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 30 percent of the planet's 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 out of the linear path of extraction, production, consumption then 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 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 washes into our rivers and oceans where it can harm wildlife. And new research indicates that microplastics might be in our bodies, too.

Our national network is working to move us beyond plastic, by introducing and passing bills that in 13 states that would ban single-use polystyrene take-out containers. We’re also working in seven states on policies that would make straws available by request, and in 10 states we have efforts underway to pass statewide bans on single-use plastics bags. 

We should have a Right To Repair

Americans dispose of 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 which 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.

Figure out what works. We’ve successfully advocated for changes that have resulted in more recycling and less waste, healthier and safer choices in the marketplace, and greater accountability in government. We have a 45-plus year track record of figuring out solutions that will work and advocating for them until we get results.

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

Ban single-use plastic foam items in your state

One of the best ways to reduce the amount of trash headed to landfills is to ban items such as plastic foam cups and takeout containers. Tell your governor to ban single-use polystyrene items today.