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The Zero Waste Act: A Key Part of the Green New Deal

Waste and climate change go hand-in-hand. That’s why Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota introduced the Zero Waste Act to Congress in July. The bill aims to create a federal grant program to help cities invest in zero waste initiatives and will provide up to $250 million in funding between 2020-2027, if passed. It’s also being called a "key part of the Green New Deal.”

The United States alone generates over 250 million tons of waste each year. Most of the waste is not recycled, composted or reused. The Zero Waste Act seeks to end the use of toxic landfills as a part of its fight against pollution and the climate crisis. If approved, Omar says it will create jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean waterways, protect communities from health hazards, grow the economy, and more.  

"The Zero Waste Act is spectacular and exactly the direction our country should be taking," Judith Enck, former EPA Regional Administrator and founder of Beyond Plastics, told Waste Dive. "Recycling and composting will [create] many new jobs and end the export of our waste problems to other nations, as is currently happening with plastic exports to Asia."

We know reducing your waste can be hard. That’s why we encourage people to start their journey down an eco-friendly path with something small, like a straw. With the help of representatives and progressive legislation around the country, we’ll be on track to a zero waste economy before you know it. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the Zero Waste Act in a two minute read:

To be eligible to receive a grant under the Zero Waste Act, the entity must demonstrate that their proposed project has set specific source reduction or waste prevention targets. The project must also be carried out in communities that are in the 80th percentile or higher for one or more pollutants, like the levels of particulate matter in the air, as noted in the EJSCREEN tool of the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Projects that demonstrate how the Zero Waste Hierarchy was considered will take first priority. A project will also take priority if it demonstrates how it could lead to the creation of new jobs that pay a living wageespecially if the jobs created can employ individuals with barriers to employmentor if it will use grant funds for source reduction, or waste prevention, in schools. 


Now here’s a look at the different kinds of projects these funds can be used for: 

Organic Recycling Infrastructure, provided that the project would result in an increased capacity for source separated streams, i.e. separating recyclable materials at home or a place of business. The project must also generate a usable product that has demonstrable environmental benefits when compared to the input materials, such as compost with added nutritional content.

Electronic Waste Reuse And Recycling, provided that the project does not include an electronic waste ‘‘buy-back’’ program, i.e. a program that incentivizes people to “recycle” their old electronics in exchange for store credit.  

Source Reduction, such as educational programs and outreach activities that ultimately encourage behavioral changes in consumers. These projects could also focus on product and manufacturing redesign/redevelopment that will help reduce byproducts, packaging, and other outputs. 

Market Development, that creates demand for sorted recyclable commodities and refurbished goods. Projects must target easily or commonly recycled materials that are disproportionately disposed of in landfills or incinerated.