Our country has a waste problem. It’s time for new solutions, and a renewed commitment to move toward zero waste.

The U.S. produces an immense amount of waste — we generate over 12 percent of the planet's municipal waste even though we make up just 4 percent of the population. That averages out to around seven pounds of material per American every single day.

Only a third of our waste is recycled or composted while the vast majority is sent to landfills, incinerators, or the natural environment. Making matters worse, for decades, we exported recyclable and scrap materials to China, but recent trade restrictions have made it so the U.S. is stuck with landfilling millions of tons of recyclable materials previously handled by the Chinese.

We need to take decisive steps to address our growing waste crisis, and to get us off the linear path of extraction, production, consumption and disposal. It’s time to move to a circular, zero-waste economy.

What is a zero-waste economy?

A zero-waste economy is one in which less is consumed, all products are built to last and are easy to reuse and repair, and all materials are reused, recycled and composted in a continuous cycle.

This system will protect public health and the environment, conserve natural resources and landscapes, and help address the mounting crisis of global warming.

There are 10 things we should do to move toward a zero-waste economy.

10 ways to move to a zero-waste economy

First things first: Single-use plastics

Everyday, people throw away tons of plastic “stuff” — cups, plates, bags, containers, straws and more. All of this waste not only clogs our landfills, trashes our parks and litters our streets, but it also washes into our rivers and oceans where it can harm wildlife. And new research indicates that microplastics might be in our bodies, too.

The PIRG network of organizations is working to move us beyond plastic. We’re running a joint campaign with our 501(c)(4) sister organization U.S. PIRG and our state offices to ban single-use polystyrene foam take-out containers in 13 states. We’re also working to make plastic straws available by request only and to get rid of single-use plastic bags.

We should have the Right To Repair

Americans throw out 416,000 cell phones per day, and only 15 to 20 percent of electronic waste is recycled. That’s just ridiculous, especially when so much electronic waste could be reused or refurbished.

Instead of throwing things out, we should reuse, salvage and rebuild. But too often the companies that make phones, computers, tractors and other durable goods put up barriers that prevent consumers or third-party vendors from making repairs. The goal of our Right to Repair campaign is to give every consumer and small business access to the parts, tools and service information they need to repair products so we can keep our stuff off the trash heap. Learn more.

U.S. PIRG's Nathan Proctor delivers petition signatures to Microsoft urging the company to help cut e-waste.
Ricky Osborne
Our approach

Our efforts to zero out waste share a common approach. In each campaign, we aim to:

Put us on a path to a better future. We value ideas and policies that both improve the quality of our lives now and put us on a path to a better future.

Focus on concrete change. We share a bold vision, but understand that change comes one step at a time. Our focus is on making a difference for the public, not just making a statement.

Find common ground. Even in this deeply divided moment, all Americans want a healthier, safer, more secure future. Our staff in Washington, D.C., seek out common ground and work with members of Congress from both parties. Our staff in the states build coalitions that include people from all walks of life. Our organizers engage literally hundreds of thousands of people, and our members live in all 50 states.