Zero Waste

Why Zero Waste


Zero waste is a waste management approach that benefits people and the environment by reducing toxicity, conserving resources, and facilitating economic development in communities. The goal of zero waste is to conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

New Jersey is far from achieving zero waste. Despite laws and regulations requiring all residences, commercial properties, and office buildings to recycle, the majority of the waste generated in our state ends up at an incinerator or in a landfill. In addition, largely due to pressure from the fossil fuel industry to find new uses for their products, the use of single-use plastics like carry-out bags, takeout containers, food wrappings, etc. is on the rise.


New Jersey’s New Bill to Reduce Solid Waste

Sierra Club NJ is lobbying for a strong EPR bill to reduce solid waste from packaging.

EPR, Extended Producer Responsibility, tasks industry to pay and to innovate in order to solve the huge waste problems made from the sale of their own products. EPR Bills are making a timely entrance into a growing global waste crisis. Over the coming year, New Jersey legislators will be increasingly focused on an EPR Packaging Bill. 

Municipalities have been strapped with sharply increased waste management costs. EPR is an environmental management strategy mandating that the Producer (the manufacturer/brand owner) take responsibility for reducing waste and recycling the packaging used to sell his product. EPR bills specifically for packaging are presently being formulated across the US. This is a vital initiative because packaging forms a large classification of waste material - roughly 30-40% of global solid waste.

To date, only four states have passed statewide EPR legislation of some sort for packaging.  These bills focus on single use packages (SUP) and may involve one or more various materials - plastics, glass, paper and metals.

Packaging EPR Bills are severely needed to reduce the huge and growing volume of global waste.  Future waste growth is linked to the global population increase which is projected to reach 10 billion in 2050 - up from a current 7.9 billion. ‘Global Waste’ is currently slightly more than 2.1 billion tons annually and projections suggest there will be slightly more than 3.4 billion tons by 2050. While China and India produce the greatest total volume of solid waste, the US is first in the world on a per capita basis at this time. New Jersey has already passed an important Plastic Bag Ban Law (PL 2020) as well as a Recycled Content Law (PL 2021), and now needs to focus on a strong EPR Bill. 

U.S. EPR Bill Tracker

New Jersey Takes the Lead on Banning Single-Use Plastics

In 2020, New Jersey passed the most comprehensive ban on throw-away plastic products in the nation. Phased in over 18 months, the bill will prohibit grocery stores and other businesses from handing out single-use plastic bags. Larger stores also will be barred from giving out paper bags. The bill also bans polystyrene foam containers and only allows plastic straws on request. The New Jersey Chapter was one of many organizations that worked energetically for the passage of this bill. Our Chapter paved the way by working to get over 60 municipalities to adopt local bans. 

This bill provides an important model for other states to follow. While many states are adopting similar plastic bans, and they are extremely popular, there are unfortunately, many states that have passed or are considering pre-emptive legislation to prohibit similar bans.

Keep an Eye on “Recycling” Processes – Not Always So Green

We are monitoring a number of suppliers who have approached legislators and State administrators with so-called “recycling” processes or “green” manufacturing processes that recycle or incorporate waste materials. These include processes such as chemical recycling and pyrolysis, which are inefficient, and add more toxins to the environment. “Biochar” processing is another polluting, so-called recycling process that is positioned as “wastewater recycling.” These sludge plants emit thousands of pounds of toxic air pollutants. 

“Low-carbon” Concrete: Not an Environmentally Friendly Solution for Using Waste

“Low-carbon” concrete has been proposed in New Jersey as a more environmentally-friendly solution to concrete, using incinerated municipal waste. Concrete production accounts for roughly 8% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. While many “green cement” alternatives have been proposed, few, if any, have turned out to be environmentally neutral. “The Sierra Club supports adoption of construction materials that have a low carbon footprint, that are made from sustainable raw materials and with renewable energy sources, that prevent waste by design rather than managing it after-the-fact… and that are safe and reliable for their intended use.” Overall, the Sierra Club supports planning in which concrete-based engineering is not the go-to solution for solving infrastructure and building issues.

Get Involved

If you’re interested in the volunteer Zero Waste Coordinator position, please read the full job description here and contact Richard Isaac, at