Much is said about recycling, but relatively little about reducing waste in general. Although recycling is important, it isn't as effective in reducing landfills as trying to produce less waste from the beginning.
One tactic for reducing waste is to reuse products whenever possible, rather than to dispose of them.
Printer ink is often a significant expense for some small businesses. Rather than continuing to buy new ink cartridges, disposing of or recycling the old cartridges, and then buying new cartridges again, consider refilling your current cartridges when they run dry. Most printer ink cartridges can be refilled 7 or 8 times, but it's in the printer ink producers' best interest to have you buy new ink cartridges each time, so you don't hear too much about refilling. New businesses, serving this need conveniently and inexpensively, have emerged in recent years.
The Paper Problem
Because many small businesses generate a significant amount of paper, this is a good target for reuse. Between 1970 and 1991, paper consumption in the U.S. doubled. Keeping paper out of landfills is a worthwhile cause. According to the EPA, decomposing paper sitting in landfills releases methane gas, which is a potent greenhouse gas (20 times more potent than carbon dioxide).
Other paper-related reuse strategies include the following:
- When printing copies for internal use, use both sides of the paper. In other words, when you finish using printed papers, flip them over and put them back in the tray to be reused.
- Set your printer to print on both sides of the paper, if it has that capability.
- Rather than buy post-it notes or other note-taking papers, use scrap paper, such as opened envelopes.
- Use the back pages of writing pads and legal pads. In the alternative, use those backs as scrap paper to make notes.
- Use electronic-only documents whenever possible.
While these suggestions may seem to some as desperate, and even, when we imagine reusing paper scraps, borderline pitiful, they do point to a basic truth, which is that most of us generate far more paper and other waste than we actually need. Even if scrounging around in the trash can for scraps of paper on which to write notes of a telephone conversation isn't your idea of going green, you can at least begin to become more conscious of how much unnecessary paper and other waste you produce and begin to become less wasteful.
Small Business and the Big Picture
While reusing wherever possible is a good green strategy, generally, small businesses are not going to make a significant impact on total nationwide waste by reusing a few products here and there. They, can, however, have an outsized impact by joining the movement to purchase goods that use less energy to produce, package, and transport, as well as goods that use materials that can be more readily recycled. For example, consider the following recommendations for reducing waste:
- Buy goods in concentrated, dry, or bulk form to reduce transportation and packaging costs.
- Pick flexible packaging materials instead of rigid packaging, since flexible packaging typically takes less energy to make and transport.
- Pick goods with the highest ratio of product weight to packaging weight, when possible. For example, tuna in a foil pouch is better than tuna in metal cans.
Another possibility is to seek out a waste audit to get suggestions for how best to reduce waste in your business. For an online do-it-yourself tool, see this online waste audit tool. For direct assistance with a waste audit, contact your state environmental protection office.
For more on what to do with the waste you do produce, see Recycling.