RECYCLING: Calculating the Value of Source Reduction

While source reduction is a logical way to save natural resources and money, it's difficult to measure its success. To help solve this problem, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., recently developed the "Source Reduction Program Potential Manual" to help solid waste managers determine the impact of source reduction programs, integrate source reduction into solid waste management plans and help municipalities set source reduction goals.

A "how-to" guide for determining source reduction's potential at the local level, the manual helps communities analyze grasscycling, composting, and clothing and footwear reuse in residences, and office paper reduction, paper towel reduction and converting to multi-use pallets in businesses.

To analyze data, solid waste managers must understand how the calculations work. The EPA's strategy is to start from the total amount of a particular material generated in the United States. Then, through the knowledge of the methods available for source reduction and their technical limitations, managers can determine the potential for source reduction.

Often, however the simplest way is to use national-level data. The EPA estimates that nationally, composting food-scrap and residential yard trimmings, has a source reduction potential of 13 million tons per year (mty). Next is grasscycling at 9.1 mty. This is followed by clothing reuse at 1.6 mty, office paper prevention at 1.3 mty, converting to multi-use pallets at 1.6 mty and paper towel reduction at 0.2 mty.

When using local waste generation figures that combine residential and commercial data (all municipal solid waste), this translates to program potential factors (maximum potential source reduction) of 30 percent for grasscycling, 27 percent for home composting of food scraps, 60 percent for home composting of yard trimmings and 8 percent for clothing reuse, according to the manual.

Commercially, program potential factors are 11 percent for wood waste and 1 percent to 2 percent for office paper reductions such as double-sided copying and within company mail systems (networking). Additionally, the program potential factor for paper towel reduction is 0.5 percent. Of course, for a given company or industry, these numbers might yield substantial savings, depending on the size of the waste stream addressed.

Once a municipality knows how much material it has, it can fine-tune the applicability, feasibility and technology factors in order to yield more accurate estimates and determine when to embark on a particular source reduction program. More accurate figures also can help calculate how much money a particular source reduction initiative may cost to administer, what the expected savings might be and what goals should be set.

With the manual, users are given "ReduceIt" software, which guides them through source reduction calculations. This can be helpful in estimating the net cost or savings from a source reduction activity under consideration. ReduceIt also can be used to provide an estimate of a break-even program cost.

For instance, if an office paper reduction program has the potential to conserve 100 tons of paper, a solid waste manager can estimate the maximum program cost to break even on the investment.

With "ReduceIt," he can estimate that with 20 percent of office paper currently being recycled, what the disposal costs for a tipping fee of $30 per ton and of $20 per ton recycling revenues would be. The net savings would equal $2,000 [($30 per ton x 80 tons) - ($20 per ton x 20 tons)]. In other words, the manager can spend up to $2,000 on program costs and still save money.

Along with the "Source Reduction Program Potential Manual" and "ReduceIt," the EPA also recently has completed the "National Source Reduction Characterization Report," (EPA 530-R-99-034) which estimates the current total source reduction in the United States, as well as provides case studies. Additionally, the EPA has two voluntary programs that specifically deal with reducing municipal solid waste - WasteWise and Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT). To contact WasteWise, call toll-free (800) EPA-WISE. To contact PAYT, call toll-free (888) EPA-PAYT. WasteWise and PAYT can be found on the web at www.epa. gov/msw

To receive a free copy of the "Source Reduction Program Potential Manual" and "ReduceIt" software (EPA530-E97-001), contact the RCRA Hotline toll -free at (800) 424-9346 or order it using the web at "ReduceIt" also is available at epaoswer/non-hw/reduce/reduceit/index.htm