Disposable vs. Reusable Systems: Two Source Reduction Case Studies

Gregory A. Keoleian
Dan Menerey

DOI: 10.2190/P25E-HNAE-7G81-JAPY


This is the first of two articles presenting case studies of successful solid waste source reduction programs at five businesses. Both process and economic analyses were performed for each case study. The first article examines the substitution of reusable products for single-use equivalents at a hospital and day care center. Replacing polystyrene foam dishware with washable ceramic dishes at a hospital reduced dishware solid waste generation by 42.8 pounds/1000 meals, or 99 percent. Total costs in the washable dishware case increased 6 percent, but this cost differential is very sensitive to wage rates and disposable dishware costs. When disposable diapers at a day care center were replaced with cloth diapers laundered by an outside service, solid waste generation was reduced by 0.34 pound per diaper, or 99 percent. The unit cost per disposable diaper is $0.25 compared to $0.22 for cloth diapers. Disposable items constituted the major cost of both single-use systems, while labor and services were the major cost of both reusable systems. At present, solid waste avoidance provides relatively minor cost credits for the reusable systems.

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