AGENDA FOR ZERO WASTE
October 09, 2008
UNITED STATES / CANADIAN PERSPECTIVE
strategy that avoids incinerators and
eventually eliminates landfills
Connett [*] and Bill Sheehan
essay is an updated and expanded version of one Paul Connett wrote in
1998, entitled Alternatives to Trash Incineration. That paper was based
on Paul’s 14-year experience of helping communities in over 40 countries
fighting unwanted incinerators and landfills, and on his co-producing
videotapes of alternative solutions mostly initiated by citizens. Several
key events and developments have triggered this update.
and foremost, Paul Connett met Bill Sheehan, director of the GrassRoots
Recycling Network.  Bill is as avidly opposed to landfills as
Paul is to incinerators. It was Bill who encouraged Paul to attend the
meeting of the California Resource Recovery Association (one of the oldest
and largest recycling organizations in the US) in June 1999. It was there
that we – Paul and Bill – met with some of the key theorists and practitioners
of zero waste and captured many of their ideas and activities in the videotape,
Zero Waste: Idealistic Dream or Realistic Goal? (see Resources section
community groups with single-minded determination to stop an incinerator
at all costs have frequently ended up supporting a landfill (often somewhere
else!), and similarly, those single-mindedly resisting a landfill have
often ended up with an incinerator (also somewhere else!). It was with
the strategy of Zero Waste that Bill and Paul have found common ground.
We believe it can offer common ground to community groups as well. Zero
Waste offers a solution to trash that neither involves incineration nor
a large reliance on landfill, and certainly not the huge mega-raw-waste
landfills so popular with the solid waste industry. Zero Waste also allows
citizens a positive agenda rather than simply opposing something. Hopefully,
it will encourage citizen activists, such as those who have helped to
stop the building of over 300 trash incinerators in the United States,
and many others in other countries, to integrate their efforts in the
larger goal of moving towards a sustainable economy.
message that the Washington DC-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance
has been delivering for over 25 years is that stopping incinerators makes
recycling possible, and recycling makes economic development possible.
As they argued in the 1989 report, Salvaging the Future: Waste-Based Production,  the most important economic benefit occurs
when the recovered materials are manufactured into finished products within
the local economy.
short, the movement for zero waste has grown out of decades of grassroots
efforts to promote community-based recycling and defeat incinerators and
landfills.  Zero Waste is a guiding principle that says
that waste is not natural and can be eliminated with the proper design,
policy and advocacy efforts.
second key development is that as of 2001, 40% of the municipal authorities
in New Zealand have adopted Zero Waste goals.
 Most are shooting for Zero Waste by the year 2015 and some by
2020. They have thus shattered the notion that Zero Waste is a hopelessly
‘idealistic’ cause. Their adoption of a Zero Waste strategy confirms
that it is a very practical approach for both local authorities and local
third important event occurred in 1999 with the publication of the book
Creating Wealth from Waste by Dr. Robin Murray, an economist from the
London School of Economics.  About a third of this book is
devoted to the concept of Zero Waste. Murray’s analysis underlines the
sound economic basis for a Zero Waste approach.
fourth event was Paul's participation in a press conference in Toronto
in November 2000, at which Earth Day Canada launched the Target Zero Canada
campaign.  At this conference Paul met several exciting
people including Lucio Di Clemente, chief executive officer of the Beer
Store in Ontario, which captures and reuses 97% of its glass beer bottles;
Trish Johnson, who has masterminded the successful Take it Back to Retail
program in Ottawa, which involves over 300 retailers; Rahumathulla Marikkar
from Interface Canada, the multinational carpet manufacturer that is pledged
to become a truly sustainable corporation; and Barry Friesen, solid waste-resource
director for the Ministry of Environment and Labor in Nova Scotia (see
Resources section), a province that under his leadership has achieved
a 50% diversion of municipal solid waste in just five years. All of them
are making significant strides on the Road to Zero Waste. Paul and his
son Michael have since visited and videotaped each program.
fifth key development was a trip organized by Arne Schoevers, director
of the Dutch environmental group, Waste & Environment,
 to the European headquarters of the Xerox Corporation in Venray,
Netherlands. Xerox is one of a number of leading corporations that have
announced a commitment to Zero Waste. Using a massive ‘reverse distribution’
system, the Xerox Corporation is recovering its old copying machines from
throughout Europe, repairing them, reusing parts, or recycling their constituent
materials. Ninety-five percent of the returned material is either being
reused or recycled. In the process they have saved $76 million in production
and avoided waste disposal costs. Xerox candidly admits that they went
into this program for economic rather than environmental reasons, which
clearly underlines the fact that Zero Waste is a win-win solution for
both the environment and the economy.
five events for us have reinforced the fact that the move towards Zero
Waste is not pie-in-the-sky. That does not mean, however, that it is going
to happen without a tremendous effort from citizens, more vision in industry,
and enlightened leadership from government officials.
aid this effort, Grass Roots and Global Video,
 with the help of the GrassRoots Recycling Network and Waste &
Environment, is producing a series of videotapes with the running title,
On the Road to Zero Waste. We completed Part 1, Nova Scotia, Community
Responsibility in Action in October 2001. This Guide is designed to accompany
this series. In it we will look more closely at three key elements of
a Zero Waste strategy: Community Responsibility, Industrial Responsibility
and Political Leadership. But first we will look more closely at the Zero
ZERO WASTE VISION: back
Ending the Age of Wasting
grassroots recycling movement has been tremendously successful over the
past 30 years in encouraging communities to handle their discarded materials
responsibly. Recycling advocates realized that dealing with waste at the
back end is not enough to stem the vast over-exploitation of virgin resources
(including fossil fuels) that is the fundamental cause of global environmental
degradation. Thus, while the Zero Waste vision recognizes the importance
of recycling, it also recognizes its limitations. Communities cannot solve
the trash problem alone and should not be forced to clean up after irresponsible
Waste requires a mind shift. We have to change the task from getting rid
of waste, to one of ensuring sustainable material practices at the front
end of the manufacturing process. Communities faced with discarded materials
and objects they cannot reuse, recycle or compost have to demand that
industry stops producing them. Total recycling is not approachable without
Zero Waste consciously links ‘community responsibility’ to ‘industrial
Waste combines community practices such as reuse, repair, recycling, toxic
removal and composting, with industrial practices such as eliminating
toxics and re-designing packaging and products for the key demands of
the twenty first century: the need to develop sustainable communities
and sustainable companies.
Waste combines ethical practice with a solid economic vision, both for
local communities and major corporations. On the one hand, it creates
local jobs and businesses, which collect and process secondary materials
into new products, and on the other, it offers major corporations a way
of increasing their efficiency, thereby reducing their demands on virgin
materials as well as their waste disposal costs.
current industrial system and throwaway society is based on the one-way
flow of virgin resources to polluting dumps and incinerators. Extracting,
processing, transporting and wasting resources is a primary cause of environmental
destruction and global warming. We need to reconfigure our one-way industrial
system into a circular, closed-loop system, recycling discarded resources
from communities back to industries, both new and old.
Waste recognizes the larger bookkeeping of nature. We never actually ‘own’
anything: we are simply borrowing its constituent materials for a short
time. We are breaking this ‘contract’ when we simply throw things away.
Nature makes no waste; waste is a human invention. Our task - both in
the community and in industry - is to cycle these materials for future
use. To do this, more than anything else, we need strong leadership at
the community, industrial and political levels.
COMMUNITY RESPONSIBILITY back
Zero Waste Policy and Legislation
communities have already introduced Zero Waste legislation or goals and
they are listed at the end of this section. We have pulled out a number
of policy steps that we believe are important for communities to take
in order to a launch a Zero Waste program.
Designate a target year. When adopting a Zero Waste goal, it is important
for communities to designate a year by which no waste will be delivered
to the ‘interim’ landfill. Most communities have chosen a year some
15 or 20 years ahead. Doing this allows communities to approach an ‘idealistic
goal’ in a realistic time frame. It allows the mind shift from managing
waste to eliminating waste and managing resources time to develop.
Design program with whole community. During this first step and all
subsequent ones it is critical, in our view, that the whole process
be overseen and designed by a group of committed people drawn from the
community, including people in local government, businesses and private
citizens. Without this cooperative effort neither strong laws nor good
intentions will go very far.
Ban key items from the landfill. These should include ALL organic material
(that is, compostables, or things that can be composted and safely returned
to the Earth), any material that can be currently recycled, and any
toxic material that can be dropped off at collection centers or retailers.
Place a surcharge on material that is landfilled. This is important
for two reasons: a) to provide a disincentive for the generation of
this fraction and b) to provide finance for other critical parts of
the Zero Waste program.
Provide incentives for recycling. It is important to stimulate development
of businesses, small or large, that can collect, process and reuse,
repair or recycle materials in the community discard stream. Ideally,
such businesses will provide jobs for the local community.
Encourage waste audits. It is critical to provide financial help or
professional advice to businesses and institutions to embark on waste
audits. Such audits identify where waste is being generated in both
industrial processes and office operations, so that it can then be reduced
or eliminated. The good news here is that almost invariably when such
steps are taken they result in saving money.
Stimulate take-back programs. Provide incentives to local retailers
and manufacturers to take back their products and packaging after use.
Such incentives can range from deposits on such things as beverage and
food containers; batteries and automobile tires, to the free publicity
that surrounds a community sponsored ‘Take It Back’ program for hazardous
materials like paint, fluorescent bulbs and electronic goods.
Convert old landfill into industrial or ecopark. Set in motion plans
to convert the old landfill site into a completely different operation.
As conceived and described by Dan Knapp and others, this site will look
more like an industrial park. The local government can own and maintain
the infrastructure but franchise out different parts of the site to
local businesses involved with collecting, processing, recycling, reusing,
repairing and remanufacturing source separated materials and objects
in the community discard stream.
is clear that many these policy changes impact community economics. Instead
of paying waste companies to get rid of discards, we are suggesting that
tax payers’ money is better spent recovering resources. Thus the role
of local government changes when discarded materials are treated as community
enhancing assets rather than as liabilities (waste). Instead of managing
liabilities, local government policies instead promote entrepreneurial
innovation by maximizing delivery of clean resource streams to local enterprises.
materials once considered waste gain value, Zero Waste principles will
help local economies become more self-sufficient and create opportunities
for increased civic participation and sustainable employment.
the extent that communities and citizens can pressure industry to reduce
the extraction and processing of virgin resources, they not only reduce
the demands on local services but they also contribute to solving larger
are examples of communities that have passed Zero Waste legislation, plans
 Australia’s capital adopted a No Waste by 2010 goal and
plan in 1996. The plan envisions a waste-free city by 2010, with
its two landfills replaced by ‘Resource Recovery Estates.’ Since 1995,
recycling has increased 80%. This landfill design looks more like
an industrial park than the typical landfill disposal site.
Norte County, California, USA (population 32,000).  Del Norte County is the first county
in the United States to guide its solid waste strategy with a comprehensive
Zero Waste plan, which it adopted in 2000. Officials expect the plan
to ease the conversion from a timber-oriented economy to a new, sustainable
economy using local resources currently being wasted.
Zealand Councils. 
As of 2001, 40% of New Zealand’s 74 local governments have adopted
goals of Zero Waste to landfills by 2015, and an effort is underway
to get the goal adopted nationally. Zero Waste New Zealand Trust provides
a small amount of grant money to help councils get started but does
not supply a blueprint -- that is being developed by local officials,
managers and engineers. The trust predicts the creation of 40,000 jobs
over 10 years through converting local transfer stations to resource
recovery centers, and through the resulting proliferation of reuse and
Washington, USA(population 534,700).
 Seattle adopted Zero Waste as a ‘guiding principle’ in
1998. The plan emphasizes managing resources instead of waste, and
conserving natural resources through waste prevention and recycling.
Cruz County CA, USA (population 230,000) adopted Zero Waste as a long-term
goal in 1999.
importance of passing legislation in support of a Zero Waste plan is that
it puts a large conceptual umbrella over a whole series of practical steps,
many of which are familiar to people who have already been involved in
discard management. We will now consider those practical steps.
There are no magic machines. Frequently, after giving a blistering
attack on the idea of burning trash or dumping it into a mega landfill,
we are asked, "Well, if we can't burn it and we can't bury it, what
can we do with it?" Such questioners are usually seeking an alternative
technology, because they have become accustomed to salesmen that offer
them ‘turnkey’ solutions. "Give us this much money and we will solve
your trash problem with our state-of-the-art technology,” is what they
are used to hearing. At the outset, we have to stress that there are no
magic machines that can solve the trash problem. Trash is a not a high
tech problem. Technology has a role to play but only when judiciously
applied to carefully selected components of the discard stream. Zero Waste
is not a technology; it is a strategy and that strategy begins with better
industrial design and ends with source separation of discarded products.
Trash is made by mixing. From the citizens' perspective, trash is
made by the ten things at the end of our hands, and if we want a solution
that we and the planet can live with, it is those ten things that have
to be co-opted from the very beginning. In short, trash is made by mixing,
and it is prevented by keeping discards separated at source.
Source separation. Avoiding expensive and potentially dangerous
incinerators and huge regional landfills requires keeping our discarded
items in several well defined categories (both mentally and physically).
separated materials will be discussed under the following headings:
Avoidables and waste
Reusables and reuse &
Compostables and composting
Recyclables and recycling
Resource recovery parks
Toxics, household hazardous waste collection, and take-back
Residuals screening facilities.
Better industrial design.
Collection systems. In our view the most successful public collection
scheme for the urban setting is a three container curbside system. This
has been used in pilot projects in San Francisco and throughout Nova Scotia.
There are many variations on such scenarios. A key point to remember when
a community is embarking on a source separation system is to organize
separation around the existing collection system. If the community is
used to curbside collection of trash, then it is best to organize the
collection of recyclables and compostables at curbside. If, on the other
hand, the community is used to taking discards to the landfill (this is
often the case in small rural communities) or a transfer station (sometimes
the case in suburbia), then it is best to organize collection at these
far as the number of containers used at curbside is concerned, if communities
opt for only two, then it is critical to put the emphasis on collecting
source-separated organic discards. This is critical for two reasons: a)
it is the organic material that causes so many of the problems at landfills
and b) it is very difficult, if not impossible, to pick out clean compostables
from the residual fraction. Unfortunately, most communities that use a
blue box system put the emphasis on collecting recyclables and thus dramatically
reduce the amount of material that they can divert from landfill and eliminate
the chance of getting good clean organic material for composting.
these problems in mind, Guelph, Ontario, departed from the blue box approach
(containers and paper in one bin and everything else in another) and developed
a two-container system that put the emphasis on getting clean organics.
They use a green bag for source separated organics, and the residuals
and recyclables go into a blue bag. This is called a wet/dry system. The
green and blue bags go into two different sections of light weight trucks
and are delivered to a facility that has two sections: a separation line
for recyclables and a screening line for compostables. The recyclables
are further processed (crushed or baled) to meet market specifications
and the compostables are put through a composting operation enclosed in
a large building. This two-way division is very simple for the citizen
and they have a 98% participation rate. Within a few years the city was
achieving a 58% diversion rate from landfill. The city also operates
a household hazardous collection depot and a separate collection for bulky
yard trimmings. 
communities are able to increase the number of containers to four, then
its best to have two containers for the recyclables, allowing the separate
collection of paper products. This minimizes the contamination of paper
with glass shards from the other recyclable fraction (bottles, cans, etc).
lottery. Some communities have come up with novel ideas to encourage
people to separate their discards carefully. Rockford, Illinois, increased
its recycling rate fourfold by introducing a garbage lottery. Each week
one household is selected at random to have its garbage picked up and
examined. If no designated recyclables are found in the trash, they win
$1,000! If that is not the case, a householder the following week stands
to win $2,000, and so on. The participation rate in this community increased
by 400% in a few months. This system is illustrated on two videotapes
produced by Videoactive Productions entitled Joe Garbario and the Marin
Resource Recovery Plant and Millie Zantow: Recycling Pioneer (see Resources
Avoidables and waste reduction strategies. In recent years two key
activities have produced astonishing results with respect to waste reduction.
audits. When local manufacturers and businesses are required to find
out at what points in their processes that they generate waste, they typically
find many places where they can make less waste and save money in the
process. For example, Quaker Oats of Canada, after a waste audit, was
able to reduce its waste stream by over 90% and save an enormous amount
of money in the process. That’s truly, a win-win solution.
trash charging systems for households and institutions. Simply put, the
more waste you generate, the more you have pay. There are a number of
different ways of applying this kind of system. The city of Seattle has
a monthly garbage fee that is based upon the size of container used for
the residual fraction of the discard stream. Households that opt for a
large container for their residuals pay a larger monthly fee than household
that opts for a small one. Other communities require a pre-paid coupon
to be used on every bag of residuals put out at the curb. These are often
referred to as ‘Pay-by-bag’ or ‘Pay-as-You Throw’ systems. In some communities
in the Netherlands there is an electronic microchip in the residuals container
and when the can is picked up it is weighed and the household is automatically
charged according to how much residual material they have put out.
Reusables and reuse & repair centers. Many householders and
communities around the world have developed both formal and informal means
of getting reusable objects moving from one owner to the next. These include
garage sales, yard sales, jumble sales, flea markets, and thrift shops
run by charities like the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries. Some
of these are run for profit and others as a community service.
reusables represent a small fraction of the discard stream, it is the
most valuable one. Some reuse and repair programs not only recover materials
but they also recover people (through job training etc). A municipal official
given the responsibility of diverting material from the local landfill
needs to investigate how comprehensive the existing services are in his
or her community. Such an official should support them in any way possible,
including finding ways to bring different reuse and repair functions together
in a Community Reuse and Repair Center (the last thing you want to happen
is to introduce a facility that puts existing operations out of business).
Many models exist.
Georgetown, Ontario. One early example of a community non-profit center
is the WasteWise operation. This facility came about because local activists
were tired of defending themselves from ‘back-end’ solutions proposed
for their community. They had fought to prevent a large quarry from being
used to accept 40 million tons of Toronto's trash and then a 1,500 ton-per-day
trash incinerator, again for part of Toronto's waste (Georgetown is about
30 miles from Toronto). They set up WasteWise to show that an alternative
approach was possible. With the help of a grant from the Ontario government,
they rented a large warehouse and set it up (1) to repair many items like
furniture, appliances and bicycles (2) sell these and other ready-to-use
items (3) collect, process and sell recyclables not covered by the
local blue box (recycling) program, and (4) provide educational services
for waste and toxics use reduction. Largely run by volunteers, the operation
became self-sufficient after five years and now has two full time staff.
A videotape of this operation is available (see Resources section).
important thing about the reuse and repair center is that it can be the
springboard for many other community activities. It can be used for education,
especially youngsters, who can be taught how to repair things at an early
age. It can provide a venue for senior citizens, many of whom have important
repair skills that they are eager to share with the community. It can
act as an incubator for small repair businesses by providing affordable
overhead. It can be used to teach people how to compost in their backyards
and even to build their own composting units out of materials collected
at the center. It can also be used to collect potentially hazardous materials
like paints, varnishes and cleaners. Paint can either be used in renovation
of items for resale or be made available to the public in a ‘paint exchange.’
The center may also become a meeting place for the community.
North, Burlington, Vermont. One of the best examples we have seen
of a community non-profit operation that includes extensive repair and
job training is Recycle North. In addition to a large area devoted to
the resale of reusable items, there are four areas devoted to repair.
The items that are repaired are (1) large household appliances like stoves
and refrigerators, (2) small electrical appliances, (3) electronic equipment
and (4) computers. In each section people are trained. After six months
they receive a training certificate as well as training in skills needed
to get a job (e.g. writing application letters and practicing job interviews).
They also attempt to service the local community in other ways. In addition
to offering the reusable items at very reasonable prices, they provide
these goods in exchange for vouchers provided by the local department
of Social Services. In 2000 they generated a gross income of $750,000
and employed over 20 full time staff. They have since added a building
deconstruction and salvage service to their operation. A videotape of
Recycle North is in preparation (2001).
Ore, Inc. Berkeley, California. Urban Ore is another excellent example
of a reuse and repair center run for profit. It is owned and directed
by Dan Knapp.  This
operation grosses over $1.5 million and has created many permanent and
well paid jobs. Urban Ore, Inc. has pioneered the resource recovery park
concept (see Resource Recovery Parks section below)
Hardware, Guelph, Ontario. This large warehouse handles only reused
building materials, fittings and do-it-yourself items. Even though the
products are all second-hand, it is run as if the items were new, with
tidy arrangements and things easy to find. Paul has visited the store
and videotaped the operation and hopes to include in a forthcoming video
which examines the business opportunities in the community discard stream.
Compostables and composting facilities. Composting can be run on
almost any scale. It can be done in the backyard, in the basement with
worm bins (vermiculture), in the community or in a centralized facility.
However, a key principle is to maintain tight control over what materials
enter the composting operation, because the ability to use the material
can easily be compromised if unsuitable materials are composted.
our view, after source separation, composting is the most important step
in the community part of the Zero Waste strategy, because it is the organic
material in landfills that cause so many problems. When organic material
rots underground it generates (1) methane, which contributes to global
warming (molecule for molecule methane traps over 20 times more heat than
carbon dioxide), (2) organic acids, which are capable of dissolving the
metals in the waste load and getting them into surface and ground water,
and (3) awful odors, which make landfills so unpopular with the public.
Thus a key objective of composting is to keep organic materials out of
key step in Nova Scotia's program was the passing of legislation banning
organic material from landfill. Such a regulation forced both source separation
at the household and institutional levels, as well as creation of a back-up
screening facility at the landfill (see Section 3.2.8).
composting is the single most cost effective treatment of a large fraction
of the domestic discard stream. Seattle has subsidized backyard composting
kits and a Master Composters' program, in which citizens are taught all
the ins and outs of composting and are then make themselves available
to help other citizens troubleshoot their backyard composting problems.
The program is run by the Seattle Tilth Association. A video, Zoo Doo
and You Can Too! (see Resources section), was made at the association's
demonstration site and illustrates many home made and commercially available
composting units. In our view, the composting of yard trimmings and food
scraps in one’s backyard is one of the biggest contributions a citizen
can make to solving the trash problem.
composting. Composting conducted at the community level is well illustrated
by the program in Zurich, Switzerland. A 1991 videotape of this program,
Community Composting in Zurich (see Resources section), describes the
city’s 480 community composting plots involving 3 to 200 households. In
August of 2001, Paul revisited the program. The number of community composting
operations has risen to about 1,000 and approximately half the householders
of Zurich are now served. Paul also videotaped this and it, too, will
be included in a forthcoming video focussing on the full range of methods
of handling organic discards.
lawnmowers. A simple and cost effective way of reducing one type
of organic waste is to encourage both householders and institutions to
use mulching lawnmowers. This one step saved the New York City's Parks
Department over $1 million in avoided disposal costs.
gardens. Many citizens who might not be interested in community composting
may become excited about a community garden. The latter would be ideally
supported with a community composting operation. It makes economic sense
for municipalities to support such operations, because every pound of
organic material composted means one pound of waste that does not have
to be picked up, transported and disposed. It is also a very positive
way of integrating discard management with the local community. Such gardens
have become havens of delight in New York City and other large cities.
composting facilities. In the United States there are now over 3,000
yard trimmings composting operations.
 When handling leaves and brush, the technology does not need
to be very sophisticated. Composting yard trimmings usually involves a
static pile or windrow system. Such windrows are long rows that have a
triangular cross section. They need to be turned regularly to make sure
that they get a plentiful supply of air and thus maintain aerobic conditions.
They can be turned in one long sweep using mobile turning devices like
the Wildcat system manufactured in North Dakota and the Scarab in Texas.
Nova Scotia centralized composting facilities handle all source separated
organic material. Seventy-two percent of the citizens in the province
are currently provided with curbside collection of organics (see Nova
Scotia video listed in Resources section).
the world, many facilities are composting special organic materials, such
as food scraps, agricultural waste, fishery waste, sewage sludge and mixtures
of these products. To serve these ends, a variety of in-vessel and indoor
systems are designed to speed up the composting process and minimize odors.
Such systems are either aerobic (plentiful supply of air) or anaerobic
(starved of air). The latter are used to generate methane to be used as
a fuel or chemical feedstock. Many of these systems are described in articles
that appear in the bible for composting: the monthly journal, BioCycle.  This journal is an essential resource for any official who
wants to include an aggressive composting component in a Zero Waste program.
is the use of worms to degrade organic material. These remarkable creatures
provide yeoman service for those prepared to put them to work. One woman,
who has worked with worms practically her whole life, is Mary Appelhof,
who lives near Kalmazoo, Michigan. Her book, Worms Eat My Garbage,  is a delight. Her enthusiasm for these industrious
worms has no bounds!
place where vermiculture has received its largest municipal support is
in the area around Bombay, India. There they have a variety of vermiculture
sites located in backyards, hospital grounds and near local food markets.
Recyclables and recycling economics. According to professional recyclers,
the three golden rules to secure markets for recyclables are ‘quantity,
quality and regularity.’ The industries that will use these materials
must be confident that they will get a regular supply of material free
from contaminants that can ruin their process, e.g. ceramics in glass,
plastics in paper, PVC plastic co-mingled with polyethylene or PET. Source
separation schemes have helped to meet some of these demands. The materials
recovery facility with human picking lines and along with some mechanical
equipment, which can separate steel (magnets), aluminum cans (eddy currents)
and plastic cans, helps to complete the process. Hundreds of such facilities
are operating around the world. A facility operated by the Miller Corporation
in Halifax, Nova Scotia is illustrated in the video, On the Road to Zero
Waste, Part I. Nova Scotia, Community Responsibility in Action (see Resources
economics of recycling. Today, the driving force underpinning the
economics of recycling is ‘avoided disposal costs.’ It costs money to
recycle, but it is economically viable when the overall cost of collecting
and recycling a ton of recyclables is less than disposing a ton of waste.
Yard trimmings composting is particularly favorable when making this comparison.
enemy of recycling is cheap landfills. Those in favor of recycling
need to argue that cheap landfilling is artificially cheap because the
long term costs of future damage to the environment, both locally (toxic
emissions to air and ground water) and globally (waste of finite resources),
are being ignored. The web page of the GrassRoots Recycling Network provides
more details of the artificial economics of landfilling. 
of markets for recyclables is often offered as a reason to limit recycling.
However, the markets for certain recyclables are a highly cyclic phenomenon,
and certainly should not be used as an argument for building a trash incinerator
or mega landfill, which represent a long term (at least a 20-years for
an incinerator) capital investment. Communities can insulate themselves
from the vagaries of commodities markets by developing local markets for
their recyclables. For example, when Arcata, California, lost their market
for glass they developed Fire and Light, an upscale tableware company
that uses exclusively recycled glass from the Arcata Community Recycling
Center. Similar business opportunities exist with wood, tires, plastics,
and other materials. Communities are well served if they invest in and/or
support business opportunities that use the materials they generate but
for which markets are poor. This creates other economic benefits too,
like jobs and sales taxes.
argue that if we are forced to bury stuff, then this stuff shouldn't have
been manufactured in the first place. Some activists advocate a ‘return
to sender’ approach as a way of drawing attention to bad examples of industrial
design such as the silly squeezable ketchup bottle. Paul has provided
a great deal of amusement at the expense of this particularly bad form
of packaging. A little thought would suggest that a simple spoon could
deliver ketchup just as precisely from a recyclable or reusable jar, with
a wider opening, as a non-recyclable plastic ketchup bottle.
net profit. The way for recycling to generate a net income for the
community is to find ways of utilizing the salvaged materials locally.
Examples include: newspaper to make cattle bedding, or insulation material;
glass to make fiber glass; tires to make crumb rubber; crab shell waste
to make surgical sutures and dietary products; post consumer wood to make
fiber board, furniture or flooring, old building materials used to make
furniture and old carpets used to make new ones.
Robin Murray, in his book Creating Wealth from Waste (see Resources section),
provides a very persuasive strategy to encourage companies to move to
cities in order to capture the flow of separated resources generated there.
Such an approach means that local, rather than distant, economies can
capture the ‘value added’ of local manufacture.
Resource recovery parks and ecoparks. Looking to the future, visionaries
like Dr. Dan Knapp of Urban Ore, Inc. envisage Resource Recovery Parks
and Ecoparks as the community replacement facilities for landfills and
incinerators.  These facilities locate reuse,
recycling and composting businesses close together and can be the core
of a comprehensive strategy for local resource management. Local collection
entrepreneurs and the public can deposit all recoverable materials at
one processing facility, get paid for some of them and buy other items
at bargain prices. Some designs place the recovery park together with
a waste facility or transfer station, arranged so that traffic passes
recovery businesses before coming to the waste facility. When combined
with incentives for recycling, disincentives for wasting, and a commitment
to gradually phase out the waste facility, such an arrangement can be
the centerpiece of a Zero Waste community.
recovery parks can be privately financed, or local government can create
an authority whose role is to secure the land, build the core facility
and lease space to private entrepreneurs, as is frequently done for airports.
When located close to appropriate industries, resource recovery parks
can provide feedstocks for Eco-industrial parks, where the byproducts
of one industry become inputs for the next. 
resource recovery systems, are a variation of resource recovery parks
where a critical mass of resource conservation businesses are located
in a neighborhood, but not necessarily on the same property. Repair shops
and secondhand shops are good examples of existing businesses that need
only to bring their services into greater synergy and prominence in a
Zero Waste system.
Ore Ecopark, Berkeley, California, USA. Urban Ore, Inc. has pioneered
the resource recovery park concept. In 2001, Urban Ore moved to a 2.2-acre
former steel pipe manufacturing facility and established a building materials
exchange, a hardware exchange, an arts and media exchange, a general store,
and salvage and recycling activities. Two major lumberyards, a hardware
store and two other reuse facilities, all in a three-block area, provide
a stream of potential customers. Urban Ore Development Associates (UODA),
a spin-off of Urban Ore, designs, builds and operate resource recovery
Resource Recovery Parks are in development:
Leandro Resource Recovery Park, San Leandro, Calif., USA. Waste Management,
Inc. is developing a resource recovery park that recycles wood, greenwaste,
curbside and other recyclables, operates a buy-back center, and sells
recycled-content soil and landscape products. Tenants include a tire recycling
and crumb rubber facility and a building materials exchange. The park
is at a waste transfer site.
Regional Environmental Park, Marina, Calif., USA. This park includes
public drop-off and commercial waste recycling stations, a Last Chance
Mercantile reused goods resale operation, a landfill gas power project,
a household hazardous waste collection facility, construction and demolition
recycling operations, composting facilities, and a soils blending facility,
at an existing regional landfill.
Toxics, household hazardous waste collection, and take-back programs.
While toxics only make up 1-2% of the household waste stream, if ignored,
they threaten other aspects of the Zero Waste strategy. It is important
to get these materials identified and made visible.
collection. Some communities have organized separate curbside collection
of certain toxics like automobile oil (Hamburg, NY) and batteries (Neunkirken,
hazardous waste collection sites. Some communities have organized
household hazardous waste collection days, on which citizens are requested
to bring their hazardous materials to a central collection point. In Halifax,
Nova Scotia, there is a very well organized and efficient drop-off facility
operating most Saturdays from 9- 4 p.m. This facility is illustrated in
the video, On the Road to Zero Waste, Part I. Nova Scotia, Community Responsibility
in Action (see Resources section). Some communities have set aside buildings
at the landfill to collect, store and even exchange potentially hazardous
materials, like paint, with the community.
it up. Some paint manufacturers have offered to reblend recollected
paint and donate it for community projects. In New Brunswick, Canada,
there is a company specializing in collecting used paint and recycling
it into new paint.
the absence of a commercial operation we would advocate the use of a Community
Reuse and Repair Centers (see above) to collect paint and use it for community
projects. The principle is a simple one: if it is safe enough to use (and
it may not be, but this is a different issue) then it is safe enough to
use up. If the individual cannot use it up, the community should.
Take-Back. Some toxic substances, like mercury, are so intractable
that we should question their use altogether. If industries insist on
mercury's continued use and governments allow them, then legislation should
be introduced that would require these industries to take back the mercury-containing
objects, such as household batteries, thermometers, and fluorescent lights.
A citizen who has devoted more than a decade to getting governments and
industries to eliminate the mercury problem, is Michael Bender in Vermont
a similar fashion to mercury, we should require the oil industry to take
back used motor oil, and tire manufacturers (where communities don't have
access to modern tire recycling facilities like the one in Nova Scotia)
to take back used tires. These manufacturers should be challenged to find
chemical ways of recovering these valuable feedstocks and put them back
into their manufacturing process. They need to ‘close the loop.’ This
is called Extended Producer Responsibility for waste or EPR (see Section
Take Back. Ottawa, Canada, has a successful ‘Take It Back!’ (to retail)
program in which over 350 retailers take back from customers 65 different
toxic and difficult-to-recycle products that do not belong in curbside
recycling bins. 
These items include used motor oil, batteries, consumer electronics, and
prescription drug containers, among others. Retailers are anxious to
get involved because of the free publicity and the way being on the program
attracts customers into their stores. Trish Johnson, who directs this
award-winning program, described some of the details in the video Target
Zero Canada (see Resources section). Inspired by the Ottawa example, Washington
County MN, USA, has introduced a similar program.
Retailer Take Back programs put the emphasis on retailer responsibility
for waste, the ultimate goal is to build a community coalition to increase
pressure on the manufacturers, or Brand Owners, who profit from making
products that become waste, and, more importantly, who make the design
decisions on toxicity, durability and recyclability of products and packaging.
And in the meantime, such programs educate citizens that there is no a
priori reason that taxpayers have to continue to clean up after industry.
We anticipate that as the program evolves and retailers question the expense
of disposing brand name products, retailers will begin to put pressure
on manufacturers to take financial or physical responsibility for their
products at end-of-life.
Residuals screening facilities. After source separation has kicked
in and materials like reusables, recyclables, compostables and hazardous
materials have been sent to different facilities for processing, there
will still be a fraction left over: the residuals. This fraction consists
largely of the items that are deemed to be currently non-reusable, non-recyclable
or non-compostable. To this we have to add materials that individuals
or institutions have not bothered to put into the correct container.
in the Zero Waste strategy we have to develop creative and forceful ways
of telling manufacturers that if the community cannot reuse, repair, recycle
or compost these objects or this material, they should not be making them
(see Industrial Responsibility, below).
typical communities in North America, once the community has done what
it can with recycling and composting, the residue is shipped off to landfills.
Often these landfills are very distant and very large. The rationale for
their development has been the need for expensive and complicated engineering
systems to contain, collect and treat the leachate (garbage juice!) that
emerges from them. This equipment, along with the lining systems, is so
expensive that it is usually cost-prohibitive for the community to use
this back end approach on a small scale for local needs; hence, the drive
for regional facilities.
have argued that, despite this equipment and these lining systems, all
landfills eventually leak toxic materials into the ground water and emit
other polluting gases and particulates into the air. We have further argued
that if engineers cannot control what comes out of a landfill, the community's
only rational choice is to control what goes in.
what goes into a landfill. There are two stages at which control
can be exerted over what goes into the landfill. The first stage comes
from source separation prior to curbside pick up, leading to all the measures
discussed in the activities described above (e.g., reuse, repair, composting,
recycling and toxic removal). The second level of control can be exerted
immediately prior to landfill in a residual screening facility.
further argue that, if the residual screening facility is properly overseen
by the community, there will be little or no need to build huge regional
landfills. With community controlled screening facilities we can return
to the small, locally operated landfill.
of the first such screening facilities is operating in Halifax, Nova Scotia
and is illustrated in the videotape, On the Road to Zero Waste, Part I.
Nova Scotia, Community Responsibility in Action (see Resources section).
This screening facility, locally called a ‘front-end processing facility,’
starts with conveyor belts manned by well-protected workers. These workers
separate out more recyclables (which escaped the source separation net),
bulky items, and toxic materials like batteries and paint cans (which
escaped household hazardous waste drop off centers). They leave on the
conveyor belts (i.e., using a negative sort) a dirty organic fraction
as well as a variety of non-recyclable plastic items. This material is
shredded and put through another composting process. The purpose of this
operation is to stabilize the dirty organic fraction biologically for
21 days prior to landfilling. With more effective source separation and
longer curing times this material might (after the plastics are removed)
eventually be used for landfill cover. When Paul visited the landfill
at the end of this operation he was struck by how odor-free the landfill
was and the almost total absence of seagulls or other birds.
would argue that, if the screening facility is properly overseen by the
community, there will be less, or no, need to build huge regional landfills
with elaborate lining systems. With community controlled screening facilities
we can return to the small, locally operated landfill. In Halifax, however,
they have backed up their ‘residual screening facility’ with a double
lined, leachate collecting system at the landfill. While, it may be a
good idea to have a back up, the danger is that this back end support
might eventually undermine the care with which toxics are removed and
organics are stabilized.
Better industrial design. This is not the end of the road to Zero
Waste. Even though the material exiting a ‘residual screening facility’
may be biologically stable and safe to bury, it still represents a waste
of resources, some of them in finite supply. We believe that the objects
and materials that end up in this interim landfill should be studied,
possibly by research students destined to work in manufacturing industries.
They should be challenged to recommend design changes in manufacturing
to avoid this fraction in the future. In short, we need better industrial
design for the 21st Century. In our view, this is where community
responsibility can help drive industrial responsibility.
Community Success Stories
the late 1980's, Dr. Barry Commoner and co-workers performed an experiment
in East Hampton, Long Island in the state of New York.
 With the help of 100 volunteer families they measured how much
diversion from landfill could be achieved with a four-container system
and existing commercial recycling and composting facilities. They used
one container for bottles, cans and other hard recyclables, a second container
for all paper products, a third for the compostable fraction (they used
a multiply kraft paper bag for this fraction), and a fourth container
for the residuals. In this experiment they achieved a remarkable 84% diversion
have argued that this sample is not a representative of the American people
and that the 100 families were highly committed to the success of the
project. We would argue that this is precisely the point. This experiment
showed how much diversion was physically possible when you had a very
strong commitment from householders. From our point of view, it clearly
underlines the need to spend sufficient money from the waste budget on
the kind of education programs that might generate this kind of commitment.
recycling rate. Despite the pessimistic projections of waste experts
in the early 80's, who suggested that the maximum recycling rate you could
expect from a typical American community would be about 15%, Americans
have done far better than this. A survey financed by the US Environmental
Protection Agency indicates that over the whole country, in 1996, Americans
were recycling 27.3% of the municipal discard stream,
 with nearly 9,000 curbside recycling programs in operation.
 But that is for the whole country. This includes states that
are recycling a lot and others that are doing very little.
recycling rate. Without including junked automobiles and construction
and demolition debris (C& D), the state of New Jersey is diverting
over 45% of its municipal discards from landfills. If we include the autos
and C & D, they are diverting over 60%.
recycling rate. California has a recycling law that required communities
to divert 50% of their discards from landfill by the year 2000. Over 60
communities had reached that target by 1996, and as many as half of all
communities may have actually reached the target on time (reports are
not due until the end of 2001). 
Scotia recycling rate. In 2000, the province of Nova Scotia became
the first province in Canada to achieve a 50% diversion from landfills.
in Communities. While states and countries can stimulate recycling
with appropriate legislation, incentives and government purchasing, it
is not states or countries but communities that recycle. National statistics
that combine data from both excellent programs with very poor ones give
a misleading impression of what an individual community can achieve. Thus
officials from a village, town or city who are wondering how much they
can divert from a landfill should comb the world, and the Internet, to
see how much a community of their size and demography has actually achieved
and consider whether they can copy their example or improve upon it.
Scotia communities. A good place to start would be the Canadian province
of Nova Scotia. In the sections above many of the details of this program
have been described. Their program includes: backyard composting, curbside
collection of all other separated organic material, curbside collection
of recyclables, drop off facilities for all beverage containers except
milk cartons (there are 95 eco-centers scattered throughout the province
that collect these deposit containers), deposits on tires and recycling
of tires to crumb rubber, household toxic waste collection sites and a
‘residual screening facility’ to handle and process the residuals prior
to landfilling. Only non-toxic , non-recyclable and non-biodegradable
materials are accepted at the landfill. Remarkably in just five years,
the program has achieved over 50% diversion from landfills and in the
process has generated over 3000 jobs. If we exclude construction and demolition
(‘C&D’) debris, the city of Halifax in the year 2000 had reduced the
amount of discards (calculated per capita to allow for population growth)
going to landfill by nearly 60% over 1989 figures.
driven. A very exciting element in the Nova Scotia program is that
it has been largely driven and designed by citizens, particularly the
‘It's Not Garbage Coalition.’ It was the citizens who produced a report
in which the word ‘waste’ was struck out every time it appeared and replaced
with the word ‘resources.’ To their credit, the Nova Scotia authorities,
after initially proposing a trash incinerator to get them out of their
landfill woes, have worked with citizens to make this program possible.
Indeed, following the citizens' cue, Barry Friesen's title at the Ministry
of Environment and Labor is ‘Solid Waste Resource Director’.
States communities. From 1996 to 1998, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance
identified 100 communities and nearly 200 businesses, institutions, and
other organizations reporting waste reduction rates at 50 percent or higher.
The results of that survey are summarized in a report, Cutting the Waste
Stream In Half: Community Record-Setters Show How, much of which is posted
on ILSR’s website. 
The next two communities are from that study.
Jose, California, USA (population 849,363). 60% of materials from
single-family households are recycled or reused; 47% of overall municipal
solid waste is diverted from landfill; businesses receive financial incentives
to reduce waste.
Colorado, USA (population 37,352). This rural community recovers
56% of residential materials for reuse and recycling using dual-collection
vehicles that pick up both recyclables and trash.
Ontario, Canada (population, 100,000) 58% of materials diverted from
landfill. Uses wet/dry collection system. 98% participation rate. No waste
goes direct to landfill. 67% diversion of wet waste. 51% diversion of
dry waste. Overall: 58% diversion.
Ontario (population 37,000) 63% reduction to landfill.
Ontario (population, 17,000) 69% reduction to landfill.
Ontario (population, 15,000) 75% reduction to landfill.
three towns are part of a 15- municipality, blue box-2000 program. 20
materials are collected at curbside. They use a ‘pay-by-bag’ system and
provide incentives to residents to compost in their backyard (65% participation
Australia (population 273,300). 51% diversion from landfill in 1996,
12% of this was construction and demolition debris. 
Italy (population 6,000). This small town is in the Milan area. 73%
of municipal discard stream is diverted from landfill. Curbside collection
of paper and green waste. Drop-off containers plus a very smart drop-off
center run by volunteers.
Italy (population 3,220). Community near Padua. 81% diversion from
landfill. No details. 
two major reasons we have become a toxic, throwaway society are that (1)
taxpayers subsidize the extraction of virgin materials that compete with
recovered (or secondary) materials, and (2) taxpayers assume the
burden of disposing whatever products and packaging industry chooses to
market. Hitherto, however, taxpayers and local government have had little
say in the production of things that become waste. The Zero Waste strategy
requires that this connection be made.
Producer Take Back
Take Back, or Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for waste, holds
manufacturers, and specifically brand owners, responsible for managing
their products and packaging at the end of their useful life. When brand
owners have physical or financial responsibility for their products and
packaging at end of life, they have a built-in incentive to use less toxics,
make more durable and recyclable products, and reduce excessive packaging.
was first mandated in Germany for packaging in 1991, and is now being
applied to packaging and other product sectors in most of the world’s
industrialized countries. A notable exception is the United States.  EPR policies in Europe have
led to company recycling rates close to 90% and high recycled content,
as well as an emphasis on reusable and returnable packaging. The policy
has spread to other countries as well, including Canada and nations in
Asia and Latin America. Often, U.S.-based companies follow EPR requirements
in other countries but do not replicate the programs in the United States.
of EPR programs in the United States and Canada include:
Systems for Beverage Containers. Deposit systems transfer the costs
of recycling from taxpayers to consumers and beverage manufacturers.
Deposits are not only fair; they work. In the ten U.S. states with container
deposits, recycling rates average 80% for containers covered by deposits,
compared with far less in non-bottle bill states (for example, around
10% for plastic soda bottles in non bottle bill states). In Canada, where
the beer industry invested in refillable glass bottles, 97% of bottles
are returned to the producer for refilling.
Programs for Toxics. British Columbia’s Product Stewardship laws
require producers to take back household chemicals such as paint, thinners,
pesticides, fuels and medicines for recycling or safe disposal. Millions
of gallons of these toxic chemicals are collected at industry-funded depots
at no cost to local communities. The costs create incentives for producers
to keep toxic leftovers to a minimum.
Take Back to Retail. Ottawa, Canada, and Washington County, Minnesota
USA, have implemented successful programs targeting problematic wastes
not covered by curbside programs, as an alternative to taxpayer funded
Household Hazardous Waste programs. Retailers like the program for its
free publicity and opportunity to get return customers. These are examples
of voluntary Retailer Responsibility programs that can complement other
Producer Responsibility programs.
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
organization, business or individual can promote Zero Waste by altering
buying habits. Many government agencies and companies have already adopted
preferences for recycled content products. Many are now moving to broader,
environmentally preferable purchasing programs seeking to reduce resource
use, cut air and water emissions, or achieve other environmental goals.
Purchasing practices can target:
materials purchased for manufacturing products and packaging;
purchased for use within the organization;
for products and materials delivered to the organization; or
specified through contractors, such as direct mailers, billing agents,
printers, copier companies, office products retailers, architecture
and construction companies.
U.S. Federal Agencies. As a result of Executive Orders in the 1990s,
federal agencies are taking the lead in buying recycled paper and other
recycled products, as well as products that include features such as reduced
toxics and reduced energy needs. 
King County, Washington USA is a national leader in buying environmentally
preferable products and has an excellent website.
 Likewise, the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource
Center has excellent resources on its website.
Product and Packaging Design
companies have been innovative in redesigning products, whether to reduce
costs or to meet government incentives or requirements. Some have redesigned
packaging to minimize materials. Others have redesigned products for ease
of reuse and recycling. Still more have transformed the concept of their
products to eliminate waste. Extended Producer Responsibility encourages
manufacturers to design products for easy disassembly, to minimize the
cost of manufacturer responsibility for recycling. A few examples include:
Inc. (Dalton GA, USA) This maker of commercial carpets is changing
its focus from providing a product to providing a service, leasing carpets
to customers and taking back old carpet and tiles for refurbishing or
recycling. Interface also pioneered the practice of installing carpet
in tiles, so that only high wear places need to be replaced when worn
Miller (Zeeland MI, USA) In manufacturing office furniture, Herman
Miller used to receive molded plastic chair seats in single-use cartons
containing shells in bags, separated by chipboard sheets, placed 56 to
a double-sided corrugated box. After unpacking the seats and assembling
the chairs, Herman Miller was left with 30 pounds of packaging for every
56 chairs. The company developed, with its vendor, a protective rack that
stores 90 seats in the space that previously housed 56 and can be reused
80 to 100 times or more.
Comprehensive Zero Waste Business Approaches
pursue Zero Waste, in addition to redesigning products, by:
Re-evaluating products and services to create the greatest consumer
and environmental value, within economic feasibility;
excess materials and maximizing recycled content in products and packaging;
productive uses for, reuse, recycling or composting over 90% of their
procurement needs, then specifying products that meet Zero Waste criteria;
easily accessible repair systems, as well as recovery processes for
packaging and products.
& Aikman, Dalton, Georgia, USA.
 These makers of automotive fabric and trim sent zero manufacturing
waste to landfill in 1998. Waste-minimization and energy-efficiency programs
boosted production 300% and lowered corporate waste 80%.
Corporation, Rochester, NY, USA.
 Xerox instituted an Asset Recycling Management program in 1990
as a cost saving rather than an environmental initiative. It is an example
of a win-win voluntary EPR initiative. In 1997, it saved the company $40
to $50 million and resulted in the remanufacture of 30,000 tons of returned
machines. According to Bette Fishbein of INFORM, Inc.,
 it is an approach that can serve as a model for many companies,
though it may only be profitable for high-value products. Even Xerox has
found that for lower-value equipment such as fax machines, the ARM program
generates net costs rather than savings.
corporation, Venray, Netherlands. Venray is the manufacturing headquarters
of the Xerox corporation in Europe. There, Xerox operates a massive ‘reverse
distribution service’ to recover old copying machines from 16 European
countries. They reuse these machines or reuse their parts, or recycle
their materials. They are only sending 5% of the returned materials for
waste disposal. In 2000, this operation saved the company $76 million
in reduced production costs and avoided disposal costs. This operation
will be the subject of a future video: On the Road to Zero Waste. Models
of Industrial Responsibility.
Breweries, Africa, Sweden, Canada and Japan.
 The Zero Emissions Research and Initiative (ZERI) Foundation
has helped design breweries that utilize 40 different biochemical processes
to reuse everything, including heat, water and wastes. A digester transforms
organic wastes into methane gas for steam for fermentation. Spent grain
is used to grow mushrooms. Alkaline water supports a fish and algae farm.
Vineyards, Hopland, California, USA.
 Fetzer recycles paper, cardboard, cans, glass, metals, antifreeze,
pallets and wine barrels; composts corks and grape seeds. Garbage was
reduced by 93% in the past several years, with a goal of no waste by 2009.
THE NEED FOR GOOD LEADERSHIP back
we examine successful cases of Zero Waste, it is clear that leadership
has come from all the areas of business, government and non-governmental
organizations. We can anticipate even more leadership from the business
community because reduction in waste here is indelibly linked to economic
we look at communities that have achieved major breakthroughs, we find
the key to their success is the fact that the government was prepared
to work with community activists to design their programs. This was the
case in Canberra, Australia, which first introduced the ‘No Waste to Landfill’
concept in the mid-nineties, and the province of Nova Scotia, in Canada,
which has diverted 50% from landfill in just five years. The message is
a simple one. As far as a genuine sustainable solutions are concerned,
the future belongs to those in local government who put their faith in
people, not ‘magic machines’.
would not wish to imply that achieving Zero Waste, or even getting close,
is going to be easy. While simple in principle, the execution of these
systems requires a lot of hard work, perseverance and creativity from
the organizers in the community and in industry .We believe that adopting
the Zero Waste goal as a local government or industry policy is the best
way to get started. It forces the paradigm shift. It transforms the task
from getting rid of waste to saving resources.
should recognize that currently there is a considerable amount of tension
between long-term goals and interim solutions. While the long term goal
is to have no landfills, in the interim we need some kind of landfill
to handle the non-toxic and non-biodegradable residuals. The worry is
that these 'interim' landfills may get fossilized unless citizens keep
the pressure on local officials to live up to their Zero Waste commitment.
Similarly, there are some commentators who are uneasy about how much money
communities are putting into curbside collection of recyclables, when
they believe that ultimately the collection (and re-design) of their packaging
should be industry's responsibility.
industrial officials, in addition to reducing toxic use and resource conservation,
it means searching for ways of getting back objects and materials from
their customers so that they can be used again. If the huge Xerox corporation
can take on the daunting task of recovering its used copying machines
(which contain over a 1,000 parts) from all over Europe, and clean, repair
their parts or recycle their material components, any manufacturer should
be able to do it. Moreover, when manufacturers hear that Xerox is saving
$76 million a year doing this, they should want to do it! Moreover, once
companies take on such a recovery task, it then feeds into the need to
design new products with this ultimate goal in mind i.e. to make them
easier to disassemble and reuse their constituent parts.
the local official, the new Zero Waste paradigm, transforms the old 'waste
disposal' task from the distressing one of looking for new landfill or
incinerator sites, to a much more exciting one of searching for entrepreneurs
who can create viable businesses that utilize discarded objects and materials.
This task is better both for the planet and the bureaucratic 'psyche'
than attempting to locate a hole in the ground or a non-existent 'magic
machine' that will make the problem disappear.
Zero Waste paradigm also offers another challenge and reward and that
is working constructively with citizen activists rather than dreading
their appearance at public meetings!
experience has convinced us of several things:
However daunting the task may appear, the Zero Waste approach is moving
our society in the right direction.
is certainly far superior to a reliance on raw waste landfilling or
It will improve as more and more manufacturers learn to combine selling
to the present with sharing our limited resources with the future.
As far as community responsibility is concerned. People are not the
problem. Once they recognize that source separation is easy, that it
is in the best interests of their children and those in charge have
organized effective systems to handle the materials they separate, they
readily cooperate to make the system work.
far as the local economy is concerned the pay off is far greater than
the dead end of landfills and incinerators. With the latter a huge amount
of money is put into complicated machinery and most of it leaves the
community, and probably the country, in the pockets of multinational
corporations. Whereas, with the low-tech components of the Zero Waste
program most of the money stays in the community creating local businesses
and local jobs.
we believe that the Zero Waste approach is the one that is most likely
to lead to questions on how we should be living on a finite planet.
with so much that we do, we are living on this planet as if we had another
one to go to! The average person's most concrete connection to this important
realization is our trash. The way we handle our discarded material is
a microcosm of the way we handle our planet. If we care about the planet
we have to care about the way we treat our discarded materials
the economic and environmental benefits of a Zero Waste goal are very
clear, ultimately the issue is an ethical one. Alan Durning brilliantly
outlines the ethics in his book How Much is Enough?  He shows how a combination of slick advertising
and too much time in front of the TV has trapped so many of us in a mindless
binge of consumption. But the good news is that it is not making us very
happy. Durning points out that while Americans are consuming in 2000 about
five times more per capita than our ancestors in 1900, we are not five
times happier. Meanwhile, the gap between our consumption patterns and
the poorest fifth of the world’s population steadily increases. As Mahatma
Gandhi so succinctly and wisely put it, “The world has enough for everyone’s
need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
short we have been seduced into believing that happiness lies in the series
of objects we buy, rather than the relationships we nurture with our friends,
our loved ones and our community. Thus in our view the antidote to over-consumption
is community building.
we are to succeed, the task of achieving, or moving towards, a Zero Waste
society must be seen to be exciting, challenging and fun. If we approach
it only with a sense of moral duty, and not with a sense of business opportunity,
we will probably fail. If we approach reduced consumption with a sense
of loss, rather than the opportunity to regain our ‘sense of community’
we will certainly fail. As far as having fun is concerned, We cannot think
of anything quite as challenging, and as exciting, as having people in
our communities, from businesses, from government and from activist circles,
working together to create a community that is determined to share as
much of their resources with the future as it can. Especially if we remember
to celebrate often.
ZERO WASTE RESOURCES back
Zero Waste: Idealistic Dream or Realistic Goal? (1999, 58 minutes;
2000, 28 minute version). This video was produced by Paul Connett, of
Grass Roots and Global Video (GGvideo) with the help of the GrassRoots
Recycling Network. The video conveys a sense of excitement, immediacy
and practicality about recycling, reuse, deconstruction, sustainability
and zero waste. It has been translated into two languages and distributed,
by Essential Action, to activists in 20 countries.
Zero Canada (2001, 51 minutes) covers the launch of a Zero Waste strategy
for Canada and elaborates on principles and practicalities of the Zero
Waste concept in both Canadian communities and industries. (See description
in Section 1, above.)
the Road to Zero Waste. This new series of videotapes will spotlight
successful initiatives in communities and businesses that illustrate
community responsibility, industrial responsibility and political leadership
needed to get to Zero Waste. The series is being produced by GG Video
and co-sponsored by Waste and Environment (Netherlands) and the GrassRoots
Recycling Network (USA).
1. Nova Scotia: Community Responsibility in Action (32 minutes, 2001).
This videotape covers many aspects of a Zero Waste program as described
in this paper.
by Paul Connett and GG Video can be purchased from the GrassRoots Recycling
Network, by check to GRRN, 210 N Bassett St., Suite 200, Madison, WI
53703, Tel: 608·255-4800, also described at www.grrn.org.
All videos are $12 (postage included) for grassroots activists (add $6.00
to cover international postage), and $25 for libraries, local governments
and all others. Check the status of new videos on www.grrn.org/order/order.html.
videos by Paul Connett referred to in the text were produced by Video-Active
Productions and are available from GG Video, 82 Judson Street, Canton,
NY 13617. Phone 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448. Email ggvideo@northnet. All videos are $12.00 (postage
included. Add $6.00 for international postage).
WasteWise: A Community Resource Center(1991)
Composting in Zurich(1991)
Doo and You Can Too (1988)
Garbarino and the Marin Resource Recovery Plant (1987)
Zantow: Recycling Pioneer and the Trashman (1987)
BOOKS & REPORTS
Creating Wealth from Waste, by Robin Murray (London: Demos, 1999).
Waste Briefing Kit, by GrassRoots Recycling Network (2001).
and Recycling in the United States 2000, by Institute for Local Self-Reliance
for GrassRoots Recycling Network (2000).
for Waste: How Federal Taxpayer Subsidies Waste Resources and Discourage
Recycling, by GrassRoots Recycling Network, Taxpayers for Common Sense,
Friends of the Earth, Materials Efficiency Project (1999).
Matter: Toward a Sustainable Materials Policy, by Ken Geiser (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 2001).
items listed above can be previewed and purchased on the GrassRoots Recycling
Network website at www.grrn.org/order/order.html.
WASTE WEB SITES
[*] Paul Connett, Grass Roots and Global Video, 82 Judson Street,
Canton, NY 13617. Phone 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org(and
Department of Chemistry, St. Lawrence University, Canton NY).
[**] Bill Sheehan, Director, Product Policy Project,
P.O. Box 48433,
Athens, Georgia 30604; Tel: 706-613-0710
Fax: 706-613-7123; Email: email@example.com;
This guide may be downloaded from the internet at www.grrn.org/zerowaste/community
The GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN) is a North American network
of waste reduction activists and professionals dedicated to achieving
sustainable production and consumption based on the principle of Zero
Waste. Founded in 1995 by members of the Sierra Club Solid Waste Committee,
the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and the California Resource Recovery
Association, GRRN uses grassroots advocacy, organizing and activism
to advance policies and practices based on government, corporate and
individual accountability for waste (see footnote on page 1 for contact
Renine, C., and A. MacLean (1989). Salvaging the Future, Institute
for Local Self-Reliance, ISBN: 0917582373.
Platt, B., and N. Seldman (2000). Wasting and Recycling in the
United States 2000, Prepared by Institute for Local Self-Reliance for
the GrassRoots Recycling Network, 64 pages. Seldman, N. (1995). ‘History
of Recycling in the U.S.,’ Encyclopedia of Energy, Technology and Environment
(New York, Wiley Brothers).
See Zero Waste New Zealand Trust website: www.zerowaste.co.nz.
Contact: Warren Snow, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Murray, Robin, Creating Wealth from Waste, (London: Demos, 1999).
(see Resources section).
Target Zero Canada, Website: www.targetzerocanada.org
The mission of Grass Roots and Global Video is to: (1) expose environmental
injustice; (2) communicate scientific controversy with integrity and
clarity; and (3) spotlight communities, institutions and companies that
are pursuing sustainable solutions to environmental problems (see footnote
on page 1 for contact information).
See website: www.act.gov.au/nowaste
Contact: Del Norte County Solid Waste Management Authority at 707-465-1100
or email: email@example.com . The Del
Norte County Waste Management Authority Zero Waste Plan (February 2000)
can be viewed at www.grrn.org/order/order.html#del_norte
See website: www.zerowaste.co.nz. Contact: Warren Snow,
See website: www.ci.seattle.wa.us/util/solidwaste/SWPlan/default.htm
Roumpf, J. (1998). ‘Wet- and dry -all over,’ Resource Recycling,
April 1998, 29-34; Kelleher, M. (1998). ‘Guelph's Wet-Dry System. Up-to-date
costs are now available,’ Solid Waste and Recycling, Feb/March 1998,
Contact: Dr. Dan Knapp, Urban Ore, Inc., 6082 Ralston Avenue, Richmond,
CA 94805. Phone: 510-235-0172, Fax: 510-235-0198; Website: urbanore.citysearch.com/1.html
Glen, J. (1998). ‘The State of Garbage in America,’ BioCycle, April
BioCycle, Journal of Composting and Organics Recycling, published
monthly by the JG Press, Inc. ISSN 0276-5055. Subscription offices:
419 State Avenue, Emmaus, PA 18049; Tel: 215-967-4135; Website: www.biocycle.net
Contact: Mary Appelhof, Flowerfield Enterprises, Inc., 10332 Shaver
Rd., Kalamazoo, MI 49024; Tel: 616-327-0108; Fax: 616-327-7009; Website:
See website: www.grrn.org/resources/landfills.html
Urban Ore, Inc. (1995). Generic Designs and Projected Performance
for Two Sizes of Integrated Resource Recovery Facilities, for the West
Virginia Solid Waste Management Board, January 1995 (order at www.grrn.org/order/order.html
See Resource Recovery Parks: A Model for Local Government Recycling
and Waste Reduction, by Gary Liss for the California Integrated Waste
Management Board, 2000 (www.ciwmb.ca.gov/LGLibrary/Innovations/RecoveryPark).
Contact: Gary Liss; Tel: 916-652-7850; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Contact: John Moore, UODA, 1970 Broadway, Suite 950, Oakland,
CA 94612, 510-893-6300 or email@example.com
Contact: Michael Bender; Tel: 802-223-9000; Email: MTBenderVT@aol.com;
Ottawa Take It Back! website: city.ottawa.on.ca/gc/takeitback/index_en.shtml
. See also www.grrn.org/resources/ottawa_take_it_back.html
Commoner, Barry, et al (1988). ‘Intensive Recycling: Preliminary
Results from East Hampton and Buffalo,’ presented at the Fourth Annual
Conference on Solid Waste Management and Materials Policy, Jan 27-30,
New York City. Copies available from CBNS, Queens College, Flushing,
NY 11367. Phone: 718-670-4192.
US EPA (1998), Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the
US: 1997 Update (EPA 530-R-98-007).
Glen, J. (1998). ‘The State of Garbage in America,’ BioCycle, April
Waste and Recycling, Feb/March 1998, 34-35. Annual reports available
from Wet-Dry Recycling Center, 333 Watson Road, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
Tel: 1-519-767-0598; Web: www.recycling.org/guelph/
Argue, B. (1998). ‘Sustaining 65 percent waste diversion,’ Resource
Recycling, May 1998, 14-21. Centre & South Hastings Recycling
Board, 270 West Street, Trenton, Ontario, Canada K8V 2N3, Tel: 1-613-394-6266;
Australian Capital Territory, Canberra (1996). ‘A Waste Management
Strategy for Canberra. No Waste by 2010’, ACT Waste, PO Box 788, Civic
Square ACT 2068, Australia. Phone: Website: www.act.gov.au/nowaste
Contact: Graham Mannall, Waste Reduction Manager, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Personal visit by Paul Connett. Videotape in progress.
 Durning, A. (1992). How Much is Enough? The Consumer
Society and the Future of the Earth. Worldwatch Environmental Alert
Series, W.W. Norton, NY.