Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

Bricks from a decommissioned house chimney re-used for a large patio and several pathways in the Malolepsy residential carden. Image credit: D. Tolman

You can minimize the negative impacts of materials and product manufacturing by strictly adopting this mantra: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  Reuse is one of the most effective strategies for offsetting the environmental and human health impacts of material or products. When you reuse reclaimed brick, for example, you do not need to mine the raw material or fire it in a kiln.  If it is already on site, you don’t need to expel greenhouse gases in transporting it. Nor do you need to send the old brick to the landfill.

Reclaimed materials can provide  design details and a historic perspective that makes the landscape unique, and it is likely to save money.

  • Consider the many options. Reclaimed materials can be used in whole form or deconstructed and dismantled for reuse as a completely new object.
  • Be creative.   Homeowners should be open to new and creative ways in which materials may be incorporated into the landscape.  When reusing materials it is often helpful to let the material inspire the design.
  • Locate materials early in the design process.  Determining what materials are available for reuse early in the design process will allow time for creativity and design exploration.
  • Select materials that can be reused.  When designing new site features, select durable and non-toxic materials  in modular and or standard sizes.
  • Design for deconstruction.  Design site features to be disassembled without unreasonable effort or extensive damage to the material.  For example, use screws instead of nails and avoid the use of glues or other liquid adhesives.


The vast majority of all steel is recycled back into new steel products with no loss of its physical properties. As such, steel isn’t just recycled but “multi-cycled,” as it can be recycled over and over and over again. Image credit: Wikimedia commons

How to locate reclaimed materials

When shopping for reclaimed materials, homeowners now have a variety of options.  In this section, the instructor will need to research local resources for reclaimed materials and provide students with a list of vendors in the area.  Common suppliers include recycling centers, salvage stores, Habitat for Humanity and websites like or craigslist.


Materials that are collected, reprocessed and used again to make a new product are known as recycled materials.  Recycled materials lessen the need for virgin feedstock and avoid sending useful materials to the landfill; however, significant energy and other resources are often required during the recycling process (Calkins 2009).  Because of this, recycled materials should be considered after options to reduce or reuse materials have been fully explored.

Landscapes can support the use of recycled materials two ways.  First, by purchasing materials with recycled content.  Typically the higher the recycled content the better.  And second, by purchasing materials that can be easily recycled in the local area.

Post-consumer vs. pre-consumer content

Deck and furniture made from recycled plastic lumber. Image credit: Clinton Beach Park, Whidbey Island, Washington

Materials can contain either post-consumer or pre-consumer recycled content.  Of the two, post-consumer items are preferred because they are made from materials that were once consumer items and have now been diverted from the landfill.  Pre-consumer content typically comes from the manufacturing process, and can often be broken down and remade into similar or different materials.

What materials can be recycled locally?  Where are the recycling centers?

Unfortunately, all materials cannot be recycled in all areas.  Knowing the materials accepted by local recycling centers can help homeowners make more informed decisions.  Prior to teaching this section, the instructor will need to research local recycling centers and compile a list of the materials they accept.

Juniper tree cut on site and creatively used as a “vine teepee” in the Wildflower Center Children’s Garden. Image credit: Heather Venhaus

Use minimally processed materials

The ecological and human health impacts of materials typically increase which each additional  manufacturing phase.  Therefore materials that have reduced manufacturing and processing requirements often pose fewer environmental and human health risks.  Examples of minimally processed materials include:

  • Uncut stone
  • Earth materials
  • Wood
  • Bamboo