Chemistry doctorate from Yale. Graduate of Stuyvesant High School in NYC. Avid folkdancer. Fluent in Turkish and not too bad in Danish. Also German. Born NYC, lived in Connecticut, Indiana, Turkey, Denmark and California.
NEWS FLASH – Today July 13, 2021, Ralph Nader interviewed Paul Palmer on his radio hour. If you listened, and would like to contact Paul for further discussions, call 707-235-6155 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To hear the interview, click the triangle here:
As a result of the Nader interview, many new developments are taking place in applying Zero Waste Theory to real situations. We are working with other activists across the globe. Follow along here in months to come as we report on our struggles and successes. For background information on what ZW theory means, look especially at PRINCIPLES and PROJECTS. These will lead you to other links that I hope you will find interesting. Hopefully you would like to join our efforts. Please send an email to Paul, explaining your location, age, education, attitude and what special skills you could bring to a non-profit environmental organization.
Please note that this website is for READERS! If you prefer sound bites, celebrity links and flashing images, you probably won’t be happy with the website. But if you are looking for solid information on how to really eliminate all of the waste being discarded around the world, including all the plastic in the ocean, this is the only place to be.
WHAT IS ZERO WASTE THEORY?
ZWT attempts a scientific analysis of the creation of all the goods of industry, in hopes of eventually solving the emerging problems associated with the wanton creation and distribution of hordes of needed and unneeded goods with no real plan for their ultimate fates. There are two main domains needing analysis – the process of creating the goods and the components of the goods.
CREATING PERSONAL AND INDUSTRIAL GOODS
Most goods start with a recognized need for creation of some material object (we are not primarily concerned with soft or intellectual goods except if they have a medium of substance, such as a book). Some of those needs satisfy a real human need that cannot be denied. Some satisfy some soft or imagined need that could be dispensed with. Some are purely dispensable and don’t add to human life at all. We would arguably be better off without them.
AN EXAMPLE – A GLASS BOTTLE
Now what are the components of hard goods. First there is a design which usually attempts to design the hard objects themselves. Then there is a factory or small business or workshop that does the actual manufacturing. The manufacturing process takes in raw materials and combines them with human effort to create the greatest component of the good – its FUNCTION. Finally the finished product consists of function and remanent materials.
There is one simple object which presents all of the features I have described above and which I like to use. That is a glass bottle which has been sent out into the marketplace to play a role. For specificity, let us assume we are talking about a bottle which contains wine, though it could contain thousands of other products. It is made from raw materials, in this case certain minerals which can be melted together to form glass. The primary material is silica, or silicon dioxide, usually found in the form of sand. A few percent of other minerals change the behavior of the silica when it is melted.
We can recognize that this bottle plays a needed role in human life, assuming people actively desire to purchase wine. So it is not one of those dispensable commodities.
Bottles are usually made in large factories having furnaces for melting and mixing the glass and dies (forms), for creating the bottles. The bottles have distinctive forms, such as wide neck, narrow neck, made for corks or made for screw caps. Some have distinctive shapes or embossing which can be recognized as belonging to a particular brand (this latter trait is even more advanced when we discuss other kinds of glass bottles). They have an obvious function – they are containers,they contain.
The factories are large enough to require dedicated industrial equipment and dedicated workers. They use lots of fuel for the furnaces and lots of cooling air and clean water to keep the workplace tolerable. They use electrical energy for moving bulks, blowing the glass, creating the dies, and cooling the finished bottles. They conventionally use a lot of paper fiber in the form of cartons that the bottles are packed in for shipping. A major input is located in the human labor that makes them run. The workers have homes, families and commutes. They require houses, food, clothing, vehicles, healthcare and education for their children. The factories are not as enormous, expensive and dedicated as factories for making highly technical electronic equipment but they are typical industrial factories.
While the factory may make thousands or millions of bottles every day, still, every bottle can be thought of as using up a proportion of all the inputs listed above. Any bottle that is lost or broken represents a loss of all the labor, air, fuel and electricity and more that went into its creation.
Still more energy and input is expended when the new bottles are shipped to a particular winery, filled, labeled and sealed (corks?) and still more when the bottles are then shipped to a retail establishment with all of its own attendant inputs, including more labor.
Most such wines are consumed in a convivial setting, either a dispensing establishment such as a bar or party, or a home.
Ultimately the bottle is opened, emptied and set aside. What will now happen to it?
THE BOTTLE’S FATE
Suddenly we find ourselves the captives of a process that took place so long ago, even before the bottle was conceived. We mentioned a design. At that time we left it as though all the design covered was the details of the physical object, but no, the design also controlled the fate of the now empty bottle.
In today’s usual commercial world, the designer made one assumption about the empty bottle’s fate. He expected that it would be tossed away, into a garbage can and carried to a dump where this virtually indestructible material would remain until the sun explodes and remelts the earth’s shell. How was this design option realized? To begin with, no other fate was planned for. There could have been a central collection place for emptied bottles but no such thing exists today, so the dump is the fate of choice. As we will see below, he could have designed for the bottle to be refilled with wine but no such refilling place exists, so the dump is the fate of choice. He could have applied a screw on seal, with the cheap, light seals widely available but he is more likely to have forced a cork into the featureless neck of the bottle, using special industrial machinery not available to the home user, thus making refilling even more difficult.
Actually, the designer didn’t invent garbage dumps. He gave no thought to the bottle’s fate. It was left with no place to go, so third parties jumped into the vacuum and arranged to just throw it willy nilly into some hole in the ground. The most wasteful and irresponsible approach became the default.
In the last few decades, one more fate, that labels itself an alternative, has emerged. This consists of breaking the bottle into glass pieces, mixing the broken glass together and taking it to the melt furnace factory to be remelted. This acquired the name recycling.
A few things should be obvious about recycling. First, the FUNCTION which identified the bottle, has vanished. It is now back to a cheap mineral for melting.
Second, the “mineral” is worth even less than the original mineral raw material because it contains all kinds of colors, all kinds of mixed mineral compositions and dirt which must be removed if it doesn’t simply burn off.
Third, the broken glass must now be processed through the expensive and high-input factory, using up all of those environmentally undesirable input losses all over again. So what has been accomplished? Nothing of any value! This is because the method of recycling conserves the least valuable of all the components of the final goods, only the materials.
Unfortunately, the people of the world have swallowed the Kool-Aid, they have fallen for this pretense of a solution to waste generation. Then in turn, they have demanded support for this fake solution from their politicians. Listen to a discussion on KPFA radio about legislation to increase and support recycling that recently took place. The participants are unaware that all of the changes and laws they are depending on will fail and be found useless because the recycling approach must always fail.
THE ZERO WASTE APPROACH
Obviously the basic problem lies with the inadequate design. In order to avoid wasting all of those factory inputs all over again what we need to conserve is the function. How do we do that? Remember the function of a container is to contain. So we must find a way to refill the container. This doesn’t happen by happy circumstance. It needs to be part of the original design that there will exist, in the commercial society, an establishment, a store where refilling can easily happen. We need to replace some of the function of a grocery or supermarket with a new kind of market – a refilling station. In our case, we would be able to refill wine. But in the more general case, we would need to be able to refill hundreds of different liquids and many flowable units or powders, such as rice, beans or pancake mix. We have already made a start by the bulk item dispensers now found in many supermarkets. But we need to take off from this basic beginning and get much more sophisticated. Refilling has got to become the normal, the default way of reusing containers.
It is unfortunate that so much time has been wasted by now with this unproductive, useless approach called recycling. But at least we need to start now to do so much better.
TO SUM UP ….
It should be obvious to the reader that the example of a glass bottle is only the merest beginning of an analysis. Every single object made by our wasteful society can profit from the same kind of analysis. This not only includes every kind of packaging (which people have been focusing on), every kind of plastic object (stop dumping plastic in the ocean), every appliance (see how perpetual repair can be built into the design) but also every piece of industrial machinery, every sidewalk, every street, every building, every airplane, truck and car. Zero Waste Theory of design is the way it can be done. This will be a major focus of industrial research. The answers will not magically fall into our laps, but must be found by research. One solution will not fit all goods. We must begin now, because irresponsible, capitalistic markets for maximum profit will not accomplish this industrial revolution by itself.
Here is a topic that animates a lot of reporting and thinking. It’s an enormous topic, so we are going to focus on just a few aspects of it from a Zero Waste viewpoint. We are not going to join the chorus to wring our hands and bemoan the toxic burden that chemical pollution is placing on us all (you can read that every day) but we are going to try to illuminate the sources of pollution and how you can think about it productively. Take a look:
How has humanity dealt with the excess goods it generated?
First generation (immediate satisfaction)..
DISCARDS and DUMPS = > GARBAGE
Second generation (short term)…
POST-DISCARD REUSE => RECYCLING
Third generation (long term)…
EXPLICIT DESIGN FOR REUSE = > ZERO WASTE
NEWS FLASH – Today Ralph Nader interviewed Paul Palmer on his radio hour. If you listened, and would like to contact Paul for further discussions, call 707-235-6155 or email to email@example.com.
To hear the interview, click the triangle here:
What you have here on this website is a description of how all commerce and industry will be designed in, let’s say, a hundred years. There is no alternative. We cannot continue to design in the most wasteful way we can find, just to sell more widgets when the first, shoddy ones are thrown away. If you give some assistance and join in the project, perhaps this will become the dominant paradigm much sooner – maybe in ten or twenty years If the Occupy movement bubbles up to success in eliminating purposeful wasting, it may be sooner rather than later. What we are doing today is not sustainable.
There’s that tricky word again. At one time, sustainable seemed to have a simple meaning. Can we keep doing what we are doing into the foreseeable future and still deliver a working system (planet, economics, social system) to our children? If we are going to run out of resources or collapse the economy or destroy ourselves in a nuclear holocaust, then it isn’t sustainable. But the definition has become muddied because many people need to dumb it down so that they can call completely wasteful practices by this high-sounding word in a process called greenwashing. The unfortunate result is that this reasonably well defined word is now viewed with distrust by the public.
Not everyone takes the same view of sustainability. There is a cadre of extremely rich people who are used to skimming the best of everything and hoarding it for themselves, what the Occupy movement calls the one percent though they may actually include the top ten or twenty percent. These people do not look at the entire planet the way others do. They have shown they can build ski slopes in the deserts of Qatar so climate change doesn’t worry them. No matter how the surface of the earth twists and distorts from heat and currents and cyclones, somewhere on earth they will find a calm, lovely place where they will build a gated community that the 99% can never enter. The last tail of fossil fuels will last this small group for a thousand years. They will find everything they need and their society will be eminently sustainable –for them. And those outside of that closed community? They can serve the elites or die – two good choices.
Is this a wild, unrealizable dream? Can they impose it on a wounded earth? In any case, it is not my dream and it is not where we draw our inspiration for sustainability. True, the elites, in their infinite greed, have decided that nothing will be done to stop climate change so long as they can make money by immoderate squandering of the earth’s resources in a war against everyone that is not them. But we continue to have hope that the garbage mentality that now rules, that now seizes even the unthinking public, can be turned into a conservation mentality before it is too late. Can we afford reuse” Click here.
Strangely, this world we live in has been throwing things into garbage cans for so long that we seem to be supremely comfortable with the notion. The concept of reusing is not difficult, and known to everyone, but the creation of garbage has a strange allure as the natural way to organize life. Consider two extreme examples. There is a space station circulating hundreds of kilometers over our heads, in outer space. It costs an item’s weight in gold to send it up there. For example, send up 100 lbs. of food for the astronauts and that costs roughly the value of 100 lbs. of gold. Very expensive! And yet, there are all kinds of used up hard goods that THEY DISCARD! How do they “get rid of” their garbage? They put it into a plastic bag and give it a shove toward earth, knowing that as it enters the atmosphere it will burn up from friction and be destroyed. Sounds crazy to me.
Another egregious example is at the top of the earth-world. Consider Everest, the world’s highest mountain. In Tibet, a train built by the Chinese has made access easy. This article from Science reports that the number of tourists reaching Tibet in eight years from 2000 to 2018 was almost 34 million. Wow! Now wouldn’t you think there might be some restriction on how much discardable surplus goods these millions of tourists could take with them to the roof of the world. You would be wrong. We love our garbage and refuse to redesign anything about it. As this article reports, the garbage accumulation reached under half a million TONS(!) that the Chinese are attempting to reduce slightly by recycling it, the least useful way to approach garbage that exists. Even under these demanding circumstances the idea of changing the designs of goods so that they never become garbage is nowhere mentioned. Read Everest_Waste.
What is Zero Waste? Find out here. HINT! – It’s not a lifestyle choice, it’s not your personal relationship to your garbage can, it’s not a government regulation. Are you wondering what’s left?
Are you looking for guidance on what you can do personally, in your own life. I have some realistic recommendations here.
Some very formidable opponents are arrayed on the other side. The Garbage Industry is politically powerful. They have wormed their way into the hearts of every city council with the argument that never fails – money and power. In many or most cities of the US, garbage service is assigned to a monopoly franchise to a single company. There is no logical reason for this franchise, but there is a political one. The franchised companies are often granted unbelievable contracts of a type that are found nowhere else, called “evergreen” because they never expire. They are signed, by the city treasurer, for ten or twenty years. Every year, they are renewed for ten or twenty more years. So if the city wants to look for another company or to put its contract out for competitive bidding, it can’t. It has to buy out ten or twenty years of fat contracts first. As if this were not enough, it is common for the franchised garbage company to kick back a portion – ten or fifteen percent – of its collection fees to the city council for a slush fund that is very useful to councilpeople. I estimate that in California, the kickback is $300 million a year for all cities. The numbers are hard to find. There is no legal reason for this unusual kind of kickback. It is a tax on the citizenry, disguised as something else. The cities are so eager for this rich freshet of unearned money to continue that they often pass a law that elevates garbage collection to a height enjoyed by no other utility. Every citizen is forced to hire the garbage company whether they want to or not. And if they don’t pay their bill, the city will pay the bill for them and then put a lien on the citizen’s property, forcing the citizen to pay or jeopardize his property.
In recent decades, the garbage industry has found an amazing new way to greenwash its operations. The environmental movement discovered the enormous flow of garbage headed for dumps in the 1960’s and desperately searched for a solution. Theirs was the first one that came to mind; try to find uses for all that garbage. The result was called recycling and at first it made sense. But it relied on a fact that could not quickly be changed, namely that the flow of garbage was a given. Today, Zero Waste analysis offers an alternative to maintaining the flow of garbage so recycling no longer makes logical sense. The flow of garbage is not a given, but a disaster that can be changed. Has this made recycling disappear as a solution? Not at all. The garbage industry realized decades ago that recycling is a gift from heaven to their destructive propaganda. They support recycling to the hilt, providing money for recyclers’ salaries, for conferences, for political campaigns and for everything needed by a powerful industry that has discovered a powerful lobbying technique that pays off like a slot machine. Today, recycling means something quite different. It means that garbage is wholesome and fragrant because after something is worn down, thrown away and handed over to the garbage company for a hefty fee, it can still be recycled. The garbage can be jumped on, shredded, smashed to bits and a few pieces of glass or copper can be extracted and held up for the world to see. “Look world, no more garbage!” Recycling began as a heresy, emerged as a dogma and then transformed into a religion. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the flow of worn out, obsoleted, shoddy goods continues to flow into the dumps and incinerators in gigantic rivers.
That is the struggle of the Zero Waste Institute. To turn around the deceptions, the propaganda and the institutionalized immobilization of will felt by the public. To shine a light in the dark and reveal the outlines of a beautiful theory of remaking industry, commerce and society so that the garbage goes away. The public resists – because the propaganda for perpetual garbage creation is relentless. But it all has to change. Join us in this struggle.
This introduction conceals a hidden challenge. To you, the reader. You have the ability to learn from the new designs that are offered in the pages called PROJECTS. You can look at the pages called PRINCIPLES and see what are the motivations behind the kinds of design being offered. CAN YOU PROVIDE SOME DESIGNS TOO? Don’t just be a reader, a consumer here. Pick a product and redesign it using Zero Waste methods. Only that will make you feel comfortable with the approach. Go to CONTACTS and email me your ideas. I will be happy to discuss or critique or praise it. Here are the projects.
Sometimes I get Registrations coming to me from readers but they say nothing except an email address. I do want to hear from you. Please, if you want to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, write a note with some substance, such as who you are, where you are and what is on your mind. Bare registrations are just deleted.
RECENT CHANGES AND NEW ADDITIONS
Do you want to know how you personally can help to achieve Zero Waste. Click here.
PROJECTS > Bottle Refilling > Bulk wine refilling hits France proving and applying our theories of container refilling
Restaurant Take-out Dishes – Read about some of the most egregious greenwashing you have ever heard of. Look under PROJECTS and scroll down to Restaurant Take-out.
Does the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics mean that there will always be waste? Not at all. Look at the numbers.
Projects > Buildings > Turning storage containers into houses
Newsletters – August 2010 – Why are we throwing valuable Rare Earths into dumps?
Bibliography > Interview with James Howard Kunstler by Kerry Trueman on Grist
WARNING: Are you thinking that the only important change that is needed to revolutionize production is to change FOOD production? The foodie environmental movement assumes industrial production to be just too hard for ordinary people to think about but that is not true. Food is only one small part of the juggernaut of waste.
Okay you probably don’t like pollution but maybe you think that’s easy. All that’s needed is for the all-knowing and benevolent government to pass more regulations. Problem solved! Sure, the government is working night and day for our benefit. What regulations normally do is to to assign some small part of the environment that can legally be polluted. Not a great idea! Thousands of small parts add up to a big part.
If you’re still reading, you may not admire a production system that designs shoddy goods to fall apart after one use, or one warranty, whichever comes first, that produces goods that can’t be repaired, that have no standard parts, that move right into a dump so that producers can sell you one more replacement piece of crap. Keep reading
The creation of organic food, and organic methods of growing and sharing is wonderful, but it can’t be the whole story.
The Transition Movement started in England as a kind of return to democratically and ecologically run villages, with an emphasis on distributed, organic food growing, simple tools and common decision making. They have been spreading to other countries too, including the US. But even the Transition Movement expects to use bicycles, garden tools, computers, furniture, buses, trains, smartphones, DVD’s, trains, books, medicines and the occasional airplane. Are those going to be made, like today, for the dance of the dump? Or are they going to be made in new ways. Will the industrial plants that make the industrial equipment just assume they can throw away anything they don’t need into a dump or will that also need to change. Are the Transitioners expecting the wasteful, capitalistic world of manufacturing to keep on producing outside of their new villages? Are they going to trade potatoes for computers? Or will they have to take on industrial production at some point?
If you want to see how the whole system of production of the goods we use can be revolutionized for the better, then stay with us and read our articles.
You will hear on every hand that recycling is the road to Zero Waste. Wrong! Zero Waste cannot be achieved with more recycling. Recycling is used to process discards! Only the intelligent redesign of industrial and commercial practices to eliminate discard holds out the promise of a Zero Waste society.
DID YOU GET THAT?This is the most important point you need to understand. YOU CAN’T GET TO ZERO WASTE THROUGH RECYCLING! RECYCLING IS NOT A “FIRST STEP” TO A GOOD OUTCOME. RECYCLING IS A STEP IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!
I emphasize that claim above because so many people seem to read the simple statement that recycling is not Zero Waste, nod their heads, agree with it, and then continue as though they didn’t actually process the concept.
You need to be aware of an important distinction though. Your personal choice to recycle or not, to use the green can or the purple can IS NOT THE SAME AS THE SOCIAL QUESTION. When you face the ultimate, personal discard question, you have no power to reorganize the system for higher efficiency and for intelligent resource management. Green Can – Purple Can! Those are the only choices you have. So choose the Green Can with a good conscience. But don’t ever imagine that those are the only choices of your society. Your society has chosen to create rivers of garbage and to put you into the uncomfortable position of having only two, fairly trivial choices. Big Garbage knows that when you choose the Green Can, time after time, you will begin to mistakenly imagine that these are the social, the global choices. You may think that your planners, your industry, your politicians also have only two choices. Nonsense! Products can all be designed to never become garbage so that no one has to make this Faustian Bargain of which can to choose.
Think about the difference between what you can accomplish individually, on your own, and what our entire society could accomplish if we put real resources into intelligent change. By yourself, even if you enroll ten thousand more like yourself, you will make a difference of 0.0000001 percent of all the garbage being generated. If the design of all products were designed for perpetual reuse, as a matter of industrial and public policy, the amount of change that could be made – let’s not be too ambitious – maybe in the nineties. As we approach an amount of reuse between ninety and one hundred percent, we are approaching a real ZERO waste, which is our goal. By just our own personal efforts, we are working on EVER SO SLIGHTLY BETTER waste. It feels good, but it’s not even close to ZERO. My goal on this website is to develop methods for getting to ZERO, not to SLIGHTLY BETTER.
Jerry Mander, a prominent foe of social wasting, has this to say in his five principles of new technologies:
“Never assess a new technology on the basis of how it affects you personally.”
Curiously, Zero Waste turns out to be an environmental THEORY OF EVERYTHING! You know, the sort of thing Einstein searched for all his life. All this in a new theory of manufacturing, distributing and using commodities.
I hear you asking: how can a theory of eliminating discard be a theory that covers everything environmental? It’s simple. The easy creation and discard of waste is so pervasive in our culture that it has created endless problems wherever you turn. The one theme that creates (almost) every problem which threatens our planet is the easy generation of waste (and its universal sister – inefficiency). One problem after another comes down to that.
After all, what is causing climate change if not the easy generation of waste carbon dioxide? Zero Waste says to find a use for every byproduct before starting any process. That would put coal out of consideration immediately. Burning oil might have snuck through if there was little enough of it for nature to absorb some extra carbon dioxide. If still more carbon dioxide was generated, research could have been directed, as it finally is now, to absorption into forests or algae or other sinks. But if there is no way to absorb the excess CO2, then we can’t just create it!
Wasteful transportation? Fragmentation of living space into suburbs and commercial space into malls? All the wasting, through gross inefficiency of fuel use.
Chemical pollution of land and waterways? The waste of chemical byproducts “because we can”. What we should be doing instead is designing chemical processes to make perpetual use of all chemical products.
Nuclear waste? There is actually no such thing. There is only a process which attempts to express as a waste what is actually a usable byproduct if the research were done to find uses for the plutonium and other isotopes. The French already do some of this.
Loss of fisheries? The wasteful use of the world’s biota, removing product faster than nature can replace it.
It’s hard to find a single environmental problem that is not expressible as the inefficient usage or outright wasting of some natural resource. That even seems to be what “environmental” means, when you come right down to it. Even social justice problems arise from the waste of human potential and health. Learn more.
One of the deepest lessons that this website tries to teach is that wasting does not happen at the very late time when something is discarded. It is not the materials going into a dump that causes waste. It is the design of a low grade, degraded, impaired, wreck of a product which causes the waste because that sets the stage for its early disintegration. And that is what insures that the same kind of product (the same “function”) is going to have to be rebuilt over and over for no good environmental reason but only for the economic reason that greed must be served. The faster a product disintegrates (so goes the thinking) the more of them will be sold. But every time a product is manufactured there is a huge cost in investment, factory, labor and materials. That is where the waste is located. By the time some product gets tossed into a dump, it is way too far down the line to matter anymore. This is the central lesson of this site.
So will you join with us to identify all the ways that this wastefulness can be nipped in the bud? Can you donate ten dollars to the Institute to hire the people to spread the word? Can you help with website maintenance and design? Can you help us design events or raise funds. Please speak up, even if it is to offer moral support. Let’s build a movement for the rational design of a society that is not focused on maximizing waste and discard. You can help.
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.-Buckminster Fuller
( Damn! How did he know so much back then? )
To be realistic, you must demand the impossible. –unknown
We have to get better at believing the impossible– Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine.
In the future … a shoe will be a chip with heels, a car is a chip with wheels – basically most of the cost of manufacturing a car is in the embedded intelligence and electronics and not the materials – Kevin Kelly (supra) in hisTED video
When you are trapped in one paradigm, the next paradigm seems like science-fiction. – John Markoff, technology writer, author of What the Dormouse Said, in a book interview. Paraphrasing from writings of Thomas Kuhn.
“ The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man” George Bernard Shaw
“The bankers have succeeded in making us believe that they are needed.”Hamza Yusuf, co-founder of Zeytouna University in Berkeley California in a public talk.Of course the same thing applies to the garbage industry, health insurance industry and probably a lot more of our so-called service providers.
Who are we? We are a polluting, wasteful, aggressive species with a few nice things thrown in – Louise Leakey, archeologist and discoverer of Homo Erectus (in TED presentation)
When someone tells you that something is impossible, say to that person, you are confusing impossibility with your not knowing how to get it done. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, in a Ted presentation on predicting the future.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”Upton Sinclair
Mark Twain once wrote, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uniformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.”
“If you view yourself as ‘politically conscious’ or ‘engaged,’ and yet, you engage only with thoughts and words presented to you by the corporate-owned media and politicians – who allow for a very limited spectrum of variation in views – you’re not “politically conscious,” but rather, politically comatose. Though your own personal values, interests and intentions may be honorable and sincere, they are made superficial by adopting superficial language and thoughts.” -From: Political Language and the “Mafia Principles” of International Relations By Andrew Gavin Marshall, The Hampton Institute, http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/19296
If the spectrum of allowed opinion is, as today, to recycle or not to recycle, you have no basis for an informed opinion. The four walls of your thinking exclude every idea worth thinking about.
“The appearance of right oft leads us wrong.”Horace – 65-8 BC, urging the Roman senate to redesign togas for reuse.
Here is the most exciting information you will find anywhere on the subject of how to build a whole new paradigm for conserving resources. Just look thru our website, and learn how Zero Waste is a special kind of theory. Learn how it supplants and advances the theories of recycling.Read more.
Do you agree with the following proposition?
If you ask the wrong question you will get the wrong answer!
Consider this: most people facing the generation of waste ask precisely the wrong question. The question they ask is this – how can I make use of this waste product so that it will be used, not wasted? Generations of people have wasted their time and their society’s time with this wrong question.
This would be the better question? “How do I change what I (we) are doing so that we no longer produce any waste products?” Find that answer and you have really solved a problem worth solving. The best part is that you won’t have to keep seeking the earlier, wrong answer, over and over. You won’t have any waste product to find new uses for. Everything will be used up automatically. We can’t focus so strenuously on past mistakes that we never get to design a better future. It’s like the classical difference between giving a man a fish and showing him how to fish. At least while there are still fish to catch (nowadays worth thinking about) you can offer a structural, not a temporary solution.
The entire rest of this website is devoted to showing why that is the right question and how to find the answer to that question. Enjoy!
Are you curious what Zero Waste would mean in practice? Since ZW means a redesigning, don’t be surprised to learn that a ZW project can mean a project to redesign a product. Why design? Click here for an explanation. Do you want to make some changes in your own life that make Zero Waste real immediately. Here are some recommendations.
There are many stories and events that form the history and illumination of the concepts of ZW. Here is some interesting background reading.Read stories.
The only utopian vision is to believe that the system we are living under today can go on forever – Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian economist
Zero Waste is an international movement and growing more so. Learn more about ZW outside the United States and also what it means to other people worldwide. And a few from inside the USA, just for balance.
Are you one of those people with enough scientific background to think that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics proves that there will always be waste? Think again! That argument doesn’t work. See the calculations.
A recent article in Grist by Todd Woody reports on a talk that was given by Lisa Gansky about peer-to-peer sharing of cars. (Read whole article). Note her Zero Waste based plea for a new design so that cars can be built share-ready, rather than just trying to graft sharing on to cars that are designed to be monopolized. And then she goes on with an even more radical proposal to design and build sharing into all manner of other objects:
“Gansky noted that people in the United States and Europe typically use their cars only 8 percent of the day. “For most people, the second most expensive thing we own is just sitting for most of the time,” she said.
So why not make cars share-ready when they roll off the assembly line?
“Not only in terms of their ability of to tap into a network but so when I buy a car and I automatically and easily have the option to make it available to somebody else to use and pay me or not,” Gansky said.
She noted that it took six years for Zipcar, which lets people rent vehicles by the hour in urban areas, to build a fleet of 1,000 cars. But it only took six months for WhipCar, a peer-to-peer car sharing service, to put 1,000 cars in service after its launch last year in the U.K. That’s because WhipCar lets people share their personal cars, much like the U.S. services Getaround, RelayRide and Spride Share.
Now think about embedding that ability to share in all sorts of objects.”
As you surf this website, you may miss an important feature which is implicit in all the writings. We are not trying to scare you to death about anything. We are searching for positive approaches to the problems that surround us. Do you realize how unusual this is? Ludwig Von Mises, an economist who died in 1973, had this to say about running a negative campaign:
“An ‘anti-something’ movement displays a purely negative attitude. It has no chance whatever to succeed. Its passionate diatribes virtually advertise the program that they attack. People must fight for something that they want to achieve, not simply reject an evil, however bad it may be.”
Based on that philosophy, we are not simply railing against garbage dumping, even though we know it is about the dumbest idea around. Instead, we treat it as irrelevant and move on to a fully developed theory of Zero Waste design.
Many of the environmental groups build their whole approach around scaring their members.Take a Toxic Tour. They will tell you how dangerous your drinking water, air and food are. They will tell you that carcinogens are in every drop of water and every spoonful of soil, as well as in every cell of your body. They warn us that it is a flaming injustice to build dumps near minority neighborhoods. We can watch dozens of videos to show how our wastes create hazards inChina or Africa. You would think, listening to them, that chemicals and plastics were invented only to kill and injure and have no beneficial uses. Here’s a statistic I find amazing: each day, 40 billion pounds of chemicals are either manufactured in or imported into the United States. Every pound has some intended use that some customer is ready to pay for.
Somehow the only remedies the fear merchants embrace are more government regulation or enforcement. (Jane Anne Morris tells us that environmental regulations are intended to regulate environmentalists.) They studiously avoid putting forward any ideas for changing the motivations that lead to these problems or for redesigning products or social structures that lead to dangerous practices. The trigger word “toxic” is employed shamelessly. Yes, there are terrible problems and injustices and chemicals can be dangerous. But government regulation is an extremely blunt tool. It can be co-opted by anyone with power or money and usually is. On this website we are seeking brilliant ideas that can lead to effective solutions.See how TED agrees
There is something called a mainstream in the environmental movement. It is the big organizations, the political elites the unquestioning public and the laws governing resources. The thinking used there is uncritical, accepting of the status quo, always reactive to existing problems, not ready to change the underlying assumptions. Here are some ideas of what I find disappointing.
Everyone is worried about Climate Change nowadays and with good reason (well, not Republicans). Does Zero Waste have anything to say about this major environmental concern? You bet! After all, many trillions of dollars of resources are gobbled up every year to make continents full of products and goods, many of which were either not needed in the first place or could have been made to last for generations if our common, planetary heritage of raw materials were not so easy to appropriate (that means steal) for private gain. Does recycling address this problem? Not in the slightest! Find out why.
A recent discussion group I read has this exchange that I found instructive.
Time’s Running Out to Stop the Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline — Take Action Now By Tara xxxxxxx
COMMENT: The thing that Tara is trying to organize, the above actions to be taken, is doomed from the start. The reason it is doomed is because we Americans have no intention whatsoever of changing our preferred way of life that is dependent upon cheap and abundant oil. We Americans will find a way to continue living the way of life we do, regardless of the effect on the environment.
We Americans would rather see all of Life on the planet die off than to change anything about how we live in this country. And we Americans will go to war with other countries and cause a great deal of suffering for hundreds of millions or billions of other people around the world just so we can continue to live like we are accustomed.
People like Tara will try to appeal to America and other westernized countries to stop living the way they do so that Life can continue on Earth, but these people will spit in her face.
Pretty grim, n’est-ce pas? But thought provoking. Zero Waste analysis tries to show that by offering new designs that 1) eliminate discard and 2) work better than the disposable designs, people can get all they need and save the planet too. It’s a different approach from signing petitions and expecting politicians and manufacturers to cut off their own sources of profit and power. I have high hopes for the Zero Waste approach. Please join the Zero Waste Institute as you enjoy the new ideas presented in this website.
September 19, 2011:
I just watched a TED video by Mikko Hypponen whose lifework is chasing down hackers and cybercriminals. See it on TED
At the end, he enunciates a core principle of Zero Waste, though of course he applies it to his own work. He says: “Forget about anti-viruses and firewalls. What you need is to stop the crime at its source by catching those who make the malware.”
That is exactly the philosophy we use here. Forget about a pathetic attempt to recover a tiny bit of value from garbage after it has already been created by discard and wasting. Let’s concentrate first on stopping the design for garbage and obsolescence. Then, if there is some garbage still hanging around, we can try to recycle that. But recycling must be a very far second in our priorities.
Surely most of the people who watched Mikko’s talk then turned and went back to their anti-viruses and firewalls and forgot about catching cybercriminals because it is easy and convenient to buy and install some software. Similarly, most people who have some product that is falling apart will throw it in the recycling bin because that is an easy greenwash for a guilty conscience, and much easier than tackling the real problem.
So when do we start dealing with the real problems?
Sept 26, 2011
Google just came out with a way to search 5 million books that they have digitized for words and phrases and to plot the frequency of their use for the past 200 years. If you put in Zero Waste you get this curious blip from 1970 to 1980, then a dip, then it takes off as the term gets popular. It occurs to me that the 1970-80 period is exactly the term when I was running my company Zero Waste Systems Inc. which gave rise to the term Zero Waste in the first place. Coincidence you say? I think not.
October 4, 2011
There is a tight connection between climate change caused by the voracious evolution of carbon dioxide and Zero Waste. The connection arises in the trillions of dollars worth of unnecessary production that takes place because of the design and distribution of inefficient, purposely shortlived, shoddy products.
Recently, MIT sponsored a contest for proposals to solve or slow down the galloping rush to destructive climate change. I wrote up a proposal to create a research center for better product design. Take a look at it here.
Because I had to explain the nitty gritty of how Zero Waste reuse and design would really work at the most basic and pedestrian level, I went into some details of how ZW would operate in our daily lives that you may have been wondering about yourself. This proposal may give you insights into how it could work that may have been troubling your mind. I suggest you take a look.
This treatment gives the lie to the drumbeat of the recyclers that their efforts can contribute to holding back climate change. I show where wasting really originates and how recycling is insignificant in reducing waste.
October 5, 2011
Reading through the pages of this website, you see that the step of discard is treated as the critical link on the road from design to dump. Many apparently continuous experiences actually consist of steps that can be teased apart to find the one step that controls the others. In the pages of Science (23 September 2011 p. 1679) the editor discusses the process of taking new drugs through clinical trials and he points out how electronic communication tools can speed up most of the process except for one slow, critical step. That is the step which uses a slow trial on many patients to prove that a new drug is safe. Once a drug is known to be safe, the slow, expensive grind of lining up hundreds of patients to prove efficacy can be done by contacting doctors and patients across the world to try out the drug as the right symptoms are encountered. Until a drug is known to be safe however, it can’t be given out freely to candidate patients.
Another place where one step is usually critical is in understanding chemical reactions. What looks like a single chemical reaction between, let’s say, two molecules to produce two new molecules, actually consists of many separate steps. It frequently turns out that most of the steps are fast but one of them is slow. That slow step is called “the rate determining step” by chemists. Perhaps it depends on the parts of a molecule bending or twisting to put two distant reacting centers near each other. Or it may depend on two molecules happening to hit each other just the right way as they bounce around randomly. Whatever the cause, finding a way to speed up the slowest step (such as using a catalyst) can pay off big dividends in overall speed whereas speeding up one of the already fast steps will have no effect.
Discard is like that in the process of waste creation. It is the place where responsibility is broken. Discard means that a former owner of a product, with history and a feeling of responsibility, is cut free of all further responsibility. It is the loss of responsibility that causes irretrievable waste. Eliminating discard can yield an exceptional payoff because the only way to do that is to design systems that do not include discard as a step. On the other hand, eliminating the step of actually placing the discarded product in a dump, such as replacing it with any other kind of destructive management, yields little or no payoff at all.
October 7, 2011
Today I read this report:
WASTE MANAGEMENT COMPANY BUILDING RECYCLING FACILITY IN NEW MEXICO
“Oct. 7 — Waste Management Inc. is building a 12,000-square-foot recycling center at the San Juan County, N.M., Regional Landfill, the Farmington Daily Times reported.
Houston-based Waste Management told the newspaper it expects the Four Corners Regional Ecocenter to be completed in June, processing between 400,000 and 600,000 pounds of recyclables per month at first. If recycling becomes more popular in the area, the newspaper said, the facility could process up to a million pounds of recyclables per month.“
If anyone still doesn’t know, WM is the largest garbage company in the world. The recyclers sell recycling as the answer to garbage – as the key to putting garbage companies out of business. WM is a ruthless, aggressive company, which would not take kindly to anyone putting them out of business. Yet they support recycling to the hilt. Something is not adding up here. Until you can explain the apparent contradiction, you can’t understand what this means.
Then there was this other report the same day:
CALIFORNIA REQUIRES RECYCLING AT BUSINESSES, APARTMENTS
“Oct. 7 — California now matches Florida with the nation´s most ambitious recycling goal. Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 341 which sets a goal of recycling 75% of all materials in California by 2020. That matches a similar 75% by 2020 waste diversion goal set in 2010 by officials in Florida.”
So two of the largest states are driving business into the nets of the largest garbage companies. And undoubtedly trumpeting how “green” it all is.
Do you think maybe something smells in the environmental movement? Do you think that 2020 is so conveniently far away from when this bill was passed that 2020 just means that the politicians voting for it know they will be out of office by then?
Nov 1, 2011
The Zero Waste Institute puts forward a plan for shifting social assumptions based on the ZW model which does not depend on seizing control of political power and banning anything that “we” don’t approve of (note: this is precisely the only plan the recyclers use – pass laws banning and mandating and propagandizing) . The plan we urge is one of creating new ways of doing things better and new products that are so effective and conserving and desirable that the old, wasteful, destructive ways simply fade away. People don’t have to be arrested or fined to force them to follow Zero Waste methods, they will just want to. When there are no gray bins and purple bins to keep track of, but there is a reuse center in town that provides the assistance to take goods and keep them in use, that will just be the obvious thing to do. Is this a unique approach? No, click here to see how well it works in a number of other applications.
February 2, 2012
Today’s issue of Waste and Recycling News has this article.
Petainer´s ´greenest ever´ refillable bottle
By Barry Copping | Plastics & Rubber Weekly
Feb. 2 — Plastics packaging technology specialist Petainer has developed a PET refillable bottle, claiming to “further improve the sustainability of what is already one of the most environmentally friendly forms of beverage packaging.”
My little heart skipped a beat. What is this? Are they finally coming around to a Zero Waste analysis of refilling? But then I realized what was going on. They are looking to compete with glass bottles that can take a deposit and get all the recycling credit that a gullible government agency can bestow on a wasteful system. Plastic bottles have been excluded from that lucrative channel and the plastics producers are salivating over it. So what will they be doing? Will they allow a user to rinse out a bottle of club soda and head down to the refilling store to fill it up with more club soda? Not in this lifetime. All they want to do is put a deposit on it so that the bottle can be discarded back to the grocery store for recycling and for refund of the deposit. Does the history of the bottle go with it? Does the knowledge of its cleanliness and last use follow it? Of course not. Instead, the returned bottle must be viewed with disgust as likely to have last contained cyanide or mold or pus. It has to either be cleaned with harsh chemicals or else ground up, melted and reextruded into a new bottle. Either way, there is lots of profitable extra handling for everyone concerned, lots of wasted chemicals and energy, lots of wasted factories and equipment and lots of wasted labor. Hurrah! A win for everyone (except the poor planet). But this is what passes for “sustainable” in the world of government sponsored recycling.
February 20, 2012
This article appeared in today’s Waste & Recycling News:
Feb 17, 2012 — Glass placed in recycling bins in certain areas of Oregon isn’t going where residents might expect. “In Corvallis, glass picked up at the curb by Allied Waste Services, in trucks designed to carry only glass for recycling, instead finds its way to the Coffin Butte Landfill, KATU-Channel 2 in Eugene reported. “The public should be aware of this, that it´s not being recycled, that´s it actually goes to the landfill,” one Allied Waste customer, who refused to be identified, told the news station. In 2007, the news station said, Allied Waste was granted a permit by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to take glass to the landfill. The glass is too heavy and expensive to haul to a Portland recycling plant, the department reasoned.”
Do you imagine that this is unique? Since recycling is a garbage industry greenwashing fraud, the only thing necessary for their underhanded scheme to succeed is for the public to see the appearance of reuse. As for what actually happens to collected garbage, they throw things into the dump all day long so glass, plastic or steel shooting into a dump is just in a day’s work for a garbage company. The government even gave them a permit to pull off this deception. This story gets a little bit of extra attention because the recycling center is right nearby, in the same state. They didn’t even need to take the “heavy” glass to another state or country. Imagine the situation when they collect “heavy” electronics and have to truck it across the country to their (nonexistent) “proper” recycling plant. It is much easier to trek on down to the docks and put it on a ship going empty back to China. Can you imagine that they hire stevedores to carefully unload the computers and monitors and carefully repack them in the ship? Or do you think they just raise the bed of the dumptruck and drop the garbage down into the hold, smashing it all up? You decide.
Ready now to get into some nitty-gritty? See some actual new designs under Projects. Or read some interesting reviews of other media under Bibliography. Or learn about the Principles that underlie Zero Waste Analysis.
June 7, 2013
A new writing by David DeGraw discusses the crushing effects of the American propaganda campaign of the so-called mainstream media. read article He was writing about molding consciousness generally, but it also applies to the propaganda war selling recycling to the public without any analysis or dissection of its underpinning. In his essay: None But Ourselves Can Free Our Minds, he says this:
Philip Lesley in Managing the Human Climate, ‘When a message appears all around you, you tend to accept it and take it for granted. You find yourself surrounded by it and your subconscious mind absorbs and becomes immersed in the climate of repetitive ideas.’ They form the origins of your thoughts. It’s where your desires, opinions and perspectives are born.
To spin a McLuhan riff, the mainstream mass media is the software on which our minds run; it’s our operating system. It’s an extension of our nervous system. Repetitive mainstream propaganda creates a belief system, popular reference points, symbols, archetypes, mental patterns, a mindset and groupthink, all based on repetition – and groupthink is a highly contagious infectious disease.
It’s hard to escape groupthink. As with freedom and democracy, you must be ever vigilant to avoid the tyranny of groupthink and cultural conditioning. As Walter Lippmann said, “In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world, we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped for us by our culture.”
To remix a quote from Dostoevsky, ‘Leave people alone without mass media and they will be lost and confused. They will not know what to support, what to cling to, what to love and what to hate, what to respect and what to despise.’
Malcolm X said it best, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
The mainstream media keeps everyone isolated inside a false reality, a pseudo mental environment. People are trapped in a bubble of status quo supporting reality, in a bubble of what’s good for shortsighted, short-term corporate interests.
People’s consciousness and awareness gets conditioned and contracted, they become isolated and detached from wider reality.
The propaganda for recycling is pervasive, repetitive and insistent. By now it has been so internalized that it is even universal. Your neighbors, your friends, your fellow citizens have accepted it. So how can you be a jerk and question it? The answer is that there are those people who question everything they are told, and those are the people to listen to. Many of them are called scientists or radicals.
As long ago as 1829, Robert Seymour, a caricaturist, foresaw that the new, democratically organized London University (the automaton in the image) would sweep away corruption, bureaucracy and ignorance. It shows us how far we have yet to go, despite modern progress.
Now that you have read (and re-read) this discussion of zero waste etc. and have learned how it works, here is a challenge to test your approach to wasting. This story asks a question. What would your answer be?
Judy Rainwater’s hair was showing some gray so her daughter, Suzy, told her she should dye it black again to look youthful. Obediently, Judy went to the supermarket and bought a box of black hair dye. But when she brought it home, she read the toxicity warnings on the box and also did some internet research. Between the resorcinol and the catechol and the phenol and the diamines, it all sounded like something she did not want on her skin. She decided that the gray hair looked like sexy mom and she would just live with it. So what to do with this box of dye chemicals? What do you think?
open up all the packets and bottles and pour them down the sink?
open up the packets and bottles and pour them on the ground in her backyard, hoping that plants and microorganisms might process them into food?
Throw it all in the garbage can, figuring this must be what everyone does when they dye hair?
Take the box of chemicals to her local hazardous waste station to be discarded or destroyed or buried – whatever they did with chemicals?
Dye her hair even if she didn’t want to? (note: this just postpones the question).