What Does it Mean to be Zero Waste?

Zero Waste philosophy is a relatively new term that describes a simple concept: to conserve resources by eliminating the creation or disposal of permanent waste products. Recycling is certainly an important part of this philosophy, but it is only one of many components needed to achieve an ideal level of sustainability. Complete elimination of waste is a distant goal for many jurisdictions, but some cities in the United States have already stated their support for the concept and have set zero waste goals for the future.

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Redefining the Process of Consumption

One of the central aspects of the Zero Waste philosophy is to transition the conventional process of consumption to a cyclical cycle rather than a linear system. The current linear system begins with extraction and ends with the destruction of waste, with waste produced at virtually every stage of the process. A cyclical view of consumption emphasizes conservation of limited resources and minimization of unrecoverable environmental contamination. A cyclical no-waste system relies on recovery infrastructure, like recycling plants, as well as community programs, government support, and citizen engagement.

Fundamentals of Zero Waste Philosophy

The concept may be simple and straightforward, but there are many factors to account for when considering policies that eliminate waste. Rather than focus on the responsible recycling and disposal of waste, Zero Waste philosophy also prioritizes efficiency in resource allocation, manufacturing processes, and consumer habits. Conserving and recovering resources without the need to burn material or discharge any hazardous compounds into the environment is a fundamental goal of the philosophy, according to the Zero Waste International Alliance.

Methods for Achieving Sustainability

Achieving a state of complete sustainability with no waste is a lofty goal for any project, but it is much more manageable when broken down into stages. Businesses and households can make the transition in a matter of months or years, while communities and cities may need to set longer milestones. Going Zero Waste requires a complete evaluation and transition in normal activities, whether it’s in a family home or massive office building. Changing the design and packaging of products to discourage consumer waste is a priority for businesses, as is the reduction of water, power, and general material use. Composting, recycling and donating unwanted objects are all viable objectives for any domestic or commercial environment.

Application by Local Governments

Since waste is often managed on a municipal or local level, city governments have taken the initiative in pursuing Zero Waste philosophy in the United States. In fact, the government of Fort Collins, Colorado has already stated and outlined a plan to achieve this objective, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Several other cities, including San Francisco and Boulder, have also indicated that achieving a no waste environment is one of their current policy objectives.

Responsible production, usage, and disposal processes aren’t always cheaper or easier than conventional ones, but they do present an opportunity to adopt a stable system that mitigates the destructive nature of linear consumption. Going Zero Waste is a goal for many people, businesses and governments, but even reaching some of the early milestones on the journey can be a meaningful and worthwhile accomplishment.