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Zero Waste PA

Our so-called “throwaway” culture is causing an environmental crisis. It’s time for solutions that will protect our environment and move us away from a disposable society.

In Pennsylvania, like all of America, we have a “stuff” problem. We are encouraged to make, use and toss at the greatest possible speed.  That includes items we use once — products such as plastic grocery bags, polystyrene takeout containers, plastic straws and disposable bottles — as well as items we rely on to keep our lives running — such as cell phones, computers and other electronics. But they all share one thing in common: when we’re done with them, there are few easy, affordable, accessible options other than just throwing them away. Only, there is no “away.”

We need to address this growing waste crisis. It’s time to end our addiction to single-use plastics; to tackle the largest and fastest growing sources of our waste stream; and to make sure that it’s never cheaper to throw something away where it will clog our landfills or release air pollution from an incinerator, than to reduce, reuse and recycle. We’re calling this plan Zero Waste PA.

  • <h4>TOO MUCH SINGLE-USE PLASTIC</h4><h5>Every day, Americans throw away more than 70 million polystyrene cups, 300 million single-use plastic bags and nearly half a billion plastic straws.</h5><em>Helen89 via Shutterstock.com</em>
  • <h4>GROWING ELECTRONIC WASTE PROBLEM</h4><h5>Discarded phones, TVs, computers and other electronics (often called “e-waste”) is the nation’s fastest growing portion of the municipal waste stream.</h5><em>Pixabay.com</em>
  • <h4>TRASHING OUR STATE</h4><h5>Pennsylvania is the #1 importer of trash from other states in the nation, adding to our landfill problems.</h5><em>Ben Kerckx from Pixabay</em>
Tackling single-use plastics

Pollution from single-use plastics — straws, polystyrene food takeout containers, plastic bags, and plastic water bottles — have become the poster child showing how our throw-away society harms our environment and puts our health at risk. We're barraged with images of islands made of plastics floating in our oceans, sea turtles choking on plastic bags, and sea birds strangling on plastic packaging.

PennEnvironment is teaming up with legislators in Harrisburg to tackle the most insidious forms of single-use plastic waste. Specifically, we've introduced legislation that will ban straws except upon request, ban foam takeout food containers and cups, and put a fee on single-use plastic bags. We are also introducing successful legislation from other states like the five-cent deposit on beverage bottles and cans that are used in 10 states to increase recycling rates.

Addressing our largest — and fastest growing — waste streams

Through our Zero Waste PA package, PennEnvironment wants to make sure we're tackling the largest waste streams in our throwaway society. The largest source is food waste and organic waste, which makes up a whopping 22 percent of our overall residential waste stream. And the fastest growing is electronic waste (often called “e-waste”) as consumers dispose of more phones, televisions, computers and electronic devices each year. E-waste is also one of the most toxic parts of our waste stream: while e-waste represents only 2 percent of America’s trash in landfills, it represents 70 percent of the toxicity in this waste stream.

To put Pennsylvania on a path to solving these problems, PennEnvironment has included legislation in the Zero Waste PA package to develop and implement state-required composing programs, and to improve and enhance Pennsylvania's e-waste recycling law in order to capture more electronic waste to keep it out of landfills and incinerators.

Removing incentives for waste over "reduce, reuse, recycle"

One of our biggest challenges to moving away from a throwaway society is the fact that it's often cheaper to send things to a landfill or incinerator instead of recycling or reducing products from our waste stream in the first place. For example, Pennsylvania's incredibly low cost of sending trash to landfills and incinerators doesn't only make it harder to break the cycle of a disposable society, it also makes Pennsylvania the largest importer of out-of-state waste in the nation, as other states send us their trash for disposal. At the same time, Pennsylvania hasn't increased funding rates for the state's Recycling Fund in thirty years, meaning that there are less financial resources for our cities and counties to expand and improve their recycling efforts.

Through the Zero Waste PA package, PennEnvironment works to put the "Three R's" over throwing away by increase funding for recycling programs in the state, allowing local governments to have more tools to fund recycling in their communities, and increasing the cost for sending waste to our landfills and incinerators as well as for those who litter and dump waste illegally.

PennEnvironment Director David Masur (podium) is joined by state legislators to announce the introduction of the Zero Waste PA package.

We can move towards a Zero Waste PA

We can make three big dents in the problem by getting rid of the stuff that we use once and throw away, making it easier to repair stuff that would otherwise be thrown away, and never making it cheaper to throw things away versus to reuse and recycle them.

That’s why we’ve been working with a group of legislators in the state capitol to design the Zero Waste PA package of legislation.

Zero Waste PA will address some of the most pervasive, harmful sources of this waste through a package of legislation that will address many of the most common single-use plastics (polystyrene food containers, plastic bags, plastic bottled water bottles, etc), some of the largest sources of our waste stream (such as organic and food waste), and the fastest growing sources of waste (e-waste). 

Ask Pennsylvania lawmakers to ban foam containers

Moving beyond plastic foam is something we can do right now, right here. If we win, we’ll see a difference in cleaner beaches and parks, and we’ll know it’s making a difference to the wildlife in our rivers, lakes and oceans.

Let’s choose wildlife over waste. Tell our governor and lawmakers to ban plastic foam take-out cups and containers.