The Road to Zero Waste: Producer Responsibility
By Helen Spiegelman
Zero Waste is a planning principle for business and citizens in the 21st Century. Waste is inefficiency and businesses must be encouraged to strive towards environmental efficiency. Just as businesses don't want to waste time or money, they should be discouraged from wasting natural resources. Nor should they be allowed to pass their waste on to consumers, in the form of "disposable" products and packaging. In a Zero Waste marketplace, businesses will create reverse distribution systems to take products and packaging back into production, rather than dumping the problem on community incinerators and landfills. Nature is a Zero Waste system. Business must learn to be more like Nature.
Is Zero Waste necessary?
If all businesses operated as wastefully as do businesses in the "developed world", we would need THREE PLANET EARTHS to support them. In our daily lives, we use much more than our fair share of the earth's resources. As more and more people join the human family, and all aspire to live the way we live in the "developed world", the inefficiency we now take for granted will not be tolerable. Zero Waste is a discipline we must begin to practice now. We must learn to eliminate unnecessary waste, in order to preserve the true quality of life that we aspire to as human beings -- the quality of life defined by having just enough of what you want, rather than an abundance of waste -- which no-one wants.
The North American economic system stands for...
Our economic system is built on the trust we have in the free market to regulate the production and consumption of goods. Consumers have the freedom to choose, and their choices guide the producers in the production of goods. But a free market only works if the prices of products tells the truth about the costs of production. For many years, product prices have misled consumers. Cheap, mass-produced convenience products bear hidden costs that the consumer never thinks about. Landfills, incinerators, litter clean-up -- these are all costs that are passed on to local communities, not paid for by the producers of the products that become waste. Taxpayer subsidies and tax breaks that support the squandering of natural resources. Welfare checks paid to the unemployed -- productive workers who lost their jobs to automation and mass-production. These environmental and social costs are hidden subsidies, ways in which the taxpayer inadvertently encourages businesses to be wasteful and inefficient.
A Zero Waste economy will shift these environmental and social costs back into the prices of the disposable products and packaging where they belong, signaling to the consumer that these are not such bargains after all. In a Zero Waste economy, the competitive producer is the one who learns to avoid waste and invest in jobs that produce high-quality products and services.