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Reduce and Reuse

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is in order of importance. It is better to reduce than reuse; better to reuse than recycle.

Reducing and reusing prevent the environmental impact of making new items. All disposal has financial costs to the city. Recycling and composting cost the City less than trash. Still, preventing waste in the first place is best for Cambridge and the environment. It is one of the key recommendations in the Cambridge Zero Waste Master Plan.

Key Tips

  • Choose Secondhand First – check online, with friends and neighbors, and local secondhand shops.

  • Give, Sell, or Find Reused Items Online - for example: Craig's List, Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, and Buy Nothing Facebook groups.

  • Choose Reusable over Single-Use - Keep reusables (mugs, shopping bags, cloth napkins) in an accessible easy-to-remember location.

Moving and Clean-outs

Give Away, Resell, and Donate

Give Away or Sell: Often the simplest way to give your things a second life is to give them away for free. Reselling locally is another good option.

Donate: There are many great organizations that accept materials to support their mission. Please respect the work they do and only give items they accept. Donating unwanted items may add to the disposal costs of the organization you are trying to help. This is true no matter how good you may think your donations are.

Some donation resources:

  • Pinpoint Donation is a starting place to see what Metro Boston area charities take. Confirm with charities.

  • ReSupply, a Veteran-operated company, provides an in-home fee-based pickup option. ReSupply works with local charities to give your unwanted furniture and household goods a second life. ReSupply will go into the home, go up and down stairs, and even disassemble items if needed. Residents will receive a tax credit for their donation.

Use the Get Rid of It Right Tool

This tool will help you find the right way to dispose of over a thousand items. Some things might not get reused but you can keep them out of the trash

Common Categories to Check

  • Electronics and Scrap Metal are highly recyclable, but not in your curbside recycling.

  • Fluorescent Bulbs, Oil-Based Paint, Chemicals, Non-Alkaline Batteries and more are toxic and must be kept out of the trash. Some items have more convenient disposal options. Others must be brought to a Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day

Schedule Collection in Advance

You will need to schedule a pickup for some items and sometimes pay for a permit.


  • Schedule early. The schedules can fill up.

  • You can put out one large item/furniture each week if the city collects your trash. This is for items that do not need scheduling.

  • If your mattress collection day is after you move out, coordinate with your property manager.  

Household Hazardous Waste - Use Up, Give Away, or Take to HHW Day

Items with CAUTION or HAZARDOUS warnings have no curbside collection.

  • Use it up: The best way to manage Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) is to use it all.

  • Give it away: If you don’t need it, try finding someone who can use it.

  • Take it to Household Hazardous Waste Collection Days, which are four times a year.  

Before Buying New

Buy or Find Used

Used items often cost less and are as good as new. Not only is buying secondhand a great way to reuse goods but it often has less packaging waste.

  • Shop at local consignment stores and secondhand stores. Try the “used” filter for online retailers.
  • Online neighborhood groups offer many used goods both for free and for sale.

Share, Borrow, or Rent

For items you don’t need every day - like tools or party decorations - share, borrow, or rent. Learn more about the positive impact of borrowing.

  • NextDoor.com and Buy Nothing groups on Facebook, help make borrowing and sharing easy.

  • Some hardware stores rent tools and equipment.

  • Make it fun! Host a Clothing, Toy, or Book Swap with friends.

  • Fundraising? Our textile recycling partner, HELPSY, may be able to help your group with a clothing drive and swap! Email recycle@CambridgeMA.gov

Repair and Maintain

Repairing and maintaining can save you money by keeping your things going for longer.

Library of Things

The Cambridge Public Library offers far more than books!

  • Takeout Technology offers Chromebooks, Wi-Fi hotspots, STEAM Learning Kits, and more.

  • The Hive Makerspace gives you access to tools like sewing machines, hand tools, 3D printers and more.

  • Borrow video games, DVD, and CDs.

  • The eLibrary offers TV, movies, music, e-books, audiobooks, and more.

If you have Library Extension when you see a book for sale online, it will automatically display whether that book is available at your library.  

Everyday Living

Reduce Food Waste

 Food waste hurts both the environment and our wallets. On average a family of four wastes $1500 a year on uneaten food.

Shop Smart

  • Check your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry before shopping.

  • Make a checklist of daily staples (e.g.: grains, dairy, and eggs) and only buy more when you are running out.
  • Make a weekly meal plan and grocery list before shopping.

Waste Less

  • Eat leftovers and perishable food first.

  • Properly store food.

  • Use your freezer.

  • Compost What You Can’t Eat. Use the curbside compost program or one of our compost drop-off locations.

Refuse Single-use Disposables - Opt-out & Bring Your Own

Recycling Advisory Committee’s Cambridge Circular Economy Business Directory lists where you can:

  • Bring Your Own - Bag, bottle, travel mug, and more!
  • Buy in bulk, instead of single servings, to reduce packaging and save money.

Other tips include:

  • Choose Reusable - Are you throwing away or recycling something a lot? Is there a reusable option?

  • Opt-out of condiments and utensils on take-out orders - you can request it in the notes or if you call.

  • Opt out of junk mail and sign up for electronic billing and direct deposits. (More tips in this NY Times article.)

Give and Celebrate Sustainably


  • Consider gifts of experiences, like movie tickets or zoo memberships
  • or vintage gifts.

Holidays & Celebrations

  • Try using reusable plates, napkins, decorations, and more. If you need extra, consider borrowing or renting.
  • Invite your guests to bring empty food containers to bring home leftovers.

Sign Up to the Recycling Newsletter

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