What is Zero Waste and what is it not?

Zero waste is a practical theory of how to wring maximum efficiency from the use of resources. It is third generation planning, where wasting is the first generation and recycling is the second.

  • IT IS NOT a lifestyle choice – your personal choices do not effect large, social changes.
  • IT IS NOT your relationship to your garbage can. So what if you find ways to eliminate garbage just for yourself alone?
  • IT IS NOT a government regulation. Forcing bad actors to do things a little better is not the way to make fundamental change.
  • IT IS NOT a way to capture materials. That is an add on to the end of a wasteful, social scheme for waste, not a real change.
  • IT IS NOT just a city that is no longer sending garbage to a dump. Most of the waste that goes on has already happened before anyone bought it, broke it and threw it away. Most of the wasting occurs in the making of shoddy goods unnecessarily.

It is a far more logical approach to efficient use than recycling, for example. Zero Waste states that the best way to avoid waste is to reuse everything over and over – perpetually. And that this can only be done if reuse is designed into all products, right from the start.  It does no good to design ultimate discard into a product and then struggle after discard to find some way to reuse the bare materials, as recycling does today.

As you can probably see by now,  Zero Waste is just common sense applied to resource usage.

  • Why is Zero Waste so important?

Our planet demands that we stop wasting resources and begin to use them intelligently. Sustainability is a much overused word today but it lies at the heart of zero waste, because zero waste affects how raw materials are mined, grown and seized for use. What could be more central to leaving a clean and viable planet to our children than planning for the most efficient use of our raw materials and other resources?

  • Is Zero Waste about garbage and dumps?

Absolutely not. Those of us working with Zero Waste view garbage as an abomination, a stupid idea for how to deal with excess resources that we got stuck with for historical reasons but that we can no longer afford. We know better than to get into arguments about dumps, cans, trucks, collections and fees – the paraphernalia of garbage. Garbage creation is a signal that we are making a mistake and using resources foolishly. When we begin to use resources intelligently, redesigning processes so that they do not make waste in the first place, there will be no further need for all that heavy infrastructure of collection and dumping and the entire garbage industry will simply fade away because it will be unnecessary.

  • We see recyclers spending much of their time dealing with dumps and waste management. Isn’t that necessary, at least for now, in order to make any progress in the real world?

Recycling has been a wonderful concept for the past thirty years. It changed the way the world looks at garbage. But remember, it wasn’t the deepest response to garbage and dumps or the most technically sophisticated. It was the FIRST IDEA to be tried when garbage creation exploded in the 1960’s and 70’s. It focused on the garbage problem directly, instead of looking to find the source of the problem. It is essential that we not follow that example and allow ourselves to be sucked into the problem itself and spend all of our time working with garbage collection, garbage culling, garbage surcharges and the like. Among other things, this has prevented recycling from being effective. Garbage continues to flow into dumps in constantly increasing quantities. On the other hand, Zero Waste goes directly to the solutions which are found wherever design is going on. This can be where architects design buildings, where planners design streets and cities, where industrial design departments work on products or where scientists and engineers are designing efficient energy flows. Zero waste is a high end, DESIGN principle, not a low end, MATERIALS CAPTURE
There is a general principle that if you spend all of your time focusing on the details of a problem, you will have no time left to focus on the solution. We need to move away from worrying about what the garbage industry is doing.