What is Zero Waste Hero? 

From January 1 – 31, 2023, Riverside County Department of Waste Resources (RCDWR) will be hosting a social media campaign on Instagram and Facebook geared toward educating and encouraging the Riverside County community about waste reduction. Participants will have the opportunity to enter weekly drawings by completing virtual, easy challenges that promote a low/zero waste lifestyle. Participants who remain engaged for the month-long series of challenges will be automatically entered into our grand prize drawings. Drawing prizes will only be awarded to Riverside County residents.

Why is waste reduction important? 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S. In 2020, municipal solid waste (MSW) accounted for approximately 14.5% of total emissions, which is approximately equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 20.3 million passenger vehicles driven for one year.  

The average person generates 4.9 pounds of waste per day, equivalent to 292.4 million tons per year in total. Less than half (almost 94 million tons) were recycled and/or composted. More than 146 million tons of MSW (50% of the total generation) were landfilled. 

Out of the 146.1 million tons of MSW landfilled, 31.35% was organic waste like food and yard trimming and 34.8% was composed of recyclable materials like paper, cardboard, glass, metals, and wood. Simply put, if the combined 66.15% were reduced, recycled and/or composted, the U.S. would be able to extend the life of landfills and drastically reduce methane emissions. 

What is zero waste and low waste? 

The Solid Waste Association of North America defines zero waste as “efforts to reduce solid waste generation to nothing, or as close to nothing as possible, by minimizing excess consumption and maximizing the recovery of solid wastes through recycling and composting." 

The Zero Waste International Alliance defines zero waste as “The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” 

Similarly, a low waste lifestyle encourages efforts to reduce solid waste generation through mindful consumption and by recycling and composting, but it approaches waste reduction in a way that can be adopted by the average person. 

Zero waste and low waste lifestyle changes 

The 6 Rs of Zero Waste 

  1. Refuse what you don’t need 

California has already adopted some changes statewide that reduce waste, such as SB 270, which bans single-use carryout bags, SB 1046, which bans plastic “pre-check out” bags used for bulk items or produce, and AB 1276, which requires that restaurants only provide plastic foodware, like cutlery, upon request. 

You can begin committing to waste reduction by using reusable tote bags for your groceries, reusable produce bags, and only using reusable foodware containers, straws, and coffee cups.  

  1. Reduce your consumption (of clothes, electronic devices, or food, for example) 

E-waste, or electronic waste, is defined as electronic items like TVs, phones, headphones, computers, printers, and other items, that have reached the end of their life or are no longer in use. E-waste can have a significant impact on human and environmental health if disposed of in landfills and must be recycled at an electronics recycling facility. You can reduce your consumption by only upgrading your devices when necessary, such as only buying a new phone, tablet, or computer once yours has become truly obsolete. 

The EPA tracked 17 million tons of textile waste in landfills in 2018, around 5.8% of the total municipal solid waste generation. Out of the 17 million tons, the EPA estimated that only 15% was recycled while the rest was either incinerated or landfilled. Textiles can take more than 200 years to decompose in landfills.  

The surge of fast fashion and microtrends has shortened the lifespan of our clothing and increased people’s consumption in order to stay on top of trends. One way to combat the ever-increasing amount of textile waste is to shop for clothing that’s already been made (secondhand or hand-me-downs) and reduce overall consumption.  

According to Feeding America, each year, 108 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. That equates to 130 billion meals and more than $408 billion in food thrown away each year. Shockingly, nearly 40% of all food in America is wasted. Food waste in our homes makes up about 39% of all food waste - about 42 billion pounds of food waste.  

  1. Repair 

In 2019, the U.S. produced 6.92 million tons of e-waste, roughly 46 pounds per person. Globally, e-waste has increased 21% from 2014 to 2019. E-waste is particularly difficult to recycle because it cannot be disposed of in a curbside bin. The mix of materials used to make electronic devices are considered hazardous waste. You can take steps to reduce electronic waste by repairing your used devices, like: 

  • Taking it to a repair shop or to a tech-savvy friend or family member 
  • Repairing it yourself – there are many tutorials online to help! 

Only 15% of textiles get donated or recycled. The remaining 85% of textiles, approximately 21 billion pounds, are landfilled annually. Instead of donating your clothing or disposing of it if it has stains or rips, repair it! Stains can be removed by using a strong, eco-friendly stain remover, which you can DIY. Small tears or missing buttons can be easily repaired with the help of an inexpensive sewing kit and online tutorials. 

  1. Reuse/Repurpose 

25% more waste is created during the holiday season (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s), producing an extra one million tons of waste each week. Celebrations with single-use plastic foodware, wrapping paper, leftovers, and the need to buy that perfect outfit for a holiday party create a preventable uptick in waste.  

Instead of buying plastic foodware that you’ll use once and throw away, opt for thrifting reusable cutlery. Buying cutlery secondhand will ensure you have unique place settings and reduce the cost of your next celebration, since you won’t have to budget for plastic foodware.  

The EPA estimates that 63.1 million tons of food waste was generated in the commercial, institutional, and residential sectors in 2018, which is 21.6% of total MSW generation. According to Recycle Track Systems, a LEED certified environmentally focused waste and recycling management company, food takes up more space in U.S. landfills than anything else. This inevitably increases during holidays like Thanksgiving, when more food than necessary is usually made. Instead of disposing of your leftovers, repurpose them! Holiday food staples like mashed potatoes, turkey, and bread rolls can be reused in other recipes days after your celebration to ensure that all your food is consumed.  

Shopping secondhand, whether it’s for clothing, furniture, appliances, or home d├ęcor, gives life to items that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Shopping at consignment stores or thrift stores will connect you with gently used items that need a home. 

Repurposing will take a bit of creativity! By repurposing, you will be taking an unused product and using it for a different purpose. Old t-shirts can be repurposed into rags, furniture can be spruced up and used in a new way, and teacups can be used as candleholders or planters. Repurposing projects are fun ways to make creative crafts while being intentional about creating less waste. 

  1. Recycle 

Recycling should be a last resort! Once you've gone through all of the other R's, recycling is the most environmentally friendly waste disposal method. While recycling saves materials, the process itself also requires energy and resources. Additionally, there is a lot of confusion from the public about source separation. Wishcycling is defined as the practice of recycling items that cannot be recycled. According to Recycle Nation, although it stems from the best of intentions, wishcycling increases the risk of your entire recyclables bin being contaminated or of causing machine jams. 

Still, recycling helps reduce the virgin resources used for materials – it is just not as waste-free as the other R’s. 

  1. Rot (compost!) 

The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy prioritizes actions organizations and individuals can take to prevent and divert wasted food. The first five are similar the 6 R’s and include source reduction, donation (by feeding hungry people and animals), and industrial use (using food scraps for energy). Before landfilling, food scraps and other organic materials should be composted! 

Compost is a nutrient-rich soil amendment. The process naturally breaks down organic materials like food and yard trimmings and the result enriches your soil and plants.   

Compost has many benefits, like: 

  • Significantly reduces the organic waste that goes to our landfills 
  • Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers 
  • Helps with reforestations, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by improving damaged soils 
  • Enhances water retention in soils  

The reduction of organic materials in our landfills not only helps extend its life – more space means more time the landfill can stay active and open – but also has the added benefit of significantly reducing methane emissions. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide and is one of the main contributors to the climate crisis. A recent assessment from the United Nations Environment Programme reported that methane is also the primary contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone, a hazardous air pollutant and greenhouse gas, exposure to which causes 1 million premature deaths every year. 



Contact Information

If you have any questions about the Zero Waste Hero Program, please call 951-486-3200 or email WasteCommunityOutreach@rivco.org to speak to a Recycling Specialist.