At its most basic level, zero waste is about significantly reducing—and eventually completely eliminating—the amount of resources that we send to disposal. Most of what we now waste can be safely and economically recycled, reused, composted, or turned into biogas through anaerobic digestion. We also need to simply use fewer disposable products and redesign our products so that they are toxic-free and built to last. But zero waste is about much more.
It is about respecting all communities, so that pollution and waste treatment facilities are not concentrated in poor and marginalized communities. It is about inclusion, so that the millions of people worldwide who make a living by collecting and selling discarded materials (including those known as waste pickers, catadores, and grassroots recyclers) are able to live with dignity. It’s about putting money into real solutions, supporting local government transparency, and combatting corruption. It’s about community organizing, education, and democracy, so that all citizens can participate in local resource management plans, so that funding is fairly distributed, and so that all businesses and manufacturers understand and fulfill their roles in minimizing waste and designing products for the future.
Zero waste programs include all of the following strategies:
- Reducing consumption and discards
- Reusing discards
- The principle of producer accountability (including extended producer responsibility strategies)
- Comprehensive recycling
- Comprehensive composting or bio-digestion of organic materials
- Citizen participation and worker rights
- A ban on waste incineration and illegal dumping
- the systematic reduction of landfilling over time
- Effective policies, regulations, incentives, and financing structures to support these systems.
Effective zero waste programs also include many different kinds of people. From waste worker cooperatives to local neighborhood groups to universities and governments, people around the world are working together to develop zero waste programs, adopt resolutions, and create innovative plans to reduce waste and injustice. These leaders are modeling efficiency and sustainability by creating well-paying jobs and livelihoods in the reuse and recycling industries, reducing consumption, and requiring that products be made in ways that are safe for people and the planet. They are proving that our air, soil, and water do not have to be polluted, and that our natural resources don’t have to be trashed.