The ULS Report

Helping people conserve resources and reduce waste by Using Less Stuff

April-May 1994 Volume I, Number 1


Welcome to the first issue of The ULS Report. ULS stands for use less stuff. It's our way of focusing on source reduction, the most effective way to fight waste, conserve resources, reduce pollution and save energy. Since it sounds so boring, we developed our own, more user-friendly term -- ULS!

Why is waste reduction so important?

ULS is based on a simple premise: It's better not to create waste than to have to figure out what to do with it. As renowned garbologist, Dr. William Rathje, says: "Source reduction is to garbage what preventative medicine is to health: a means of eliminating a problem before it can happen."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and most major ecology and industry groups put source reduction at the top of their conservation lists. In fact, it was the EPA that came up with the phrase reduce, reuse and recycle. Notice which word comes first?

A little effort goes a very long way.

Three quarters of a ton of garbage is discarded annually for every American. Almost 70% of it goes to landfills. If we each cut waste by only 5%, well reduce annual trash creation by 18 billion pounds! This also reduces pollution, saves resources, and holds down the prices we pay for goods and services.

What about recycling?

Using less sometimes conflicts with the popular belief that recycling is often the best way to reduce trash. An EPA-sponsored study in Greensboro, NC is a good example. Only 17 percent of respondents admitted that the real reason for too much trash is the creation of too much garbage in the first place! Sixty six percent preferred that we recycle our way out of the problem.

Let's think about that for a minute: Yes, recycling is very important. In many cases, its certainly better to recycle product and packaging remains than landfill them. But why create so many leftovers to begin with?

Recycling is reactive. Its like looking for a hangover cure after a night of heavy drinking. Source reduction is proactive. Its like drinking moderately in the first place. The better choice is obvious.

Is it an either/or proposition?

Not at all! Reducing and recycling together far outweigh the advantages of each alone. Its akin to eating a healthy diet and exercising: Do either one, and youll live a little longer. Do them both and youll live a lot longer!

A good way to think about using less is to call it precycling. The idea is to use the smallest amount of resources needed to do a specific task, then recycle.

Most people have no idea how to ULS.

A recent study shows that only 5% of Americans understand the term source reduction. This newsletter is designed to increase that statistic by illustrating how easy and valuable it can be to use less stuff. Read on to find out how we can save the earth while also saving time and money.

Smart thinking.

CD-ROM is taking off. It's estimated that at least 30% of all new home computer systems are being purchased with CD-ROM players. As you know, CD-ROMs have the storage capacity to contain large amounts of text as well as sounds, music, photos, art work and even snippets of motion pictures.

Most CD-ROM players come with an enticing piece of free or discounted software: an encyclopedia on disk. Its hard to believe, but one disk can hold as much information as a 22 volume set of books -- text and pictures, A to Z!

It's this capacity for such a small disk to hold such a large amount of information that makes the CD-ROM an environmentally friendly way to reduce waste and save resources. One CD-ROM, including packaging, weighs under half a pound. The 22 books that it replaces weigh 70 pounds.

There's a financial savings as well. The books can cost up to $700. But CD-ROM versions are priced between $99 and $399. That means you can afford to buy both the CD-ROM player and the electronic encyclopedia for the cost of the books alone. By doing so, you can also enjoy the hundreds (and soon to be thousands) of other education and entertainment programs available on CD-ROM.

Spring savings tips.

Springtime is a great time to reduce waste and save energy. Here are some tips that help to clean up the environment while making your personal habitat a bit more beautiful. Youll also save you time and money.


Source reduction makes ecologic sense and saves economic cents. Conserving both materials and resources not only reduces waste and pollution, it also reduces costs and prices. So the earth wins and our checkbooks win, too. Some recent examples from corporate America include:

How to be an eco-friendly couch potato.

Whether youre watching the tube, reading a book or thinking about affairs of state, you can make a difference. Here are just a few of the appropriately painless ways to save energy (yours, of course) and the earth:

And if you must leave the house, travel in packs to save fuel. Carpool. Take the bus. Ride the train. You might even try walking or riding your bike. But take it slow. Remember, haste makes waste.

Healthy relationships and a healthy planet

It's common knowledge that we generate too much trash. But whats not commonly known is the reason for it. There certainly is lots of rhetoric: Our society is too consumption-driven, advertising makes us want to buy things we really don't need, etc.

Let's look at a few facts supplied by the U.S. EPA and Census Bureau. Between 1972 and 1987, the U.S. population grew by only 16%. But households grew by 35%, the same rate by which garbage grew. Why would the latter two be closely related?

For starters, households are growing faster than the population. Smaller households form through divorce, people living longer, and other social factors that tend to break up families. So where once there was one family, now there are multiple households. Each of these new homes still needs food, shelter, clothing, etc. Each creates garbage. The result? More trash is created when people form multiple households than when they used to live together.

One more fact: Although the amount of garbage generated grew by 35%, the amount disposed of grew by less -- about 28%. The reason? Increases in source reduction (using less stuff) and recycling.

If we only knew then...

Remember the movie Sleeper? Woody Allen awoke hungry in the 21st Century and was given health food a thick steak and hot fudge sundae. When asked about clogging his arteries, he was told that new scientific evidence indicated that cholesterol is good for you!

Environmental knowledge changes, too. We want to help keep you informed. That way, you can make better decisions and wow your friends at parties!

1. Degradation in landfills.

It turns out that almost nothing biodegrades once buried. Food scraps, paper and other organic matter stick around as long as plastic and metal. The reason: not enough air, moisture and light to attract hungry microbes.

2. What's in the landfill.

Talk about perception vs. reality! A Roper poll asked Americans if certain items were major garbage contributors. Recent landfill excavations indicate that the truth is quite different than what people believe or have been led to believe:

While 41% of respondents said that diapers are a big part of trash, excavations show that they account for less than 2% of landfill volume. Almost 30% of respondents thought that plastic bottles are a major trash contributor. On the contrary, they also make up less than 2% of landfill volume.

The biggest difference between perception and reality is paper. Only 6% of survey participants thought paper to be a big part of the trash. In reality, paper accounts for over 40% of what's in a typical landfill.

The ULS Report is a bi-monthly publication of Partners for Environmental Progress. 

Address e-mail correspondence to

Snail mail address:  P.O. Box 130116  Ann Arbor  MI  48113
Phone:  313-668-1690       
Fax:  313-930-0506

Editor: Robert Lilienfeld
Technical Advisor: Dr. William Rathje
Editorial Advisor: Tony Kingsbury

Feel free to reduce, reuse and recycle this newsletter and its contents. 
(But please give appropriate credit when referencing our material.)

Copyright 1994, Partners for Environmental Progress.