How To: Reduce Waste

Successfully adopted by many businesses, waste reduction is a smart approach to saving money and natural resources. Use this checklist to identify company-wide strategies and to find waste reduction ideas specific to your business.


  • Launch an office paper reduction campaign. Start with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's online fact sheet, Reducing Waste in the Workplace. For case studies and recommendations, download the SWMCB Office Paper Reduction Report. For further information, see Focus On: Office Paper.
  • Purchase or lease copiers and laser printers equipped to make two-sided (duplex) documents.
  • Purchase or lease computer monitors and office machines with energy-saving automatic shutdown features, such as equipment with the Energy Star® label.
  • Use both sides of paper when printing and copying.
  • Use reusable fax cover sheets or fax transmission labels instead of a full cover sheet.
  • Use reusable interoffice envelopes.
  • Make use of the back side of waste paper for faxes, or as scratch paper.
  • Use e-mail instead of paper for exchanging internal memos and electronic documents.
  • Use remanufactured toner cartridges in printers and copiers.
  • Keep mailing lists up-to-date to avoid duplication.
  • Post announcements on a bulletin board instead of distributing individual copies.
  • Maintain a central filing system to eliminate duplication, or store information electronically.
  • Proofread documents carefully before printing.
  • Share materials and circulate single copies of documents, newsletters and magazines among employees.
  • Sell or donate your used office furniture and equipment.
  • Turn off computers, copiers, lights and other equipment when not in use.

Break Room

  • Use reusable glasses and cups rather than disposables throughout the office. Keep a supply on hand for visitors.
  • Encourage employees to bring lunches in reusable containers.
  • Provide a microwave, refrigerator and area for dish washing, stocked with supplies, to support employees efforts to practice reuse.
  • Set-up a food waste composting program. Contact your county environmental office for information on establishing and maintaining an organics compost program in your office.

Case Study: Design for the Environment (DfE)

DfE concepts consider potential environmental impacts of a product throughout its life. By integrating environmental considerations into the product design, a company can increase resource efficiency and reduce costs of development, manufacture and use. To learn how companies are applying DfE concepts, visit the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency web site to view a series of case studies.

Building Operations and Maintenance

  • Evaluate safer, waste-reducing options for cleaners and solvents. For help, see Janitorial Products at the Western Regional Pollution Prevention Network.
  • Choose non-hazardous or less-hazardous alternatives.
  • Purchase solutions in concentrate and use refillable applicators.
  • Use metered dispensing systems to assure the right amount of product.
  • Purchase products in returnable/reusable bulk containers.
  • Contract for cleaning and janitorial services with a vendor who uses non-hazardous or less-hazardous cleaning supplies.
  • Purchase or lease washable, reusable cleaning cloths.
  • Use cloth roll towels or air dryers in restrooms instead of paper products.
  • Replace disposable filters for air circulation systems with reusable filters.
  • Use paint that contains fewer or no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals to promote worker safety and a healthier workplace.
  • Plan purchases carefully to avoid leftovers, such as paint.
  • Install water-saving devices on toilets, which can save up to one gallon of water with each flush.
  • Install automatic faucets.
  • Fix leaking faucets.
  • Replace inefficient lights with high-efficiency fluorescent lamps.
  • Use motion sensors to turn off lights when a room is not in use.
  • Have your heating and cooling system inspected and audited for energy efficiency.

Shipping, Receiving and Distribution

  • Buy supplies in bulk or economy size packaging, and buy only what you need.
  • Ask your current suppliers about minimal packaging options.
  • Ship your products in returnable, reusable containers and offer cost incentives for participation.
  • Reuse incoming packing materials, or use shredded office paper and other discarded materials for packaging.
  • Avoid over-packaging your products. Talk to your customers about alternatives and provide a least-waste option that satisfies their needs.
  • Reuse wood pallets, or use returnable plastic pallets or slip sheets (See Pallets). Also see Shipping Materials and Focus On:  How to Reduce Shipping Materials.



Evaluate your company's processes and products to determine whether:

  • Raw materials can be used more efficiently.
  • Less-hazardous or recycled-content materials can be substituted.
  • New technologies are available to recover and reuse waste water.
  • Clean scrap materials can be salvaged and reprocessed in-house, or a recycler can be found (see Scrap Metal Processors and Redemption Centers or try Minnesota Materials Exchange).
  • Overstock can be reduced and inventory controlled more tightly by methods such as "Just-In-Time" manufacturing.

Case Study: Paring Costs and Sparing Landfills

ISO 14001 proved successful for ATMI's Minneapolis manufacturing facility making chemical container systems. The product is nearly 100 percent reusable or recyclable. Believing that a common, efficient system for managing risk and reducing waste across the entire company was needed, ATMI corporate headquarters began implementing ISO 14001-an internationally recognized environmental management system (EMS)-in its nine U.S. facilities.

Many factors were key to the success of ATMI Packaging's EMS including a sound knowledge of environmental regulations affecting the company and clear communication of environmental policies and procedures to all employees. As a result of its EMS and the efforts of the ISO 14001 core team, this ATMI facility reduced the amount of waste sent to landfills by 78 tons in 2001, saving $30,000. Author: Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP)

Equipment and Vehicle Maintenance

  • Avoid spilling oil and fluids to reduce the use of sorbent materials. Use a drip pan or squeegee to capture and reuse spilled fluids.
  • Launder oil sorbents to extend their useful life.
  • Send used heavy equipment air filters to be cleaned and reconditioned. Reconditioned filters, which are less expensive than new filters, can be reused as many as three times.
  • Invest in high-quality equipment and develop a preventative maintenance schedule to extend its life.
  • Evaluate minimal-waste parts cleaning systems. Only change solvent when it is too dirty to use, or recycle waste on-site. Contract with a parts washer solvent company that practices waste reduction to process and reuse dirty solvents.
  • Use steam or high-pressure water and soap for cleaning instead of chemical solvents.