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Waste Prevention and Recycling

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the United States generated 232 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2000. The good news is that we recovered and recycled 30 percent of the materials in this waste stream. The bad news is that we still disposed of more than 128 million tons of MSW in landfills.

Many of the materials in our MSW can be reduced, reused, or recycled - if we have markets for the materials. The long-established hierarchy for managing the trash and materials that we generate every day is waste prevention (including reducing and reusing materials), recycling (including composting), incineration, and landfilling. Integrated waste management requires a mix of these activities, which each facility must determine based on its location, resources, and markets for recyclables.

The different terms used in the control and disposition of waste can be confusing. "Pollution prevention" (P2) was defined in the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 and refers to practices that reduce or eliminate the creation of pollutants and includes "source reduction," but generally not recycling. For detailed information about pollution prevention, visit

"Waste prevention," also known as "Source reduction," "means any change in the design, manufacturing, purchase, or use of materials or products (including packaging) to reduce their amount or toxicity before they are discarded." (Executive Order 13101, Sec.208) In other words, waste prevention includes source reduction and reuse, but not recycling.

"Waste reduction," as defined by Executive Order 13101, includes waste prevention, recycling, and the purchase of recycled content or environmentally preferable products.

"Reuse" involves the recovery or reapplication of a material, package or used product in a manner that retains its original form or identity.

"Recycling" refers to the recovery of materials from the solid waste stream for use as raw materials in the manufacture of new products.

Information and resources on all aspects of MSW, including waste prevention and recycling, can be found at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's web site at

Find out what is new in the Resource Conservation Challenge by visiting the updated RCC Newsroom:

Recycling Waste Prevention