Our country has a serious waste problem. Although the United States makes up only 4% of the world’s population, it produces more than 12% of the waste on the planet. This equates to an average of 4.9 pounds of trash per person per day. Nationwide, only about a third of our waste is recycled or composted, but most ends up in landfills, incinerators, or ends up in the environment.
This year, the 25th annual American Recycle Day falls on November 15th. Recycling is important, but I’m not going to recycle my way out of the waste problem. Perhaps we should start by creating a new event called “America Reduces Day”. Of course, this has to happen to him on all days of the year, not just once.
The footprint of the waste crisis is staggering. Every 15.5 hours, the American throws away enough plastic to fill his AT&T Stadium with the Dallas Cowboys, the nation’s largest football stadium. About 16.5 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year. Plastic debris is one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity, entangling, poisoning and obstructing the digestive tracts of marine animals.
Food waste is another major part of this problem. The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that 30-40% of the US food supply is wasted. This equates to about £133 billion and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. Healthy food that would have helped feed families in need is therefore sent to landfills. Furthermore, we waste land, water and energy to produce, transport, store and ultimately dispose of never-eaten food.
In total, America’s waste accounts for 42% of America’s total greenhouse gas emissions. When all resource extraction, production, disposal, and transportation are considered, America’s waste problem significantly exacerbates climate change.
PIRG and Environment America have released a report, “Trash in America,” detailing the steps needed to end the waste crisis and achieve a zero-waste economy. First, we need to aim for single-use plastic. Efforts to ban single-use plastic waste have stalled at the federal level, but policies are gaining momentum in states such as Maine, Maryland and Vermont. In 2020, New Jersey passed the most comprehensive plastic law in the nation. The bill bans the use of single-use plastic and paper bags in large grocery stores, bans the use of Styrofoam containers in restaurants, and requires the production of plastic straws only on request from spring 2022. I was. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently issued some new regulations to curb waste disposal, but state legislatures are banning single-use plastics, updating bottle bills and establishing producer responsibility. We are behind on the bill to do so.
The best way to reduce food loss and waste is to avoid creating excess food in the first place. Food waste can be avoided by improving product development, storage, shopping habits, labeling and preparation. For food waste that cannot be eliminated, composting should become commonplace at the local and state level.
Producer responsibility is key to solving the waste crisis. One of the big problems is that manufacturers produce a lot of wasteful products and packaging, but when we buy these things, waste becomes our problem. Producers must be responsible for waste generated from the use of their products. For example, the Bottle Bill makes companies that manufacture beverage containers responsible for recycling their materials.
Another requirement is ease of repair. There is a move at the state and federal level to enact “Right to Repair” legislation. The Right to Repair policy requires the company to provide the necessary tools and information for repairs, so you don’t have to dispose of things if some of the parts break.
Common sense zero waste practices can move away from the current consumption economy where products are manufactured, used a few times and then discarded, to a more circular system. We can create a world where we consume less, reuse more, repair what we have, and recycle what we no longer need.
One of the first steps we must take is to set a goal of achieving zero waste. Let’s remember the old mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – “Reduce” is the most important.
Janet Domenitz is Executive Director of MASSPIRG and the MASSPIRG Education Fund.