Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal


The United States has a waste problem. It represents only five percent of the world population, yet it generates twenty-five to thirty percent of the world’s waste. In 2008, the United States generated 389.5 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW). As our economy and population continue to grow, our waste will continue to grow as well. The obvious dilemma is that all of this waste, the byproduct of our economic advances, creates significant adverse environmental and public health effects when landfilled or incinerated.

This Article explores the use of extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws to achieve the ultimate waste management goal: “zero waste.” Zero waste is achieved through the complete diversion of MSW from landfills and incinerators, resource conservation, and sustainable product redesign. Historically, MSW has been dumped in landfills or deposited in waste incinerators, practices that have allowed for robust commerce and economic growth. However, these typical waste management practices cause vast amounts of air, water, and soil pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and other adverse environmental and public health issues associated with burying or burning our garbage.