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How to: Climate Smart Waste Reduction and Materials Reuse

Realizing the Benefits of Climate Smart Materials Management

Tools for Improving Waste Management
Local Solid Waste Management Planning
Information on Best Practices
Waste Audits
GHG Calculators
Waste Prevention and Reuse
Pay-as-you Throw Programs
Waste Restrictions or Fees
Reducing Paper and Packaging
Increasing Reuse
Donating, Exchanging or Surplusing Unneeded Items
Office Reuse Programs

Horizontal windfill in field (closed landfill) with row of trees behind
The Town of Hunter, a Climate Smart Community in
Greene County, runs a leachate treatment plant at its
closed landfill site on power generated by a horizontal
windmill. (Photo courtesy Town of Hunter)

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from solid waste management requires maximum waste reduction and reuse, with recycling, composting , and for the remaining wastes, energy recovery and sustainable disposal. Low-carbon transport and handling for wastes also help.

Communities can introduce efficient, GHG-saving waste management practices right now, with existing technologies. Some New York communities already have done so and are beginning to realize savings.

This page is part of the Climate Smart Communities Guide for Local Action. On this page and the related Recycling and Composting page, citizens and local governments will find strategies and information to support their move toward efficient management of materials and wastes.

We invite visitors to this website to contribute how-to ideas and community success stories -- telephone or email the Climate Smart Communities program at the numbers shown at the lower right of this page to pass on your information.

Tools for Improving Waste Management

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires more efficient practices for managing materials and solid waste. Local governments, groups and individual citizens can use the tools discussed below to increase the efficiency of local materials and waste management.

Local Solid Waste Management Planning

Solid Waste Management Planning is a powerful tool for improving local waste management. Local solid waste management plans are expected to cover all solid wastes and to embody sound principles of solid waste management, natural resource conservation, energy production, and job opportunity development. Local plans provide for Comprehensive Recycling Analyses and describe the proposed management for each waste stream. A link to DEC's Local Solid Waste Management Planning page appears in Important Links on the top right of this page.

All the following links leave the DEC website

Information on Best Practices

Local governments can access extensive information that will help them establish best practices for solid waste management in their own communities.

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Climate Change-Waste accesses basic information, publications and tools for reducing GHGs from waste management.
  • EPA for State and Local Governments includes information about how local governments are managing wastes, including municipal solid waste, for state and local environmental professionals.

Waste Audits

The starting point for more efficient waste management is an assessment of existing waste generation and waste management practices. A waste audit documents the quantity of wastes disposed, along with disposal methods and costs, shows which materials are being recycled effectively and identifies recyclable materials now being lost in the waste stream. A waste audit or inventory will suggest ways to reduce wastes and help to shape program choices and community outreach.

  • Municipalities may find Northeast Recycling Council's School Waste Reduction audit directions helpful for auditing wastes in government facilities.

GHG Calculators

GHG calculators help to estimate the GHG implications of waste management options:

  • US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) helps solid waste managers determine the GHG impacts of waste management practices, comparing the GHG and energy impacts of landfilling, recycling, incineration, composting and source reduction. The model calculates possible emission reductions for a wide range of material types commonly found in municipal solid waste.
  • The Northeast Recycling Council Environmental Benefits Calculator is a free tool for states, counties, municipalities, schools, businesses, and institutions to measure the environmental benefits from waste prevention, reuse, and recycling. NERC's calculator measures savings in GHG emissions, energy use, and natural resources, and gives energy savings from reusing or recycling computers.

Waste Prevention and Reuse

Many practices can help municipalities reduce the amount of waste requiring disposal. DEC's Waste Reduction page (see Important Links at right) discusses New York State programs that can help local governments reduce waste.

Two white plastic bins filled with books
Practicing what we preach - book reuse is popular
among DEC employees.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government agencies offer extensive information about waste reduction:

  • The EPA website discusses waste reduction practices in detail. EPA's Resource Conservation Finder provides guidance on efficient management of a variety of waste materials.
  • In its report, Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Composting Options: Lessons from 30 US Communities, EPA discusses ways to remove various wastes from the waste stream, with examples and success stories from several municipalities.
  • EPA offers numerous publications on reducing waste, including several developed specifically for municipalities.
  • EPA's tips for waste reduction in the office highlight opportunities that government operations can use to delay or avoid waste disposal.
  • WasteWise is a free, voluntary program through which municipal governments and other organizations eliminate costly municipal solid waste and select industrial wastes, benefiting their bottom lines and the environment.
  • EPA's Waste Reduction Resources page offers technical assistance resources for the development and implementation of organizational solid waste reduction programs.
  • New York City Waste Less provides a one-stop reference for residents, schools, multiple-residence managers and a host of other potential participants in waste reduction.
  • Cal Recycle, California's waste management program, summarizes waste reduction techniques for a variety of situations.

Nonprofit organizations also have developed informative web content on programs that reduce the amount of waste that goes to disposal.

Pay-as-you Throw Programs

Variable rate pricing for trash pickup, also called "quantity-based user fees," "pay-as-you-throw" (PAYT), or "save money and reduce trash" (SMART), may be a significant incentive to waste reduction, reuse and recycling. In PAYT/SMART systems, generators are charged for disposal based on the amount of waste picked up or dropped off, with recycling and composting provided free.

PAYT/SMART programs can take a variety of forms to serve the needs and goals of each community. For example, some PAYT/SMART programs sell to the consumer special bags, stickers or tags to measure, segregate and label waste; other programs provide easily-identifiable collection containers.

According to USEPA, variable rate pricing is currently in place in 445 communities in New York State, and in more than 7,000 communities in North America. In communities as diverse as Seoul, Korea and Worcester, MA, PAYT/SMART programs have consistently reduced waste disposal by 40 percent, while increasing recycling.

Waste Restrictions or Fees

Communities can refuse to accept specific wastes for collection or disposal, or can place fees on the disposal or distribution of certain items. For waste such as tires, batteries, yard waste, appliances and computer monitors, limiting pickup encourages recycling and reuse.

Sometimes, localities place a fee or penalty on a specific waste. In the year since Washington DC instituted a five-cent tax on disposable plastic and paper bags, city officials estimate that the use of disposable bags has fallen by some 80 percent. The city has realized $2 million in revenue from the bag tax, and local news media report that even small businesses, many of which had been wary of the tax, have found cost-saving benefits.

  • Disposal Bans & Mandatory Recycling in the NERC States, published in April, 2010 by Northeast Recycling Council, Inc. (scroll down to find the newly updated overview of disposal bans and mandatory recycling in the ten Northeast states).

Using Durable Equipment and Supplies

Replacing single-use materials with multiple-use equipment and supplies is one of the most effective waste prevention strategies: a one-time investment in durability ends an expensive cycle of discarding and reordering.

  • Public institutions with food service facilities can use reusable dishes and/or cutlery and bulk food and beverage dispensers instead of individual serving containers. Encouraging or rewarding employees for bringing washable cups and plates to use in the office is another way to cut down on food service waste.
  • Upgrading existing ed rather than replaced. For instance, increasing a computer's capability with a higher-capacity hard disk, chip, or memory card, postpones replacement, conserves materials and saves money. Manufacturer websites and do-it-yourself guides can make it possible for many employees to accomplish such replacements without expert help.

Another waste reduction strategy for local governments is to rent or lease infrequently used equipment, avoiding disposal of little-used items.

Reducing Paper and Packaging

Reducing wastes in municipal office operations (See Related Link on right "How to Boost Energy Efficiency in Municipal Operations") can save money for municipal governments. Communities can institute office paper reuse programs in municipal facilities and work with suppliers to minimize the amount of packaging for municipal orders and to return shipping materials such as crates, cartons, and pallets for reuse.

Increasing Reuse

Reuse is the recovery of materials and products for the same or a similar end use by redistributing still-useful discards. Unlike recycling, which recovers materials for processing, reuse recovers the product itself.

Storefront window showing lights, china and other household goods
Nonprofit Finger Lakes Reuse diverts leftover household
goods, furniture,building materials and other items for reuse
through its reuse center in an Ithaca shopping mall.
(Photo courtesy of Finger Lakes Reuse)

Furniture, books and appliances are common items that communities collect for reuse. Many reuse programs include minor repair to restore the usability of slightly damaged items.

Reuse programs can save communities the cost and GHG emissions of landfilling or combusting usable wastes. Reuse programs employ a variety of practices to publicize and motivate reuse, and to make reuse easier for both waste sources and re-users.

  • EPA published Reusable News, a newsletter highlighting recycling and waste reduction information and success stories, from 1990 through 2003. Although no new issues are planned at this time, the previously published issues available online contain many valuable ideas.
  • Reaching for Zero: A Citizens Plan for Zero Waste in New York City, available online from Consumers Union, contains numerous ideas and methods for initiating the different elements that may make up a reuse program.

Donating, Exchanging or Surplusing Unneeded Items

Donation, exchange or surplusing can enable reuse of some types of materials that otherwise would go to waste. Municipalities and other government agencies might send surplus items to other public offices or institutions for reuse, might advertise surplus and reusable items through a commercial materials exchange, or might operate or participate in a government surplus warehouse where public agencies can select items for reuse or usable items can be sold to the public.

Communities can operate or support materials reuse programs that employ accessible drop-off sites, telephone hotlines or web sites to facilitate donations and/or exchanges of furniture, appliances, office equipment, art supplies, and other still-usable items. Local governments can sponsor or facilitate community-wide garage sales or yard sales. These sales are a popular form of waste prevention and reuse that also promote community spirit and engage citizens in waste reduction.

  • Search for "swap shop" in the Reference Collection offered by EPA in cooperation with North Carolina's Division of Pollution Prevention & Environmental Assistance to access a fact sheet with advice on the "nuts and bolts" of community reuse centers.
  • The Internet is a rich source for experience and tips on how to organize community sales.

Office Reuse Programs

Paper is the largest component of the waste stream - prime candidates for reuse (See Related Link on right "How to Boost Energy Efficiency in Municipal Operations") in the office include one-side printed documents and packaging and mailing wrappers.

Suggestions for Education and Outreach for Waste Prevention and Reuse are found on the recycling and composting page (See Related Link on right)