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Examples of model waste prevention programs

The following programs all play an important part in establishing your local waste prevention program. Putting together an educational campaign to promote each of these waste prevention practices requires planning, staff time, and funding to create, produce, and distribute printed materials and media advertising. You will find links to existing sources of this information in the Resource section in this unit and in unit four.

Grasscycling and Xeriscaping | Backyard and On-Site Composting |
Business Waste Audits
| Procurement | Rent and Repair | Materials Exchange |
Thrift Shops and Flea Markets

Grasscycling and Xeriscaping.

“Grasscycling” is the term used to describe the practice of mowing lawns in such a way that grass clippings may be left on the lawn to serve as mulch, conserving water and enriching the soil. Mowing may be more frequent, and cutting height is usually increased, to result in shorter clippings, which will not compact and damage existing turf. This program affects both the residential and commercial sector, and can result in substantial cost savings and disposal reduction for large landscaping operations such as country clubs and golf courses.

“Xeriscaping” is the practice of planting drought-tolerant and low maintenance trees, bushes and ground cover in climates that would otherwise require watering and pruning on a regular basis. This may involve the use of native plants, or of cultivated species whose needs match the selected climate and location.


Backyard and On-Site Composting.

The composting and management of organic materials where they are produced is known as “On-Site Composting”. For homeowners, this is typically a small-scale backyard operation that may include leaves, grass, prunings, garden materials, and household fruit and vegetable materials. Animal materials are usually not advised. Compost bins may be purchased or constructed at a reasonable cost, particularly if local government assists in obtaining, promoting and distributing the use and availability of bins.

Larger commercial locations with sufficient materials and space can consider both the on-site management of grass and leaves, and the on-site composting of other organic materials, including discarded food scraps. Rural sites may be able to handle all on-site organic materials through a simple aerobic composting process, depending on quantity and types of materials, site conditions, and distance to neighbors. More urban sites, or sites with larger quantity of problem materials, such as fish waste, may need to investigate the feasibility of small-scale in-vessel composters, or worm composting operations (vermicomposting).


Business Waste Audits.

Providing assistance to local businesses interested in preventing and reducing waste is an important tool in developing a positive working relationship with the commercial sector. In many communities, commercial and industrial discards make up the majority of landfilled waste. Helping to identify changes in purchasing, use, material and product management, both at the internal and consumer levels, provides real value and cost-savings to local businesses. Business waste audits may be provided by local waste reduction staff, by trained volunteers, or by contract service providers. Local communities may consider implementing a business waste audit program at the regional level, or may decide to incorporate such services into a local recycling market development program.

Many publications are available to assist businesses interested in self-auditing the waste they produce, and similar materials are available to help local staff or volunteers acquire the necessary skills to perform such audits. Because a thorough audit will likely reveal confidential information about business operations and sales, anyone performing these services will need to be able to assure business clients that proprietary information will be protected.



Many procurement programs focus exclusively on buy-recycled activities, and on the recycled content of targeted products and materials. However, establishing policies and practices for purchasing that include choosing durable, reusable and refillable products instead of disposables, and of renting and repairing products and equipment whenever practicable, helps to incorporate waste prevention into local procurement programs. Some of the procurement policies in the Resource section include language for waste prevention.


Rent and Repair.

Promoting waste prevention practices like rent and repair, materials exchange, and the use of thrift shops and flea markets is part of a waste prevention education strategy. Advertising campaigns, and the production and distribution of guides and directories promoting rental, repair, and secondhand businesses, help to encourage waste prevention and reuse.


Materials Exchange.

The goal of a material exchange program is to connect potential users of discarded materials with the businesses and individuals that produce them. There are several methods to create such a program, including:

    Ø Targeted material exchange within an industry - builders communicate with other builders regarding excess and needed materials;
    Ø On-line material exchange available either to a specific group, or the general public - a business or organization lists its discards on an internet website;
    Ø Materials exchange services - a public or private agency operates a service to advertise available and wanted discards. This service can be through a dedicated website, through a publication, or through TV and radio advertising.

Materials exchange programs may be as complex as a large-scale service operated by a public agency, like California’s CalMax program, or as simple as a teacher sending notes home with students requesting them to bring in egg cartons and paper bags for art projects.


Thrift Shops and Flea Markets.

Reuse businesses like thrift stores and flea markets exist by recovering and reselling used products and materials. In many communities, these businesses are thriving, and provide a long-term functional materials exchange, where both the generator and client are often simply individuals who recognize that unwanted items still have value to others.

Local agencies can help these businesses not only by promoting their services, but by working with them to develop solutions to the cost of disposal for those items that can’t be sold. See additional information under Reuse.


INFORM's Community Waste Prevention Toolkit is a resource that can help community leaders and grassroots environmental organizations across the US design and implement effective solid waste prevention programs in their towns and cities. The toolkit contains:

    Community Waste Prevention Toolkit

  • An Overview: What Is Waste Prevention? What Are Its Benefits?
  • A step-by-step guide to Implementing a Waste Prevention Program in Your Community, based on INFORM's New York City Solid Waste Prevention Initiative
  • Eight key questions to consider when planning a waste prevention initiative in your community: Collecting Information About Local Waste Prevention Policies and Practices
  • A Model Executive Order mandating waste prevention purchasing and practices in local government offices and other public institutions: A Summary of New York City's Mayoral Directive #96-2
  • Purchasing for Waste Prevention: Ten key strategies that local government offices and other public institutions can implement to improve the efficiency, environmental performance, and economics of their operations
  • Trash Busters: Case Studies of Government-Sponsored Waste Prevention Programs
  • Fact sheets on minimizing waste and pollution from five important waste streams - batteries, carpeting, computers, construction, renovation and demolition materials, and toner cartridges.

  • Trash Busters

    Case Studies of Government-Sponsored Waste Prevention Programs

    State and local governments are in a unique position to promote waste prevention because they often have the resources to launch an aggressive campaign. Implementing a comprehensive waste prevention program allows states, cities, and towns to simultaneously save money and set an example of responsible waste management. Moreover, local governments have a responsibility not only to assist residents and businesses within their jurisdiction to reduce waste, but also to do the same within their own agencies and institutions.

    An effective waste prevention program targets all the different generators of waste. To reduce residential waste, it includes outreach and educational initiatives. To reduce government and institutional waste, it encourages waste-preventing practices (such as double-side copying) and the purchase of waste-preventing products (such as reusable dishes, rechargeable batteries, and up-gradable computers). To reduce waste from the private sector, it provides technical and financial assistance to help businesses establish reuse, remanufacturing, composting, and recycling operations. Finally, an effective program establishes quantitative measures of waste prevention that allow its own impact to be evaluated.

    This section of the Community Waste Prevention Toolkit provides a sampling of waste prevention programs initiated by state and local governments throughout the US. (For more case studies, see the Survey of Waste Prevention Programs in Major U.S. Cities, States and Counties, prepared for the New York City Dept. of Sanitation by Science Applications International Corp., at www.nyc.gov.

    These successful initiatives can serve either as models or as generators of new ideas for organizations and individuals interested in developing waste prevention programs in their community.

    Master Recycler/Composter Program
    King County, Washington

    This ten-year-old community education program focuses on waste reduction and resource conservation. Participants receive 40 hours of free training on waste prevention, recycling, composting, and non-toxic/low-toxic alternatives to household products that contain hazardous materials. Participants can also construct their own composting bin at reduced cost. In return, they are required to share their knowledge through 40 hours of community outreach. For example, these "master recycler/composters" staff booths at community fairs, provide compost education through demonstrations at nurseries, and teach children in schools about waste reduction and recycling. There have been over 425 participants in the program since it began in 1990, and all county residents outside of the city of Seattle are eligible to apply. With a 2000 program budget of $150,000, mostly for consultants to run the trainings, the master recycler/composter volunteers hosted 158 events and educated over 12,500 people between 1999 and 2000. For more information, go to King County Metro website.

    Shop Smart
    San Francisco, California

    In 1996, the San Francisco Recycling Program held a three-week regional campaign to bring the message of waste prevention to consumers through displays in 225 supermarkets. Educational materials included shelf tags, posters, and display units with informational literature. In addition, 780 television ads, 1600 radio ads, and numerous full-page newspaper ads stressed, among other things, the importance of purchasing products with less packaging, buying in bulk, and bringing reusable bags to the market. Exit polls conducted both during and after the campaign showed that over one million shoppers remembered one or more elements from the campaign and 30 percent had altered their buying habits as a result of the educational materials. The project's total cost, provided by a number of public entities, was roughly $350,000. Since 1996, the campaign -- now called Shop Smart: Save Money and the Environment Too -- has been held each year with similar success. For more information, go to www.sfrecycles.org.

    Waste Authority Mini Grants
    Alameda County, California

    Since 1998, the Alameda County Waste Management Authority has offered mini-grants to help fund projects focused on waste prevention. The program is budgeted for $50,000 per fiscal year, with a maximum grant of $5000 per applicant. The grants are intended to supplement projects with additional funding sources. In a recent project, a nonprofit group collected used athletic equipment, refurbished the gear when necessary, and distributed it to low-income residents and school children. At one sporting goods drive held by the grant recipient, 7000 Nike hats, among numerous other items, were intercepted from the waste stream. For more information, go to www.stopwaste.org.

    Yard Trimmings Recycling Program
    San Jose, California

    San Jose operates an $11 million a year program to reduce and recycle residential yard trimmings, which make up 35 percent of the city's waste stream. The city encourages grasscycling -- the natural recycling of grass that occurs when lawns are properly mowed and the clippings left on the lawn. (A blade of grass is 80 percent moisture, 10 percent nitrogen, and 10 percent fiber, all of which decompose within a few days, adding free water and fertilizer to the soil.) Grass can also be composted in a backyard bin or used as mulch. In addition, the city picks up leaves, small prunings, and clean holiday trees at the curb, and recycles them into high-quality compost, mulch, and wood chips for use by the Parks Department, community gardens, and local farmers. This system of handling organic materials separately diverts 13,000 tons a year from the landfill. San Jose has also partnered with local energy and hardware companies to organize a lawnmower exchange, where residents can trade in their gas-powered mowers for cordless electric mulching mowers. For more information, go to www.recycleplus.org.

    Botanical Gardens Compost Program
    New York, New York

    Established in 1993, this citywide outreach, education, and technical assistance program, implemented through the city's four botanical gardens, aims to reduce organic food and yard waste. Together, these materials account for more than one-fifth of the city's waste stream. The $750,000 program targets schools, city agencies, residents with access to community gardens or backyards, and those interested in indoor composting of organic kitchen scraps ("vermicomposting"). Each botanical garden hosts four "Give Back" events each year where residents can purchase backyard composting bins (at subsidized cost) and take up to 30 gallons of free, fresh compost made by the city. Over 7000 bins have been sold citywide since 1999. In addition, program staff run a "Leave it on the Lawn" mowing program, mainly in conjunction with the New York City Housing Authority, the city's largest landowner. In a 30-week growing period, an acre of lawn can generate 6 tons of clippings. According to a 1997 survey, grasscycling keeps approximately 1300 tons of grass clippings from Housing Authority sites out of the waste stream each year. For more information, go to www.nyc.gov.

    Backyard Composting and Natural Soil Building Program
    Seattle, Washington

    Seattle Tilth, a local nonprofit, has held the contract to operate Seattle's composting program since 1985. Focused on composting education, this is a popular program comprising a variety of initiatives. The Master Composter program (similar to the Master Recycler/Composter Program in nearby King County) provides local volunteers with 40 hours of composting training in return for educational outreach to the community. An average of 25 new Master Composters enter the program each year. Seattle Tilth also manages the Compost Hotline, which was recently expanded to promote the benefits of using compost as a natural soil-builder. The organization also hosts an annual two-day compost bin distribution event, plus several smaller workshops and distribution events at which staff are available to answer questions and give advice on organic waste prevention. In 2000, the city distributed 4300 compost bins at these events. In spring 2001, Seattle Tilth initiated a pilot project in which groups of neighbors can request their woody waste to be chipped free of charge by tree care professionals and used on-site as mulch. The project is expected to assist 100 groups of six families each. In 1999, 46 percent of all single-family households in Seattle (accounting for roughly 60 percent of the total population) diverted 12,000 tons of organic waste through the Backyard Composting and Natural Soil Building Program. Seattle Tilth recently received a $650,000 contract to run the program for another two years. For more information, go to www.seattletilth.org.



    California Integrated Waste Management Board, Trashcutter's Award 1998.

    California Integrated Waste Management Board, Trashcutter's Award 1999

    California Integrated Waste Management Board, Trashcutter's Award 2000