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Pollution Prevention (P2) for Consumers: In the Home
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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Many consumers are unaware of the waste prevention mantra --- reduce, reuse, recycle --- and focus only on recycling. It is important to educate consumers that waste reduction and reuse of consumer goods come first. Consumers can be educated to look at products and think about how much of what they are purchasing will quickly end up in the garbage. By purchasing goods that are over-packaged, readily disposable, or of poor quality, consumers are throwing their money away and contributing to over-burdened landfills. By steering clear of products with excessive packaging and by purchasing products in bulk, consumers can reduce the amount of money and resources spent on packaging. Single-use, disposable items like paper plates and non-rechargeable batteries, should be avoided as these will cost and pollute more in the long run than reusable products. Consumers can be educated to get the most out of their money by purchasing items that will last a long time.

Bringing cloth bags to the grocery store is another way to cut down on waste. If everyone in New York City alone used one less grocery bag per year, the city would reduce waste by 109 tons and save $11,000 in disposal costs.1 Cloth bags also generally hold more than paper or plastic bags and are useful for carrying heavier items.

Following the "reuse" part of the mantra, unwanted items such as furniture or clothes that are still usable should not be thrown out. They can be donated to charities, sold at a garage sale, or sold through an online Web site such as Craigslist or FreeCycle.

Consumers can learn about the concept of "cycle" in the term "recycle" and be encouraged to buy recycled goods. Consumers need to know that they are not really recycling if they do not buy recycled products, such as paper goods or used clothing.

Many of the actions discussed in this Topic Hub will not only prevent pollution and save money, but can help simplify the daily demands on the average household. Junk mail is an obvious target. More than 100 million trees' worth of bulk mail clutters consumers' mailboxes and kitchen tables each year. This is the equivalent of deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every four months.2 Moreover, the EPA estimates that only 32 percent of this junk mail is recycled.3 Consumers can remove their names from mailing lists by visiting the Direct Marketing Association's website and filling out a form. Similarly, by calling 888-567-8688, people can remove their addresses from numerous credit card solicitation lists. (Note: Not all companies, however, use these services for their mailings.) Consumers can also contact the companies directly who send the junk mail or catalogues, and ask to have their names removed from the mailing lists.


Consumers can take many actions in their homes to save energy and money. Making sure that home heating and cooling systems run efficiently can have the biggest impact on energy savings because heating and cooling account for about 50 percent of household energy costs, according to the US Department of Energy.4 Keeping HVAC systems tuned up and insulating homes will help save energy and money. Turning the thermostat down a few degrees in the winter, and up a few degrees in the summer (for central air), can also have a significant impact. Many utilities offer free home energy audits to help consumers learn how to save energy in their homes. Some offer rebate programs for homeowners purchasing high efficiency boilers and water heaters or insulating their homes.

A simple way to save energy in the home is to use energy-efficient light bulbs. Replacing one regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent will save an average of $30 dollars in energy costs over the lifetime of the bulb and prevent 450 pounds of greenhouse emissions from polluting the environment. If every household in the US replaced one bulb, it would prevent more than 9 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from being produced, which is akin to taking more than 780,000 cars off the road for an entire year.5 Consumers should be reminded to recycle compact fluorescent bulbs at the end of their useful life to keep the small amount of mercury that's in them from entering the environment.

Using energy efficient appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines, is another important step. Energy-efficient appliances can reduce energy bills by 30 percent, saving the average U.S. family roughly $400 per year.6 Consumers should look for the EnergyStar label on appliances. Washing clothes in cold or warm water, instead of hot water, and line drying will also save money.

Many electric companies will also let consumers specify that they would like renewable energy (i.e. wind or solar) to power their homes. Although an electric company cannot directly supply an individual home with renewable energy, it can purchase the same amount of energy the home uses from a renewable source. When electric companies purchase energy from non-fossil fuel sources it cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions and helps stimulate demand for more renewable energy. Since most renewable energy sources, except for hydropower, currently cost more than fossil fuels, consumers opting to purchase renewable energy through their utilities will pay a little bit more. But by stimulating demand for renewable sources, they are helping to bring down its cost over time.


Traditional cleaning products contain chemicals that can cause a range of health effects from asthma and other respiratory problems to reproductive disorders, hormonal problems, and major organ damage. Furthermore, chemical cleaners are routinely washed down the drain where they find their way into lakes, streams and drinking water, potentially harming plant and animal life as well as public health. Some chemical cleaners contain endocrine disruptors that are slow to biodegrade and show up in the endocrine systems of fish, birds, and mammals. Other chemicals cause algal blooms in water bodies, which in turn kills aquatic life. Environmental damage can also occur during the development, manufacture, and transport of these products.7

Consumers should avoid using toxic cleaning products in the home to protect their family members' health, especially children, and to prevent environmental contamination. The Eco-labels website is a good place for consumers to learn how to read product labels so that they can make educated decisions about which cleaning and other household products to buy. Reading labels can help in determining how much product to use. Using excessive amounts of products will not improve results, while using just the right amount can save money and reduce exposure to potentially toxic ingredients. Non-toxic, homemade remedies for cleaning products can also save money and further reduce the use of hazardous chemicals.

Homeowners can also choose materials with no, or low, amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when building or remodeling their homes. VOCs can be emitted by new carpets, cabinets, and paint, and have been shown to cause cancer and developmental problems in humans.

1, Sierra Club, "Save Oil, Save Trees: Reuse Your Grocery Bags!"
2Center for New American Dream calculation from Conservatree and U.S. Forest Service statistics,
3Center for a New American Dream, citing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
6EnergyStar 2004 Annual Report,
7Case, S. "A Clean Sweep," Government Procurement, October 2004.






The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Pollution Prevention (P2) for Consumers Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
Contact email:

Hub Last Updated: 1/8/2013