What is zero waste?

The current working definition stems from the Zero Waste International Alliance which in 2004 proclaimed:

“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient, and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

Zero waste is more of an idea or a goal to work toward rather than a concrete target. It is nearly impossible to achieve complete zero waste, no matter how much effort is put in. The main idea, to put it simply, is to keep waste out of landfills. Even more importantly, zero waste ensures that we keep trash out of illegal dumping sites and waterways. Once debris reaches these areas, it becomes very harmful to the environment and the wildlife that live there. That is why it is important to stop the cycle and keep this trash from getting out into the environment in the first place.

What are the benefits of zero waste?

Living zero waste lifestyles are beneficial in an obvious way: it creates less trash. Having less trash lying around is great, but it goes beyond that. Some of the additional benefits of leading a zero waste lifestyle include:

  • Saving Resources – By using fewer resources to create goods, we can keep our finite resources around for much longer. Many of these resources are non-renewable and will run out eventually, so it is important to save them while it’s still possible.
  • Improving the Environment – Zero waste will keep garbage out of the landfill. More importantly, it will keep plastic bags and other debris out of the waterways where they clearly don’t belong.
  • Saving Money – Reducing waste can reduce costs since waste is a sign of inefficiency. In terms of being a consumer, buying products that are sustainable and durable means you won’t have to replace them as frequently. Also, buying only the amount of food you need will reduce the amount of your grocery bill.
  • Faster Progress – Zero waste improves production processes and improves environmental prevention strategies which can lead to bigger and more innovative steps.
  • Supports Sustainability – Zero waste supports sustainability in all of its three goals – economic well-being, environmental protection, and social well-being.
  • Improved Material Flows – Zero waste uses fewer new materials and sends no materials to the landfill. All of the material waste would return to the earth as compost or be reused or recycled in some way as to not be wasted.

Who are the key players in achieving zero waste?

Zero waste is a demanding idea. One person can dedicate themselves to living a zero waste lifestyle, but in order for a community or a society to achieve zero waste, many different people must work toward the goal. Zero waste is a challenge that motivates innovation, new product creation, and for people and businesses to change their behaviors and actions toward the environment.

  • Central Government

Leadership has to come from somewhere, and in order for it to have the widest range of impact, it should come from a central government. They should create legislation that supports zero waste goals. They should also provide funding that supports development, innovation, and implementation of zero waste policies on a national level.

  • Regional Government

Much planning is required in this role. It is necessary to plan ahead and ensure that the facilities needed to handle the increased flow of recyclable materials are up and running. Regional government also needs to be able to address the concerns of many players in different sectors of the economy.

  • Local Government

It is necessary for the local government to put through legislation that will favor resource recovery over disposal of trash. Local authorities should take care of the street level details of zero waste, from citing recovery facilities to setting up school programs and recycling bins.

  • Industrial Designers

Designers are important in the sustainability of zero waste. They are responsible for creating materials that are durable and long-lasting. They should also be easy to repair and disassemble so they can be recycled and reused in the industrial system or incorporated back into nature.

  • Manufacturers

The manufacturing companies should be investing in new and innovative technologies. This new technology should include products that produce minimal waste and less packaging. There should be responsibility for the entire life-cycle of the product in this phase.

  • Retailers

Grocery stores and retailers should stock products that are “zero-waste” friendly. This includes items with little to no packaging (the packaging should be compostable or at least recyclable) and products that are recyclable, repairable, and environmentally sustainable.

  • Schools/Universities

Students should learn about zero waste principles in schools and universities. Elementary students learn about “reduce, reuse, recycle,” but this can be extended. Authorities should put recycling systems and policies in place for students to learn first-hand.

  • Households

Individuals should be smart consumers, do some research, and use that knowledge. Buy products that are sustainable and do not create unnecessary waste. They should adopt reduction and recycling schemed in their own homes to divert waste from the landfills.

How can I live a zero waste lifestyle?

There are many ways to go about leading a zero waste lifestyle. It won’t happen overnight, so don’t get discouraged. One of the easiest and quickest ways to start making changes toward a zero waste lifestyle is in the kitchen. Check out some of our other posts about leading a zero-waste life for more information and ideas:

Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Food Waste
Zero Waste Holiday Parties
Tips for a Zero Waste Bathroom
The Abundant Rewards of Zero Waste