The ULS Report

Helping people conserve resources and reduce waste by Using Less Stuff

August-September 1994 Volume I, Number 3


Do you know the difference between reducing and recycling? A few issues ago we used the term precycling to help explain the difference. Think of reducing and reusing in terms of what to do before you recycle. Theyre precycling. So, first you should precycle, then you should recycle. (See the chart at the end of this article.)

You'll notice that reducing actually cuts back on the need to recycle many materials. Thats good for three reasons: First, less material helps balance supply and demand, making the economics of recycling more attractive. Second, while recycling is often better than landfilling, virtually all recycling processes use energy and create pollution. Think about what happens to paper or plastic bags: They must be transported back to a recycling center, sorted, washed, ground up or pulped and remanufactured All of these steps use resources.

And saving these resources is the third reason that reducing is better. It makes more sense not to expend resources than to try to find the most efficient way to use them. Thus, using less stuff may be the ultimate form of resource conservation, which is our true goal.

What about reuse? It's actually a special form of reducing, since it eliminates the need to manufacture or produce new items. This combination of reducing and reusing is very powerful. Lets look at an example.

Ten people in Company A each receive a copy of The Weekday Business Gazette. A typical copy weighs about one pound. That means ten pounds of paper a day, or about 2,500 pounds a year, are delivered to the company. Because Company A has a paper collection program, 40% will end up being recycled, meaning that 60%, or 1,500 pounds of paper, will be thrown away.

Company B does it differently. They buy only two copies of the paper each day, and have their 10 employees share them. They receive two pounds of paper a day, or about 500 pounds a year. After recycling, 300 pounds of paper is discarded -- 5 times less than Company A! (They also save 5 times the money.)

Now you can see why precycling before recycling is so important. Waste savings and financial savings can be enormous, and recycling can be made more practical and efficient.


Here's the Difference

Reducing Recycling Photocopy on both sides, Recycle office paper use e-mail and voice mail Take the bus, train, carpool, Drive to work, recycle bike or walk tires and batteries Reuse (or dont use) Recycle paper & all types of bags plastic bags Buy concentrates or Recycle cans, jars, or larger sizes bottles Read a library copy Recycle newspapers & magazines

Reduction Roundup

Here are some quick looks at new developments that can help reduce waste and save resources:

Street smart roof -- Next time you re-roof your house, don't send the old one to the landfill -- use it to fill up potholes. ReClaim Inc. of Camden,New Jersey collects old asphalt shingles and turns them into pavement filler. For more information call 1-609-541-8533.

Green laundry bags -- P&G recently introduced Tide and Cheer in large bags designed to refill empty cardboard cartons. The 10+ pound bags use 80% less material than the cartons they replace, and contain at least 25% post-consumer recycled (PCR) material.

Eco radio -- This small radio is powered by the sun, which recharges the battery via a photovoltaic strip. Stormy weather? Get some exercise by turning the hand crank to recharge the battery. From Real Goods, Ukiah, CA, 800-762-7325.

Blistering savings -- Sears has once again started selling nuts and bolts from open bins, instead of blister packs. This has eliminated 166,000 pounds of waste annually.

The mail must get through, again -- The U.S. Postal service is considering a plan to reduce postage for persons who return reusable packaging to manufacturers. If implemented, companies would need to consider container durability, not just disposability.

Ask Bill and Bob

We mentioned in the last issue that we'd be starting a new column aimed at answering reader questions. Fortunately forus, many of you wrote and actually asked us for help -- we got lots of letters! Quite a few questions were work-related. Here are a few of the ones that we think might help with your ULS efforts.

Good question, Anne, and a tough one. The first thing we did was call both the Direct Marketing Association and Business Publishers Association. Their responses were similar: While individual consumers can get off lists, once youre on a business list, it's almost impossible to have your name removed.

Next, we spoke with Larry Evans, President of Prospect Marketing, a business-to-business marketing firm in Farmington Hills, MI. He had a number of suggestions: First, find out how many people in your firm are subscribing to the same magazine. Then, cancel all but a few subscriptions and set up routing lists. This system will reduce the number of people on mailing lists, cut paper use and also reduce subscription costs.

Also, when employees leave the company, promptly fill out change of address forms in their magazine subscriptions. Also, don't throw out their junk mail -- mark it addressee unknown and return it to sender.

Here are two other tips: Dont give out business cards at trade shows, unless absolutely necessary. (Names quickly get placed on all types of lists.) And, respond to phone solicitations with a polite, but firm, Please take my name off your list.

We contacted Hewlett-Packard, which makes these small, non-laser cartridges. They are recycling them in France, and trying to set up a system here as well. In the meantime, buy their new, higher capacity cartridges, which give you double the ink. That'll cut waste in half. And don't forget to recycle the metal tray.

Walking the Talk

by Dr. William L. Rathje

We at the Garbage Project smile knowingly when we hear study participants under report the amount of beer they drink by 40 to 60%, while they over report guzzling skim milk by even more! We've learned that people tend to describe their actions in the best light, helping them feel better about themselves while trying to make us feel better about them as well. How can we get respondents to shed their veils and just tell us the truth?

I was ever-so-earnestly thinking these thoughts when one of my students knocked at my door. Dr. Rathje, she said in her most diplomatic voice, I've noticed that you dont have a container in your office for recycled paper. Would you like me to get one for you?

Why was she asking me this? Wasn't I doing my darndest to promote recycling? I was telling everyone I could todays most important recycling message: Buy products with post-consumer recycled content to create large, stable markets for recycled materials. Also, I was doing all my writing on recycled paper. Recycle my office papers? I had told myself I didnt need to until larger, more stable markets were in place.

This is what I was thinking, when... ZAP! Enlightenment struck! My students offer made me see that I had been fooling myself, thereby relieving myself of the small but constant chore of separating recyclables from my daily office discards. I suddenly awoke to a whole new world -- I found that I was just a big talker.

There and then I made up my mind to make my walk match my talk. As a result, my recycling will play a small but important part -- like everyone elses -- in building the size and stability of recyclables markets.

We all pre-program ourselves when we put on airs for others. We may be fooling ourselves, but I believe that this very act serves to pre-program us for positive change. To me, the difference between what we say and what we do is a leading indicator of where our society is headed.

It's encouraging to note that our research shows that the gap between saying and doing is narrowing. That means we are starting to believe what we say, and are doing it. Thus, the more we talk it, the sooner well walk it!

Dr. William L. Rathje is Professor or Archaeology at The University of Arizona and Director of The Garbage Project. The Project studies contemporary cultures by digging up their landfills and examining the resulting debris.

Green Grillin'

Summer time, and the livin is easy. Especially when it comes to cooking. In fact, 62% of Americans like to grill, and cookouts are the single most popular form of home entertaining. Here are some ways to ensure that your barbecues are eco-friendly.

When you're done cooking, smother the coals by closing the vents and putting the lid on. You can use the leftover coals to start the next fire, thus saving on charcoal.

Suggestion Box

Last issue, we asked for your waste-saving ideas. What a creative group you are! Here are some of the more interesting ways you came up with:

...At the grocery store, they should only bag the small items... Juanita Barker, Hamilton, OH

... It would make a lot more sense for banks and other big firms to allow the needy to plant vegetable gardens and fruit trees rather than spending all that time and money to grow and cut grass that feeds no one and clogs our landfills. In poor countries, every inch of ground is used to grow something to eat...many children (here) never know the joy of helping grow food to feed their family... Barbara Matcke, Inglewood, FL

...Bring cardboard boxes to the market. Have the baggers fill them up, instead of using bags... Mary Jennings, Toledo, OH

...Ask your pharmacist to sell you loose pills rather than over-the-counter medications in blister packs and boxes. Bring back your old plastic pill bottles to put them in... Nancy Redmond, Barneveld, NY

Thanks and bravo!

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.