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The Importance of Zero Waste

Photo by Tom Fisk, via

According to the United Nations Day of Zero Waste, 2.1 to 2.3 billion tons of solid waste are produced yearly; only a maximum of 62% of it is managed by controlled facilities. Why is this important though? Everything we as consumers buy, produces some form of waste. Every new product we buy is wrapped in thin sheets of plastic, boxes, or empty bottles that are all trash items to be thrown away shortly after. To put this into perspective, according to CalRecycle, individuals in California throw away approximately 2000 pounds of trash per year, totaling 40 million tons of trash going into landfills from California alone. Defining Zero Waste mentions that only 69.1 million tons of waste are actually recycled.

One issue with zero waste is that the concept is still so new that there isn’t a consistent definition of zero waste. Defining Zero Waste mentions that the US Conference of Mayors defines zero waste as going beyond the bounds of recycling so that it encompasses products from creation to the end of the product's life cycle. The Zero Waste International Alliance defines zero waste as the conservation of resources through the ethical and environmentally conscious production and disposal of products; none of which can cause risks or harm to human health. Defining Zero Waste varies definitions of zero waste but they boil down to extending the responsibility of producers when they design products and their packaging, reducing waste and toxicity, repairing, reusing, donating, recycling, composting, and limiting landfill waste disposal.

National Geographic covers the process of landfills and how they are managed in one of their articles titled Landfills; what’s most important to note is that landfills are capable of producing methane gas alongside flammable toxins when the waste starts to decompose. While these landfills are managed more effectively to protect human health presently than they have in the past, there are still risks for leaks and other environmental concerns. These leaks can be of methane and other toxins, or they can infiltrate local groundwater sources, which will contaminate communities' drinking sources. National Geographic also makes it abundantly clear that these landfills are disproportionately placed near low-income and colored communities, putting an already disadvantaged group of people at increased risk of detrimental health impacts. This means that if we can collectively make efforts to limit our personal need for landfills, we are also contributing to the quality of health for people who have increased exposure to these damaging effects.

How do we decrease our reliance on landfills then? One Tree Planted provides a list of 21 effective ways people can reduce their amount of waste, and how to limit contributions. Going zero waste may sound daunting, but there are many small steps people can take to move closer. Little by little, people can swap their practices such as buying in bulk, buying reusable shopping bags, or composting their scraps. Just like that, you’re already massively reducing the amount of waste produced in the household!


  1. (n.d.). 2021 Disposal facility-based Waste Characterization Study. CalRecycle Home Page.

  2. Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, November 22). How Communities Have Defined Zero Waste. EPA.

  3. How to reduce waste: 21 ideas for Zero waste living. One Tree Planted. (n.d.). (2024, January 16).

  4. National Geographic. (n.d.). Landfills. Education .

  5. United Nations. (n.d.). International Day of Zero Waste. United Nations.


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