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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 initiative.

Based on requirements from Executive Orders 13423 and 13514, 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.

Overall, these programs are expected to reduce the amount of solid waste and construction and demolition debris sent to landfills by 50% or more by 2015.

Waste Reduction

A pie chart showing waste diversion: 23% solid waste disposal, 26% compost, and 51% recycled waste materials.

NREL's FY13 waste diversion.

NREL diverts 77% 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 by:
    • 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 by:
    • Providing convenient collection points throughout the lab along with signs itemizing materials that can be recycled
    • Hosting events for employee for recycling personal electronics, shredding personal documents, and donating books, CDs, and DVDs for a local school.
    • 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 and the U.S. Department of Energy's Buy-Bio Programs. 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 43,000 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

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