Zero Waste

"Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action." -Greta Thunburg

Landfills and waste incinerators pose a threat to health, communities, and the environment. Safer, healthier alternatives exist and clf works to put them into practice. clf launched the Zero Waste Project to protect New England communities from the dangers posed by unsustainable waste management practices. 

from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation:

We must change how we design, use, and reuse plastics. We cannot simply recycle or reduce our way out of the plastic pollution crisis. If we don’t act now, by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans. 

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

History & Concepts 

- 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.

A Zero Waste Hierarchy

How to Get Started

From Zero Waste Beginner’s Guide (Earth Easy)

A Zero Waste lifestyle starts with looking at your overall habits and trying to change those that generate waste. Here are some guidelines for those considering this approach for the first time.

1. Streamline what you bring into your home.

If we bring less through the door, our homes will be easier to manage and we’ll have less waste overall. This goes for the food we buy, the clothing we wear, the toys we permit our children to play with, and everything else in between. Bea Johnson once shared how she and her family sold their large home and moved into a small rental apartment, placing 80% of their belongings in storage while they searched for a new house. When the time came to move into their forever home, they realized they hadn’t missed most of those possessions. What had once seemed like necessities were no longer part of their lifestyle.(To learn how to streamline possessions already in your home, read How to Tidy Up the Eco-Friendly Way).

2. Shop at bulk food stores using reusable containers.

If you are lucky enough to have a Zero Waste store in your neighborhood, you’ll have access to a wide variety of unpackaged products, from dry goods to fermented foods to soap and hygiene products. If you are not so lucky, choose a local grocery store with the largest bulk food aisle. It’s also important to find a store that permits you to weigh (or ‘tare’) your own bags and containers before filling. Deducting the weight of your container at the till can mean substantial savings over an entire grocery order. If you’re not sure what types of containers to use, read our article about The Best Eco-Friendly Alternatives for the Plastic in Your Life.

3. Refuse unnecessary products and promotional items.

Saying “no” can be challenging in a culture where we’re taught to be polite and take whatever’s handed to us. But the reality is that most promotional items are poorly constructed or made from cheap materials that won’t last long before breaking—ending up in the landfill before the year’s out. Most people will understand if you explain, without judgment, why you don’t need the item.

4. Carry your own containers for takeout.

In addition to bringing your own containers while shopping, carry your own set of reusable containers for eating on the go. You can bring them to work empty to fill with a takeout lunch, or fill yourself at home with delicious and nutritious foods. When you get home, pop them in the dishwasher or the sink, clean, and bring again the following day. Zero waste blogger Kathryn Kellogg itemizes what goes into her bag for some more ideas.

5. Reconsider some of your favorite products.

Can you replace some of the products you buy with others that come package-free? Many people who adopt a Zero Waste lifestyle find that they don’t need the variety of products they once thought they couldn’t do without. This includes some cleaning products, personal care products, and cosmetics.

6. Use up what you have.

Before replacing every item in your house with Zero Waste alternatives, use up what you have and dispose of the waste responsibly. Where possible, recycle the component parts. Make changes when it makes sense to do so. Zero Waste isn’t something that most people do all at once.


Kirstie Pecci, Executive Director of Just Zero

Presentation to the NH Network Plastics Working Group on February 5, 2023

Zero Waste USA -

Zero Waste Hierarchy -

Charting a Path Towards Zero Waste

The Managing and Transforming Waste Streams Tool from the EPA:  Explore 100 policies and programs communities can implement to reduce the amount of waste disposed in landfills and promote waste prevention and materials reuse across waste generation sectors. Access city and county ordinance, contract, and franchise agreement language and program websites. 

One item of the 100, is "Consider renaming the Solid Waste Department to the Zero Waste Department."

Another topic is Mandatory Retailer Take Back: Requiring businesses that sell items that must be collected as Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) or are not currently reusable, recyclable, or compostable locally to take those items back for proper reuse, recycling, or disposal.

There are community examples for each action. 

Infographic by Cindy Heath, Ten Towns Toolkit Leader from Cornish, NH with help from Christina Dubin from Portsmouth

Practice mindful consumption! From the Ecology Center (