The concept of zero waste
Unless you live in a bubble, you’ve probably heard mentions of ‘zero waste’ many times. But you are not alone if you do not fully understand what the concept actually means. So, let’s start with the basics.
The Zero Waste Alliance International (ZWAI) organization defines it in the following way: “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. “
So, is zero waste an attainable goal? Based on this definition, the answer is no, but zero waste as a philosophy and lifestyle is. In fact, the long-term success of this movement will demand a major shift in the way we manage our relationship between consumerism and the waste it results in. The concept of the zero waste lifestyle is a crucial segment of that path.
There are three major levels of zero waste that we will now consider: zero waste households, zero waste businesses and zero waste cities.
The Zero Waste Household
The zero waste space that appears most achievable in practice is certainly the zero waste household. The key to achieving this kind of living space is simple: The less you bring inside the home, the less waste you make. Still, our consumerist society in which we rarely think, “Do I really need that?” makes this task rather difficult for most people.
Note that a zero waste home is not about recycling — that is just the last resort. The main conceptual element is to bring as little as possible into the home. Does that sound tough? Here are some good ways to start:
- Switch to reusable shopping containers.
- Do not take business cards, fliers and other promotional materials.
- Buy in bulk whenever you can.
- Eliminate one-use plastic objects (bottles, cups, plastic cutlery, etc.).
The Zero Waste Business
There are more and more businesses adopting the zero waste philosophy. Subaru International is a good example of such a company. The Subaru Initiative started with the intent of simultaneously saving money and helping the environment, but they were soon to become a zero waste inspiration to a myriad of other companies.
They recycle all their food waste into compost, which employees take home for their yard soil. They recycle and reuse most of their automotive components, and the savings are estimated at almost $2 million per year!
The Zero Waste City
A zero waste city may be a thing of the future, but it is already more than an exciting idea. San Francisco is currently the leader of the zero waste movement, having declared war on waste with its 2009 compulsory recycling and composting ordinance.
San Francisco can now boast an 80% landfill diversion, making it the greenest city in the USA and promising an actual zero waste status by 2020.
As you can see, the approach is more promising than it seems, but for most of us, the best way to start is in our own homes.