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Waste Reduction and Pollution Prevention

NREL's waste reduction and pollution prevention programs support the goal of near-zero waste through NREL's 4R philosophy, composting, the chemical management system and excess chemical inventory, and our pollution prevention initiatives.

Based on requirements from Executive Order 13693, these replicable programs:

  • Reduce paper use while increasing the use of postconsumer recycled paper by 30% or more
  • Reduce the amount of organic and compostable materials disposed of in landfills
  • Reduce acquisition, use, and disposal of toxic and hazardous chemicals and materials
  • Minimize waste and pollutant generation.

Waste Reduction

NREL diverts 81% of its campus waste from the local landfill. Educating staff on workplace waste reduction through recycling and composting training has played a major part in this success.

The 4R Philosophy

NREL's 4R philosophy consists of reducing, reusing, recycling, and re-buying as many materials as possible.

  • Reduce. NREL reduces the use of materials. Examples include:
    • Replacing paper drafts with electronic files
    • Installing multifunctional network printers, which default to double-sided printing and black and white copies
    • Minimize hazardous material use.
  • Reuse. Reusable office supply depots onsite enable staff to restock office supplies in suitable condition for others to use. NREL also encourages the reuse of:
    • cardboard boxes
    • packing peanuts
    • plastic containers, and
    • drums.
  • Recycle. NREL makes recycling easy. Examples include:
    • Providing convenient collection points throughout the laboratory along with signs itemizing materials that can be recycled
    • Hosting events for employees to recycle personal electronics, shred personal documents, and donate books, CDs, and DVDs
    • Waste-diversion tracking for building renovation projects.
  • Re-buy. NREL follows green purchasing guidelines provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program. Procuring green products that can be recycled or composted is encouraged through:

NREL also uses energy-efficient ENERGY STAR® equipment for all daily work activities, including computer monitors, multifunction print/scan/fax devices, refrigerators, coffee pots, etc.


After beginning its composting program in 2010, NREL averages 45,000 pounds of compostable waste per month. This program is unique among federal facilities and national laboratories, further establishing NREL's leadership in sustainable site operations.

Chemical Management System and Excess Chemical Inventory

The Chemical Management System and Excess Chemical Inventory efforts expand NREL's reuse of chemical stocks, reducing the need for new chemical purchases.

Pollution Prevention Initiatives

NREL solicits ideas from staff that could result in the reduction of waste, materials, water, air emissions, and energy use.