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Facts About Source Reduction

What It Is

Source reduction is decreasing the amount of materials or energy used during the manufacturing or distribution of products and packages. Because it stops waste before it starts, source reduction is the top solid waste priority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

What Source Reduction Isn't

Source reduction is not the same as recycling. Recycling is collecting already used materials and making them into another product. Recycling begins at the end of a product's life, while source reduction first takes place when the product and its packaging are being designed.

The best way to think about source reduction and recycling is as complementary activities: combined, source reduction and recycling have a significant impact on preventing solid waste and saving resources. And they're activities in which both the cleaning products industry and consumers play a major role.

Why It's Important

  • Source reduction conserves raw material and energy resources. Smaller packages and concentrated products typically use fewer materials and less energy to manufacture and transport.
  • Source reduction reduces releases to air, land and water. For example, it takes less fuel to transport lighter weight materials.
  • Source reduction cuts back on what has to be thrown away. That helps keep solid waste disposal costs down, which is good for municipal budgets and consumers.


  • Source-reduced cleaning products take up less space in the home, and are more efficient and easier to use.


  1. Buy a concentrated product. Many cleaning products have been reformulated to use less product to do the same job.
  2. Buy the largest size container you can use efficiently. You'll usually save money -- and may use less packaging in the long run. 
  3. Buy refill systems whenever possible. 
  4. Buy packages made with recycled materials.


Source reduction is not only a new concept for many people -- it also means learning new terms and new definitions. Here's what the words mean:
Source Reduction decreases the amount of materials or energy used during the production or distribution of products and packages
Concentrates, sometimes known as "ultras," are cleaning products formulated to deliver the same cleaning performance in a smaller amount than traditional products. Concentrates come in containers that use less packaging material per product usage.
Refill containers hold product which is intended to be poured into an empty primary container for use.
Lightweighting means redesigning a package to use less material, which also tends to make it weigh less.
Recycling is collecting already used materials and making them into another product.
These innovations conserve resources and reduce packaging waste, while continuing to provide performance, value and convenience to the consumer.
  • Many cleaning products now come in concentrated forms. Concentrates, sometimes known as "ultras," deliver the same cleaning performance as traditional versions and use less product. Besides needing fewer resources to make the product, concentrates reduce the use of packaging materials. And smaller boxes and bottles save energy in shipping.


  • Refill systems have been developed for several types of cleaning products. Refill containers use less packaging material than primary containers. Refills also usually don't require convenience features like trigger sprayers or measuring caps, reducing packaging even more.


  • Many cleaning product bottles have been redesigned to use less plastic but remain just as strong. This is called lightweighting. Redesigning bottles and shipping cartons can also eliminate the need for inner paperboard partitions, reducing the packaging used to ship products.
  • Combination products, such as laundry detergent with bleach or fabric softerner, combine two functions in one package.
  • By using recycled plastics at rates ranging from 25-100% in product bottles, cleaning product manufacturers are providing an important market for the plastic containers that consumers are recycling.


  1. Use the right product for the job.
  2. Follow manufacturer's directions for how much to use. Different products (even in the same category) require different amounts, so read the label to avoid waste. 
  3. Reuse the primary containers in refill systems as many times as possible. Be sure to use only the refill product that's intended for that container 
  4. Use the product up. If you can't, give it away. Often a local community group will accept extra cleaning products. Be sure the label is intact so the next user has the information needed to use the product safely and effectively.