
  • Eat or freeze perishable food before it spoils.
  • Use cloth towels or rags in place of disposable paper towels.
  • Eliminate the need for plastic bags by bringing reusable shopping bags to the store instead.
  • Replace light bulbs with LED bulbs to save energy, and use rechargeable batteries.
  • Donate, repair, rent or refurbish household items such as clothing, furniture and appliances.
  • Start composting yard materials at home.
  • Leave grass trimmings on the lawn to be "grasscycled" back into the soil and "leafcycle" fallen autumn leaves by chopping them up with a lawnmower and leaving the pieces on the lawn.
  • Purchase soap, cleaners and other household items in refillable containers.

During the Holidays

  • Have a potluck meal at home, using your own dishes and cloth napkins. Offer leftovers to guests to prevent food waste.
  • Reuse decorations from year to year. Consider thrift stores as a source of new decor, or swap decorations with family and friends.
  • Conserve energy by using LED bulbs and putting holiday lights on automatic timers.
  • Choose gifts such as plants, flowers or food that can minimize waste. Instead of a physical item, consider giving an experience or service instead (tickets to a show or sporting event, music lessons, babysitting, house cleaning, etc.).
  • Send greeting cards via email to save on postage and paper.
  • Mulch or compost your "live" Christmas tree at the end of the holiday season, or purchase an artificial tree that can be reused for many years.

More waste prevention information can be found at


Revised June 6, 2016        

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