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 email@example.com.
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, especially the FUNCTION.
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.