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Reducing Waste

Each year, we Americans generate millions of tons of waste in our homes and communities. Part of that enormous amount of waste is generated through the construction, renovation, and demolition of homes. Most people don't realize that waste is linked with global climate change. How? The manufacture, distribution and use of products - as well as management of the resulting waste - all use energy that results in greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, and contribute to climate change.

  • By recycling your waste, you reduce the amount of materials that need to be manufactured and, thus, reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Reducing and diverting food waste and yard waste reduces methane emissions in landfills. Methane is another, even stronger greenhouse gas.

By committing to reduce, reuse, and recycle at home, and by using more resource-efficient construction/renovation practices and materials, we can reduce our households' and communities' environmental footprint, help with climate change and conserve our natural resources.

Below are strategies, practices and information on how to reduce your impact.

Home Design and Renovation Strategies

An estimated 170 million tons of building construction, renovation, and demolition-derived wastes ( commonly referred to as construction and demolition (C&D) materials) were generated in 2003.

Whether you are renovating your home, building a new home, and/or planning to conduct a full-scale demolition, you have several opportunities to reduce waste. This can be done in a variety of ways including, new home design and building techniques, better management of construction and demolition, and selection of salvaged and recycled content materials.

Better Management of Construction, Renovation, and Demolition Materials

Many of the waste materials generated from housing construction can be reused, refurbished, or recycled into usable products.

  • Salvage useful materials - Instead of creating a pile of mixed materials when renovating or building your home, consider separating and salvaging useful materials, including lumber, fixtures, hardware, and appliances. One way to do this for an existing home is through deconstruction, the systematic and careful removal of materials from structures for reuse or recycling. Outlets are available in many areas to collect or purchase used and salvaged building materials, and some nonprofit organizations also accept used building materials.

    You can find local building materials reuse stores on the web.

  • Recycle - Many home components can be recycled where markets exist:

    - Wood can be recycled into reclaimed or composite wood products such as furniture and plastic/wood-composite decks, as well as mulch and other products. (Note: wood from decks, roofing or other outdoor applications was likely treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA), a hazardous substance, and should be disposed, NOT reused, recycled or burned.)

    - Asphalt, concrete, and rubble - These materials can be recycled into aggregate or new asphalt and concrete products.

    - Metals, including steel, copper, and brass, are valuable commodities to recycle.

You can find C&D debris recyclers at http://www.wbdg.org/tools/cwm.php.Exit EPA Disclaimer

Reducing and recycling construction and demolition materials can reduce overall construction and disposal costs as well. Discuss salvage or recycling with your architect or contractor.

For more information on ways to better manage construction and demolition materials, go to:
http://epa.gov/epawaste/wycd/index.htm http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/recycle.htm

Salvaged and Recycled Content Building Materials

For information on salvaged and recycled content building materials, see the Choosing Green Materials section.

Home Design & Building Techniques - Going the Extra Mile

Advanced and Efficient Framing Techniques for New Homes (or Additions)

One of the best debris reduction techniques for minimizing the amount of material used in construction is advanced framing (also known as Optimum Value Engineering) (PDF) (3 pp, 782K, About PDF).

Advanced framing refers to lumber layout and usage techniques that minimize the amount of lumber used to construct a house without compromising its structural integrity. It can improve a home's energy efficiency and durability, and reduce construction costs. Also, by optimizing the amount of lumber used to frame homes, more space is created for insulation in exterior walls. This helps to eliminate cold spots, which are susceptible to condensation, and mold growth.

For more information on advanced framing techniques, go to:

Another green option is to buy a prefabricated or manufactured home. Many of these homes are built using advanced framing techniques and are designed to use smaller cuts of lumber that would be considered waste in designing a typical stick-built home. Modern prefabricated homes are often well-bulit and more energy efficient than homes constructed on-site.

Design New Homes for Deconstruction/Renovation

Architects and builders typically do not design homes with easy renovation or deconstruction in mind. The average U.S. family moves every 10 years. Homes often undergo many renovations over their lifetimes, or complete building removal is carried out to make room for a newer home.

When building a new home, consider long-range goals and work with your architect to create a design that is adaptable for future needs. Designing a home for deconstruction or renovation proactively addresses changes in a home's structure by:

  • Designing for durability and adaptability.
  • Using fewer materials to realize a design.
  • Design for salvaging materials
  • Using fewer adhesives and sealants, making it easier for construction professionals to salvage useful items and valuable building materials including lumber, fixtures, hardware, and appliances.

By designing homes to facilitate future renovations, and eventual dismantlement through deconstruction, a home's systems, components, and materials will be easier to rearrange, recover, and reuse. Thus, designing for deconstruction maximizes the value of a building's materials, while reducing environmental impacts. It also creates adaptable homes that can be more readily reshaped to meet the changing needs of owners.

For more information on designing for deconstruction or renovation, go to:
Exit EPA Disclaimer http://www.lifecyclebuilding.org/resources.phpExit EPA Disclaimer

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Home Maintenance and Household Practices

Between 1960 and 2007, the quantity of waste created by the average American doubled from 2.7 to 4.6 pounds per day. The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place, by reducing the amount of materials we use and reusing materials when possible. Recycling and purchasing goods made from recycled products are also important strategies. Avoiding and properly managing hazardous wastes is also essential.

Maintenance and Lawn Care


  • Repair before replace - Try to repair before you consider replacement of items in your home, including lawn mowers, tools, vacuum cleaners, and TVs. Donate items you can't repair to vocational schools or repair shops.

  • Preventive maintenance - Use preventive maintenance practices to maximize the useful life of all building materials, systems, and equipment throughout your home so that they do not need to be replaced prematurely. For example, have your heating and cooling system regularly serviced at the recommended intervals, and prevent water infiltration and moisture damage from occurring within your home. Preventive maintenance also can improve the efficiency of building systems and reduce indoor environmental problems.

  • Weather preparation - Before rough weather sets in, remove screens from windows and doors and put up storm windows. Strong winds, heavy rains, and extreme cold can all damage your screens and ordinary windows, and send them to landfills before their time.

  • Fireplace - If you have a wood-burning fireplace, save the ashes in a tin instead of throwing them away. Cold wood ashes can be mixed in your compost heap to create a valuable soil amendment that provides nutrients to your garden.

Lawn Care:

  • Shred untreated wood and leaf wastes into chips and use them as mulch on garden beds to prevent weed growth, retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and add nutrients back to the soil.

  • When you mow, "grasscycle" by leaving grass clippings on your lawn instead of bagging them, or use a mulching mower. The clippings will return nutrients to the soil instead of taking up space in landfills.

  • Recycle used oil from lawn and garden equipment. If you have only an occasional need for lawn and garden equipment, such as tillers or chainsaws, you can reduce waste (and save money) by renting or borrowing the equipment.

  • Keep your lawn mower and other equipment in efficient operating condition by performing regular maintenance according to the owner's manual.

For more information on reducing landscaping waste, go to:

Household Activities


  • Minimize packaging - Buy items with minimal (or no) packaging. Buy items in bulk or in concentrated form (e.g., concentrated laundry detergent).

  • Use durable products - Choose products (including furniture, sports equipment, clothes, housewares, toys, and power tools) that will stand the test of time.

  • Buy recycled - Look for products with recycled content whenever possible, including paper, glass, metal, plastic, and other items. You can also buy household furnishings, gardening tools, automotive parts, motor oil, and tires made from recycled products. Labels should indicate whether recycled content is ] "pre-consumer" or "post-consumer". Pre-consumer refers to waste from a manufacturing process, which is more likely to be recycled, whereas post-consumer refers to waste collected from consumers or business (e.g., from curbside recycling programs), which is less likely to be recycled and therefore considered to be more important for waste reduction.

  • Other everyday tips:
    - Change your printer settings to make double-sided pages.

    - Receive and pay your bills via e-billing programs when possible.

    - Use the back side of old documents for low priority printing.

    - Buy used. You can find good furniture, clothes, accessories, and other used items at your local thrift store, antiques store, or online.

    - When using household cleaning products, be sure that you only use the amount you need.


  • Reuse bags, containers, boxes, and other items:

    - Bring your own reusable cloth bags for carrying your purchases. Purchase reusable shopping bags or reuse the paper or plastic ones.

    - Before discarding containers, consider whether it is hygienic and practical to reuse them.

    - Reuse other items throughout your house. Be creative!

  • Buy reusable products:

    - Many products are designed to be used more than once, such as cloth napkins, dishcloths, rechargeable batteries, and washable utensils.

    - Use a reusable sports bottle instead of disposable plastic bottles

  • Cleaning - For cleaning chores, try to use durable and reusable items such as mops and reusable rags or sponges, rather than disposable (one-time-use) products.

  • Borrow, rent, or share items used infrequently :

    - Before you buy seldom-used items, like certain power tools and party goods, first consider renting or borrowing them.

    - Trade with friends. For instance, pass along magazines, catalogs, and books to neighbors, hospitals, schools, libraries, or nursing homes.

  • Donate or sell used items : - Consider donating any used clothes or equipment you no longer want to a charity, or selling them to a consignment or thrift store or at a garage sale or on a internet-based community resources, such as the Freecycle Network, Craigslist, and eBay



Recycling is a common way to reduce the amount of trash sent to the landfill. It also saves resources and energy.

  • Look into the recycling program in your town, and recycle what you can. In most communities, you can recycle paper, many plastics, glass, and cans. Some cities and towns will also recycle yard clippings or even compostable food waste.

  • Make sure you have the appropriate recycling bins for curbside collection.

  • Set up recycling receptacles in your kitchen and anywhere else in your house where recyclable waste is generated (e.g., home office), to make it easy to keep recyclable materials separate from the trash.

  • Post an information sheet that lists the locally accepted recyclables on or near your recycling bins for easy reference.

  • You can also recycle other products around the house, such as broken electronic equipment; most communities have an electronic waste recycling program

For more information on recycling, go to:



Composting is an excellent way to turn leaves, grass clippings, and other lawn and garden wastes into a valuable garden material.

  • Compost yard trimmings and appropriate kitchen wastes, including fruit and vegetable trimmings and plate waste. Compost makes an excellent fertilizer and can improve the soil.

  • If you do not have a use for compost in your yard, offer your compostable materials to community composting programs or garden projects near you.

For more information on composting, go to:

For more tips on how you can reduce waste in your home, go to:
http://www.epa.gov/wastes/wycd/homeandgarden.htm http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/wycd/catbook/index.htm

Household Hazardous Waste

Hazardous materials are found in almost every home. If you walk around your garage, kitchen, bathroom, or workshop, you'll probably find hazardous materials or products you and your family use every day. Leftover household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients are considered to be household hazardous waste and include certain paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, and electronics. Pesticides, rodenticides, chemical fertilizers, used motor oil, antifreeze, car batteries, paint thinners, solvents, fluorescent light bulbs, computer and TV monitors, printer ink and toner, medical/biohazard waste, compressed gases, and other highly toxic items should always be treated as hazardous waste. Disposing of household hazardous wastes improperly pollutes the environment and poses a threat to human health.

You can reduce the impact of household hazardous waste from your home by:

  • Proper management - Communities offer a variety of options for safely managing household hazardous waste. Check with your local government for information on programs in your area.

  • Reconsidering what you use - Read labels on the products you use and ask yourself, "Do I really need to use this product?" Safer alternatives may exist. For example, for some applications, you could use water-based (latex) paint instead of oil-based paint, compost instead of chemical fertilizers, cedar chips instead of mothballs, or boric acid instead of commercial ant and roach killers.

  • Reconsidering your methods - Think about what you do in your home that generates hazardous waste and ask yourself, "Is there a safer way I can be doing this?" For example, you could use sandpaper or a heat gun instead of chemical paint strippers, or a plunger instead of a chemical drain cleaner.

For more information on managing household hazardous waste, go to:
http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/hhw.htm http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/pubs/hhw-safe.htm

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Climate Change and Waste

Most people don't realize that waste is linked with global climate change. How? The manufacture, distribution and use of products - as well as management of the resulting waste - use energy and release greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane that contribute to climate change.

  • By recycling your waste, you reduce the amount of materials that need to be manufactured, thereby reducing energy use and, thus, reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas.

  • Organic materials like food, paper, wood and yard waste can break down in landfills, producing methane emissions. Methane is another, even stronger greenhouse gas.

  • In addition, reducing, reusing and recycling wood products can leave more trees standing, allowing forests to continue to store, rather than releasing carbon dioxide.

For more information on waste and climate change, go to:

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