Two Categories of Consumer Waste and How You Can Reduce Both

Thank you so much to Bee from The Wooden Bee for giving us this great article she wrote about consumer waste.  If you’re reading this post you are probably already conscious about your impact on the environment and the amount of waste you produce.  Hopefully, this article will inspire some new ideas or reinforce what you already know and help us all to be better pre and post consumers.

Reducing Consumer Waste…and I don’t mean just recycling.

Reducing consumer waste is an important part of sustainability. The importance of keeping waste out of our landfills is crucial to the health of our planet. It is reported that almost all landfills leak or eventually will leak as their liners decay and they leach toxins into our environment. Call it what you want, reducing, upcycling, repurposing or reusing, it is basic conservation of both raw and man made materials, and reducing waste is crucial to our future.

Consumer Waste can be grouped into two categories:

Post Consumer Waste is generally the waste we routinely discard in our trash cans and at the dump. This is the waste that litters our highways and sidewalks. It is leftover from consumers buying products and either using them or creating waste from buying them. There are many different types of post consumer waste: paper waste like magazines and junk mail, disposable waste like batteries & tissues, broken items we no longer want, food waste, human waste, pet waste and water waste from different forms of cleaning are all considered post consumer waste.

The Wooden Bee upcycles some of our family’s post consumer waste. We reuse plastic containers for storage and organizing. We turn unwanted magazines and discarded beer cartons and cereal boxes into recycled wall art. We recycle shipping and packaging materials in our studio and in our orders. Our stain and paint rags are taken only from old tshirts & towels. Even the Sustainable Supplies section of our shop allows us to find unwanted hardware pieces a new home.

Pre Consumer Waste is a newer term to consumer waste. It is a material that was discarded before it was ready for consumer use. Pre-consumer waste is the reintroduction of manufacturing scrap (such as trimmings from paper production) back into the manufacturing process. Sometimes it is not thought of as traditional recycling, but is an important way to keep large amount of manufacturing waste out of our landfills. For example, if carpet companies can take their scraps and incorporate them back into their products, things like yarn, fiber and other natural resources will be saved from taking up landfill space.
We feel our wood, the main material we recycle, falls under both pre and post consumer waste categories. Sometimes we come across reclaimed wood that is decades old and has served another purpose like a cabinet door. It would obviously be considered post consumer waste. However, a large portion of our wood is left over from the new home construction process, and has been cut for cabinets and moldings but was never used. It comes to us raw, with no paint or stain, and often it never left the manufacturing facilities where it was cut. This wood is then the trimmings of the new home construction process and we are reintroducing it, therefore we feel it is pre consumer waste.

When I first went into business last year, we decided to call our wood “recycled wood,” since it fell into both of these categories. Since then, we decided “reclaimed wood” gave our audience a better understanding of our products as a whole, especially since many people don’t know about the term pre consumer waste. What category our wood falls into could be debated, but one thing is for sure, it is beautiful wood being saved from taking up landfill space!

Quick Tips to help Reduce Your Consumer Waste

• There are a number of online resources:
o Freecycle.Org is a great one! Just look up your local group and start recycling.
o Craigslist is another resource to help people buy, sell and trade things they no longer want or need.
o Etsy has a large selection of vintage items and using their search engines you can find amazing handmade creations made from all sorts of recycled materials.
• In your community, you can find resources like:
o Buy from and Donate to places like Good Will, the Salvation Army, and local church and charity consignment shops.
o Hold garage sales & visit estate sales.
o Donate to your local Habitat for Humanity’s Restore. They take almost ANYTHING for the home (except electronics & clothing) and will even take full gallons of unused paint, if you happened to buy too much or the wrong color.
• If you do have to buy new, try to buy durable.
o Take into consideration product packaging, product life, and the options you will have in recycling or reusing the product once it has come to the end of its shelf life.

Becoming ethical consumers is something that everyone should start looking into. Does value or values determine your purchases? Educating yourself about the products you buy & their affect on the environment is vital to our future and the future of our planet.

What’s one great way that The Wooden Bee recycles?  Look here:

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  1. great article and great ideas! cheers! :)

  2. LOVE your article!!! I just had a most excellent “dumpster dive” last week. Our recycling center paper bin was overflowing all over the ground, so I looked in the cardboard recycling and found a giant box full of the coolest packaging – approximately 1.5″ thick “boards” made of heavy paper attached top & bottom by triangles of heavy paper – accordian-like. I think I left the center with more than I brought. I know you all will appreciate the nerdy recycling excitement of the find!

  3. When we first moved here to Arizona we were so sad when management told us that they didn’t know about recycling programs on the grounds of the complex. We began taking our recycling to the transfer station until one day my husband discovered one lonely dumpster up near the front marked recyclables only. Its a small step but one just the same!

    Aside from doing that we just try not to buy stuff at all. Everytime I think “oh I want/need _____” I wait until at least the 3rd time I’ve said it before purchasing. I don’t mean food of course but do I really need that pair of sweatpants? One of the best ways I’ve been able to reduce is by renting my school textbooks. It shows up in a box, which I save until class is over, and then I ship it back in the same box with the same packaging!

    Great tip on Habitat for Humanity Restore BTW, as a painter I’m left with colors I can’t always use in another client’s home (or my own/on my shop’s goodies!) so its nice to know there’s an option.

    • Glad for even the small steps. They usually lead to bigger ones! :)

    • I purchased used school textbook in college & then sold them back to the bookstores. I bet this is similar to what you are doing. Never really thought about it as reducing consumer waste. I just did it to be frugal on a college budget. 😉 Good point though!

      I love our Restore. It is fun to both shop & donate to. Thank you!

  4. My waste generally seems to be seams. :) Long skinny things like you. I have sewn them end to end into yarn, but it is truly a labour of love as it takes FOREVER. Not cost effective. But sometimes the need to be creative prevails and I think of something. Scrunchies maybe? Oh yeah right, that was like, 20 years ago. LOL

  5. I’ve struggled with what to do with some of my waste too. I’ve tried giving it away but found no takers. FINALLY a good friend recommended making yo-yos out of the collars of the t-shirts! I have a ton of collars and it will take me FOREVER to make that many yo-yos but at least I can use them now for something.

    Anyone reading this who wants some collars JUST for the price of shipping, contact me PLEASE.

    • What about using the collars to cover something? a wreath? or turn them into a rug? There is this tutorial on making a rug from old towels pieces. I wonder if you could replace the towels with the collars? If you want it I will find the tutorial link for you. I will also ask around to my friends that sew & see if I can find any collar takers. :)

  6. Wouldn’t it be nice if every company published their preconsumer waste stats to the public, like what it is and what percentage of their products it is. Determining the percentage of preconsumer waste that my upcycled clothing results in would be a little bit tricky to determine, but you really have me thinking about it now. I’m guessing maybe 2%, I rounded up just to be safe. It has always been one of my pet peeves to discard scraps, so I try to minimize them as much as possible, and occasionally bag them up and find a willing donor, but this is not always possible. I have also tried to stuff them into pillows or stuffies, but I just don’t make that many of those to stuff.

    I am glad you brought this up. It is good to keep fresh in mind. I have also been working on “not bringing things home” and letting someone else (who presumably needs it more) have it. I find that it takes a lot of time to gather up my unwanted things, then take them to the thrift store or give to friends. Sometimes I just couldn’t be bothered. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    • Thank you!!!
      Maybe you could sell recycled pillow stuffing? I bet some green crafters on Etsy might like it. Just a thought. Have you ever made an Etsy listing for your leftover materials? That’s how my hardware section got started! :)

      • Yes, actually I have. I did sell a few bags, but shipping is so ridiculously expensive up here in Canada, even to ship within Canada… go figure, that I stopped. It costs around $15 to send a gallon ziploc full.