Is Zero Waste?
March 22, 2019
has become a national habit, a daily ritual practiced by over 100 million
people every day. Yet recycling alone will not end our dependency on landfills
and incinerators, nor reverse the rapid depletion of our natural resources.
As world population and consumption continue to rise, it is clear that
our one-way system of extracting virgin resources to make packaging and
products that will later be buried or burned is not sustainable.
Waste is a new way of looking at our waste stream. Instead of seeing
used materials as garbage in need of disposal, discards are seen as valuable
resources. A pile of "trash" represents jobs, financial opportunity,
and raw material for new products.
Other countries around the world and some U.S. communities have begun
to evaluate and redesign their current systems to encourage resource recovery
and to create a more materials-efficient economy. American companies who
do business overseas are already redesigning their products and manufacturing
processes to meet the Zero Waste standards adopted by other countries.
If they can do it there, they can do it here.
is Zero Waste Important?
system of consumption and wasting that drives our demand for raw materials
creates an unsustainable demand on natural resources as well as an enormous
environmental hazard on the disposal end.
Zero Waste Basics
Products and Packaging for Durability, Reuse and Recyclability
Instead of perpetuating our throwaway society, products are designed
using fewer material types that could be easily reused or repaired when
they have outlived their usefulness.
Jobs from Discards
Wasting materials in a landfill also wastes jobs that could be created
if those resources were preserved. According to the groundbreaking report,
Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000, "On a per-ton
basis, sorting and processing recyclables alone sustains ten times more
jobs than landfilling or incineration." According to the report,
some recycling-based paper mills and recycled plastic product manufacturers
employ 60 times more workers on a per-ton basis than do landfills. The
report adds, "Each recycling step a community takes locally means
more jobs, more business expenditures on supplies and services, and
more money circulating in the local economy through spending and tax
Zero Waste puts the responsibility for materials entering the waste
stream on the front-end with the manufacturer, not on the consumer,
at the back-end of the product's life. The end result is that manufacturers
redesign products to reduce material consumption and facilitate reuse,
recycling and recovery.
The price of a product does not currently reflect the full costs of
the environmental degradation and public health impacts associated with
the virgin resource extraction, processing, manufacture, transportation,
and disposal of that product. When the market prices begin to include
such costs, the more environmentally-friendly product will also be the
in Infrastructure, Not Landfills
In many communities, strategies like unit-based pricing for garbage
collection (commonly known as Pay-As-You-Throw) have created tremendous
incentives for residents and businesses to reduce waste and have resulted
in higher landfill diversion rates. Rather than using the tax base to
build new landfills or incinerators, communities have also invested
in recycling, composting, and reuse facilities. In some cases, communities
have created integrated discard "malls" where various recycling
and reuse businesses coexist in a location where consumers can come
to drop-off any unwanted item.
Tax Payer Subsidies for Wasteful and Polluting Industries
Pollution, energy consumption and environmental destruction start at
the point of virgin resource extraction and processing. Our tax dollars
subsidize many industries that make products from virgin materials,
such as timber and mining. Zero Waste proposes ending these federal
subsidies to enable recycled and reused products to compete on an even
playing field. Without the subsidies, the market can determine which
are truly the less expensive products.
of the Zero Waste Activity Kit