Reduce Waste: The First Step in a Zero Waste Journey

“Reduce” ranks first in the waste reduction hierarchy of “reduce, reuse, recycle” for good reason! Reducing the “stuff” in our lives prevents the need to create a product in the first place, and therefore avoids the resulting impact on our environment, climate, and people. It’s also the easiest step we can ALL take, regardless of what recycling or composting services exist in our community. 

Why Reduce?

Reduce Our Climate Impact 
More than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food—how we extract it from the planet, make it, transport it, use it, and throw it away. It’s called “consumption emissions.” Reducing our consumption of stuff reduces these emissions and saves energy, conserves natural resources, and reduces pollution.

Reduce Our Impact On Earth’s Resources
If everyone in the world used resources the way we do in the US, we’d need five planets to keep up! Reducing unnecessary consumption lets us live within our one planet’s means.

Protect Habitats, Including Rivers and Oceans 
Not all disposable waste makes it to the landfill, and instead ends up polluting land, rivers, and oceans where it can cause harm to people and animals.

Download: Why Reduce? Fact Sheet

Three Steps to Start Reducing Your Waste

#1: REFUSE single-use products whenever possible
When we’re out and about running errands or grabbing a bite to eat we can easily end up with a plethora of single-use waste items—things like plastic checkout bags, wads of napkins, plastic forks and spoons, straws, extra soy sauce packets, disposable chopsticks, and paper coffee cups or plastic drink cups. These products, very often made from finite fossil fuels that took millions of years to create, are designed to be used once, sometimes for mere minutes, and then tossed. Does that really make sense and do we really need this stuff?

When we REFUSE to accept these single-use items, we’re taking a stand against a system designed to create trash. Instead, finding ways to reuse durable items is key to living a Zero Waste lifestyle! Here’s a start-up guide on how to ditch the disposables (and find a sustainable alternative instead!)

There are countless ways you can choose to reuse in your daily life, everything from carrying your own refillable water bottle to donating your unwanted couch. Shopping at secondhand, consignment, and thrift stores or browsing online exchange sites before you head to the department store to buy something new is a great way to both contribute to the reuse economy and save money too. 

Erie residents have a wealth of choices to help you reuse:

  • Second-hand stores: Check out local second-hand stores for clothing, furniture, books, and more. Shop these outlets first instead of buying new products to reduce your impact on our environment, promote Zero Waste, support our local economy, and save money too. There is also a quickly-growing reuse economy online where individuals sell their used clothing and furniture. 
  • Boulder Freecycle: Freecycle is a grassroots network of local people who post and trade free unwanted items.
  • Craigslist: Craigslist is the biggest, fastest-moving exchange site. Find anything from expensive cars to free shelves in Boulder County.
  • Get updates from your neighbors about garage sales, giveaways, and other opportunities to reuse locally.

#3: Stop Junk Mail
Junk mail clutters our homes, but its impacts go beyond that: Millions of trees are cut down each year to produce it, creating an added social impact for local communities whose survival depends on those forests. Take a stand against junk mail with these stop junk mail tips and tricks!

Step 1: Stop the Flow
Remove your name (and all variations of your name) from mailing lists at It can take up to ninety days for the flow to stop since many mailings are already in print or production (Please note: There is now a small fee of $2 to unsubscribe through DMAchoice). 

Step 2: No More Credit Card Solicitations
To eliminate credit card promotional mailings, call 1-888-567-8688 (that’s 888-5OPTOUT) or visit You will have the opportunity to choose either a five-year removal or a permanent removal. 

Step 3: Put the Kibosh on Unwanted Catalogs
Once you’ve received a catalog in the mail that you don’t want, call the company directly to opt out. Oftentimes they’re happy to take you off the list because it helps them save money by printing and sending fewer catalogs.

 Get more tips on how to get off mailing lists and stop junk mail!