Zero Waste requires preventing rather than managing waste.
Zero Waste turns discarded resources into jobs instead of trash.
Zero Waste supports an economy that provides for a comfortable society without robbing the future.
Zero Waste emulates natural systems where everything that wears out or dies becomes food or shelter, however temporarily, for something else, giving rise to a vibrant yet efficient flow of energy and resources.
Today is a splendid time to put forward this large, generous, hopeful vision for our future. We, the GrassRoots Recycling Network, are united in the belief that Zero Waste is both feasible and required if we are to convert to a sustainable human culture for our shared planet Earth and beyond.
As hands-on recyclers, environmentalists, policy makers and business people, we have banded together into a virtual policy pressure group to push governments and economies to adopt zero waste as "the way things are done."
Almost all materials we use to manufacture products start with natural resources. Far too many of our production systems still cause negative impacts, including: mining, forestry and agricultural practices that create ecological damage and pollution, use too much energy and cause social dislocation; manufacturing processes that require virgin rather than recycled resources; distribution systems that increase waste and pollution; and disposal systems that waste the potential for continued use in discarded materials. Far too many of the refined products that flow through our economies end up concentrated in landfills, burned in incinerators, or wasted in other ways.
Our worldwide manufacturing, distribution, and disposal systems have evolved with support from laws and practices over more than 150 years that encouraged the rapid conversion of natural resources into finished products. To some, the land appeared so vast it could absorb any amount of pollution while giving up its wealth endlessly. Today everyone knows this was an illusion.
Even though our ancestors' dedication to industrial development has spurred tremendous production and technological achievements, continuing this approach to production life cycles cannot sustain a healthy, satisfying quality of life for the world's vastly increased population as we enter the 21st century.
What we now call "trash" is unfortunate waste, resources rendered useless and worthless by failed handling systems. Any disposal system that manufactures wastes from resources requires the extraction of more natural resources from the earth to create replacements. Wastes are resources that could and should have been conserved. Minimizing wasted materials reduces energy and water use as well as pollution.
To understand better how the products we create help or harm the environment we depend on, we need to ask:
We must tell our industrial process engineers and developers to intensify their efforts toward designing production systems that do not pollute or release toxics into the environment. These professionals are already creating some closed loop manufacturing facilities that neutralize toxics; treat discarded materials, energy, and water as feedstocks for the next production stage; and clean up and reuse materials in benign ways.
We must shift our attention from quantity to quality by recognizing all the social and environmental impacts of a product's life cycle. Instead of rewarding companies for producing single-use, unrecyclable products and packaging, we should encourage companies to produce more durable products that are more easily repairable, lease some products with full service guarantees instead of selling them outright, and create more modular designs so that complex products can be more easily upgraded. We should also require them to include in their pricing the full cost of the product's production, including environmental damage, lost habitat, actual (not subsidized) costs of resource extraction, and proper disposal through reuse, recycling, and composting.
We should ensure that all people have access to the basic material goods they need for a healthy, creative, and satisfying life, instead of valuing people based on their wealth, overconsumption, and opulence. Overconsumption is a form of wasting, not a thing to be envied.
Legal structures should be changed by legislatures or by citizen initiative to reward conservation, quality, and service. All grants and subsidies to the solid waste landfill and incinerator industries should be eliminated, along with all barriers to materials recovery competition such as flow control and exclusive franchises to handle all "wastes."
Accounting practices and economic indicators (such as the GDP) should focus on developing a balance sheet that internalizes the true benefits and costs of all products and services, including all environmental and societal benefits and costs. This more accurate and complete reckoning should recognize essential but unpaid activities such as family care and volunteer service. The goal should be to ferret out and eliminate all incentives to waste and societal breakdown and to quantify all currently ignored "externalities" and bring them into the pricing structure.