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As Seen in the May June 2002 Earthday ResourcesMay - June 2002
Beyond Recycling: The Zero Waste Solution

As today's throwaway society consumes more and more products, we also generate more and more waste. Much of this waste gets burned in incinerators or buried in landfills, causing a series of environmental problems including water pollution, air pollution and loss of open space.

But what if we didn't create waste at all? That ’s the vision of groups like the GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN), INFORM, and These organizations are working to eliminate waste at the source by requiring manufacturers to take back their products when they are no longer useful. Currently, 75 percent of products discarded in municipal landfills and incinerators are manufactured. If manufacturers were required to take back products at the end of the products' lifecycles, they would factor the cost of waste into the total cost of the product. With what is called “extended producer responsibility,” reusing, reducing and recycling old products makes financial sense for product manufacturers—and it gets us closer to achieving zero waste.
Extended producer responsibility works. Currently, 10 states require a 5-or 10-cent deposit on bottles and cans, giving consumers an incentive to recycle, and manufacturers a duty to take back their old, discarded products. In those 10 states, citizens recycle more containers than in the other 40 states combined.

Now, if manufacturers were required to take back their containers in all 50 states rather than being given cost-free unlimited access to municipal landfills and incinerators for their discarded products, they would change the way they produce their bottles: With so many discarded bottles and cans coming back to the manufacturers, it would make financial sense for them to reuse, or at least recycle the containers.

GRRN and the Container Recycling Institute are working to make sure every state requires manufacturers to take back their containers. But until that happens, groups like GRRN and have been working to persuade Coke and Pepsi to use 25 percent recycled plastic in their bottles. Go to and [off-site] for more information on these campaigns.

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