The United States is sinking under a tidal wave of waste.
This website is devoted to educating visitors on the state of waste management in the U.S. and what you can do about it. So please, take the time to explore the many webpages contained within. Essentially, America's (and most nations) treatment of waste is the "free market" at its worst, with the focus on making money, not sense. The U.S. has no effective federal laws or infrastructure in place to maximize recycling, minimize waste, nor protect the environment and public health. It's as if Detroit built cars, but the government refused to build any roads or pass any traffic laws. That's the current state of waste management in the United States. What happened to the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1976? The 'state plan' provisions of the Act requires the states to come up with their own plans to maximize recycling and minimize waste. A fifty-state solution was never a great idea to begin with, and as with many other environmental laws, there has been no effective enforcement by the EPA, in any case. As with so many other movements, lasting change often comes from the bottom up. The goal of 'Zero Waste' depends on ordinary people like you and me to lead by example and transition to a lifestyle that protects human health and the environment... a lifestyle that finally makes sense.
ATTENTION STUDENTS AND TEACHERS! This website is "serve yourself". We do not send out literature, etc. We will try to answer any emails, but please do not send us postal letters to respond to.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
SUMMARY of government's role
Recycling efforts struggle against three factors:No effective federal plan exists to maximize recycling and minimize waste even though the federal government took ultimate responsibility for the nation's waste management in The Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1976. The Act requires states to develop and implement plans to maximize recycling and minimize waste, but after 26 years, the states have yet to comply and the EPA is not enforcing the Act. Many states point to the lack of a comprehensive federal waste and recycling plan as the reason for their failure to successfully implement their own plans.
Foreign waste imports and U.S. domestic waste exports are virtually uncontrolled under federal law. Since 1997, the 50 states imported 48 million tons more waste than they exported, according to data in Biocycle magazine, an industry publication.
Over-population makes waste reduction extremely difficult. Most population experts believe that the ideal population for the U.S. ranges between 100-150 million people, compared to our current population of 286 million, which is growing by 3 million people, annually.
Three legislative steps to Zero Waste in the United States:
1. Develop and implement a comprehensive 'federal plan' to end waste disposal, chiefly through the use of disposal bans - these may be the best tools to support recycling, end waste disposal, and stop waste imports. States may implement 'disposal bans' now, without waiting for federal action. Minimum recycled content standards, removing unnecessary toxic components, and producer responsibility regulations can also be used to support recycling and end waste disposal. In the absence of a federal plan, litigation in the federal courts is an option for The Department of Justice, state governments, private citizens, and others to compel the EPA, as well as the states and U.S. territories, to enforce the 'sate plan' provisions of the Solid Waste Disposal Act.
2. Congressional legislation is needed to prohibit the import and export of disposal waste from foreign countries. This is an issue not addressed in the Solid Waste Disposal Act. See: Foreign Waste Imports
3. Increase support by Congress of family planning programs and non-discriminatory immigration restrictions. See: Negative Population Growth and Population-Environment Balance. However, this is not an endorsement of these groups or contraceptives (estrogen and progestin), which are harmful to human health and the environment (particularly drinking water).
ADDITIONAL WASTE ISSUES AND INFORMATION:
Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1976 - The Act required states to develop and implement "state plans" that "maximize" waste reduction and recycling by 1980. Most states ignored the Act and implemented voluntary recycling programs, instead. EPA has refused to enforce the Act on the false premises of 'unfunded mandate' and state control.
State Waste Imports - The Federal Courts have ruled that states can not control waste imports through discriminatory laws directed against waste imports. However, ‘disposal bans’, when equally applied to both in-state and out-of-state waste, do not discriminate and do pass judicial review.
Economics of Waste - For every one job waste disposal creates, recycling creates 5-10 jobs. It is estimated that Americans spend $100/ton to dispose of 'municipal waste'. In 1999, we disposed of approximately 274 million tons of mostly municipal waste at an approximate cost of $27 billion. That may be only 2% of total waste disposed. In addition, industries that compete directly with recycling (mining, logging, etc.), received 15 federal tax and spending subsidies totaling $13 billion from 1992-1997.
Statistics - America generates more waste every year, growing from a 247 million tons of non-hazardous waste in 1990, to 409 million tons in 2001, according to BioCycle magazine, an industry publication. Although 32% of municipal waste is reported to be recycled, there are two problems with this picture. One is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated in 1988 that municipal waste was only 2% of all waste generated, and secondly, the total amount of waste generated, recycled, or disposed is not truly known because the EPA has not collected or confirmed that data. Failure to do so is in violation of federal requirements.
Waste Disposed (or Generated - Recycled) + Imports + Exports ÷ Population = Waste Mgt. Performance
States' Politics of Waste - In order to placate public outrage at uncontrolled waste imports, some state legislatures have passed legislation that discriminates against out-of-state waste - a tactic they know won’t pass federal court review.
Federal Interstate Waste Legislation - Many politicians have said that only Congressional action can stop waste imports. Not true. Disposal bans can be used to affect waste imports. Also, most of the proposed federal legislation does not protect states from waste imports, but instead allows local communities to sign agreements with waste companies, over-riding potential state laws to limit waste imports.
Editor's note: Some of the info on this website has not been updated. That said, not much has changed on the old trash pile. March 14, 2010