Zero Waste Policy Roadmap for a Plastic-Free Future



NCEL Point of Contact

Julia Meltzer
Zero Waste Coordinator



Plastic pollution is a global crisis causing extensive public health and ecological adversities. Single-use plastics are the most pervasive plastic pollutants that contain hazardous substances and that slowly break down into smaller particles that stay in the environment. Plastic is largely made from fossil fuels, and production is expected to increase by more than 30% over the next decade. At a current national recycling rate of 5%, recycling won’t ever be able to keep pace with the production or generation of single-use plastics. Many policies currently focus on how to manage waste once generated. But to address the full extent of the plastic pollution crisis, comprehensive policy strategies are needed that account for the full life cycle of plastics and remediate the problem upstream where it’s created.

This roadmap is intended to strengthen the analysis of policy solutions so that decision-makers can transform our waste system into a just, toxic-free, circular economy. To do this, the roadmap connects policy solutions to environmental justice and climate goals. Each of the five sections within the roadmap (shown below) contains equity and justice considerations and key policy options. The policies highlighted have been identified using criteria that: (1) centers justice and equity, (2) prevents further petrochemical buildout, (3) protects public health, (4) avoids regrettable substitutions, (5) drives momentum away from resource extraction.


NCEL Resources

Online Resources

NCEL Plastic Pollution Webpage

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NCEL Extended Producer Responsibility Webpage

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