A Not So New Trend - Zero Waste
The term Zero Waste is popping up on our radar lately. Here is a snapshot of the history, definition, and practices of Zero Waste. As a Ten Towns Ten Actions participant, you could lead your community to begin its first Zero Waste journey!
Quick Key Facts About Zero Waste
Today, zero waste includes the 5 Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot.
A zero-waste approach can reduce waste management emissions by 84%.
About 146 million tons of waste end up in landfills in the U.S. alone each year.
Food is the largest component of landfilled waste, about 24%.
Global e-waste reached 53.6 million metric tons from 2010 to 2019.
Recycling produces about nine times more jobs than landfill disposal.
Composting produces about double the amount of jobs that landfill disposal requires.
- courtesy of the World Economic Forum and related websites
The concept of zero-waste was first coined in the 1970s by Paul Palmer, a chemist and Yale graduate and founder of the Zero Waste Institute. Palmer had noticed that chemicals discarded by emerging tech companies in Silicon Valley were reusable, and he founded a company to find new uses for these waste chemicals. “Zero waste is a high end DESIGN principle, not a low end MATERIALS CAPTURE.”
In 1995, Daniel Knapp, a sociologist and founder of Urban Ore in Berkeley, California, toured Australia giving talks on minimizing waste. This was after he had spent several years in the U.S. discussing a concept called Total Recycling, which was later used to define zero-waste planning approaches for cities around the country. “The goal of Zero Waste policy is zero landfilling, zero burning, and maximum materials recovery.”
In 2000, the larger zero-waste movement began to take place (and continues today) as evidenced by a conference on the subject: Zero Waste Conference.
More environmental organizations took up the concept of zero waste, and the International Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) was formed in Beaumaris, Wales in 2003.
Zero Waste U.S. developed a declaration of principles of Zero Waste in 2020:
This Zero Waste World will be founded on environmental and social justice principles that help create vibrant communities in harmony with nature:
CENTER EQUITY: We stand in solidarity with and support the efforts of frontline communities and Black, Indigenous and People of Color. We envision a just and inclusive system resulting in a sustainable and regenerative future, while advocating for policies and practices that ensure human safety, equitable access to resources and opportunities, and elimination of toxins and pollution that negatively impact ecological health.
REDESIGN: We insist that manufacturers minimize and, where possible, eliminate hazards and redesign products for highest material and energy efficiency, focusing services and products to embody durability, repairability, reuse, with recycling and/or composting as a final option, in that order.
BAN WASTEFUL PRODUCTS: We will ban products that are demonstrated to be wasteful by design, or contaminate recycling or composting programs, or are problematic in the environment.
MAKE PRODUCERS RESPONSIBLE: We insist companies minimize and, where possible, eliminate the hazards their products pose to the environment and human health throughout the entire life cycle of the product, from resource extraction to final disposition. Further, producers should be held financially responsible for remedies of their product’s impacts – including costs for health care, management of discards, and environmental clean-up.
SEPARATE AT THE SOURCE: After redesign, we will collect all discarded materials and products separated at the source and further sort them into higher quality fractions for reuse, recycling, or composting, with nothing left out and nothing left over.
RESCUE FOOD AND COMPOST ORGANICS: We will establish and support programs to rescue food for people and animals, and to recover organic materials to make and use compost and mulch to reduce and sequester greenhouse gases.
SUPPORT AND EXPAND REPAIR AND REUSE: We will support existing reuse and repair organizations and infrastructure and expand opportunities for reuse and repair through outreach and education, promotion, and investment.
BUILD ZERO WASTE INFRASTRUCTURE: We will invest in Zero Waste infrastructure, including resource recovery parks, to safely salvage usable items and parts and handle all discards as resources to be refined.
END WELFARE FOR WASTING: We will end subsidies for resource extraction and support choosing recovered materials first for manufacturing.
ADVOCATE AND ADAPT AS NEEDED: We will use our power as advocates and professionals to show what is possible and help policymakers avoid mistakes in meeting the goals that we help them envision. Responses to new challenges such as pandemics, natural disasters, and weather-related emergencies should not create barriers to move towards a just world of vibrant, resilient, Zero Waste communities, in harmony with nature.