06-Going Zero Waste

What is Zero Waste?

“The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning, and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
– Zero Waste International Alliance

Our current extractive economy is part of a system that sends billions of tons of waste a year into our land, oceans and air, and that continues to harm more and more people. Zero waste replaces this one-way model with a more sustainable, cyclical system that focuses on waste prevention and emphasizes chains of responsibility, connectivity, and inclusivity within communities, such as the formal integration of informal waste pickers and. The peer-reviewed and internationally recognized definition of “zero waste” by the Zero Waste International Alliance is important to pinpoint and even more important to uphold, as the path to zero waste will be unique to every city and community but the underlying values that direct zero waste efforts are shared and unwavering.

On a practical level, zero waste is both a goal and a plan of action. The goal is to ensure resource recovery and protect scarce natural resources by ending toxic waste disposal in incinerators, dumps, and landfills, and to establish systems that are socially and environmentally just in their place. The plan encompasses waste reduction, reuse, composting, recycling, changes in consumption habits, and industrial redesign—strategies that create more resilient communities, climate solutions, social equity, and healthier environments.

Zero waste is therefore a means towards environmental goals and a holistic tool for social intervention towards well-being for all.

Zero waste is a revolution in the way we take, make, and waste.

5
Pillars of Zero Waste
1
Set a goal to Zero Waste
2
Hold producers accountable
3
Encourage responsible consumption habits
4
Build Zero Waste infrastructure
5
Prioritize social and environmental justice

WHY ZERO WASTE MATTERS

Zero waste is ambitious, but it is neither unachievable nor part of some far-off future. In small towns and big cities, in communities rich and poor, in the Global North and South, innovative plans in place today are making real progress toward the goal of zero waste.

Planning for a zero waste city or community doesn’t necessarily mean not producing any waste. As with many other policies, zero waste is a trajectory to avoid waste by ultimately eliminating materials that can not be safely reused, recycled, or composted. Similar to a city setting a goal for zero pedestrian fatalities, zero waste goals assert that our current system is not acceptable. By implementing zero waste plans, cities then build the policies, programs, and infrastructure needed to get as close to the goal of zero as possible.

Cities around the world are already taking action to achieve zero waste. 400 municipalities have committed to zero waste in Europe alone, and cities across Europe and Asia are modeling zero waste solutions that reduce waste by up to 80%! Through pioneering zero waste systems, these cities saved money, significantly reduced the amount of waste they generated, and created sustainable jobs.

©Rommel Cabrera/GAIA

WHY ZERO WASTE IS ATTAINABLE

Zero waste is ambitious, but it is neither unachievable nor part of some far-off future. In small towns and big cities, in communities rich and poor, in the Global North and South, innovative plans in place today are making real progress toward the goal of zero waste.

Planning for a zero waste city or community doesn’t necessarily mean not producing any waste. As with many other policies, zero waste is a trajectory to avoid waste by ultimately eliminating materials that can not be safely reused, recycled, or composted. Similar to a city setting a goal for zero pedestrian fatalities, zero waste goals assert that our current system is not acceptable. By implementing zero waste plans, cities then build the policies, programs, and infrastructure needed to get as close to the goal of zero as possible.

Cities around the world are already taking action to achieve zero waste. 400 municipalities have committed to zero waste in Europe alone, and cities across Europe and Asia are modeling zero waste solutions that reduce waste by up to 80%! Through pioneering zero waste systems, these cities saved money, significantly reduced the amount of waste they generated, and created sustainable jobs.

©Anto Astudillo/GAIA

Why Zero Waste Works

48% of global carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by 2030 through switching to a circular economy

Zero waste systems create up to 200 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators

Zero Waste avoids the negative health impacts from incinerators, landfills, and open burning