WHAT IS ZERO WASTE?
Zero waste means setting a new goal for how we live in the world – one that aims to reduce what we trash in landfills and incinerators to zero – and to rebuild our local economies in support of community health, sustainability, and justice.
Adopting a zero waste approach to resource management is critical to the future of our planet and its peoples.
Today’s throw-away societies create and dispose of vast quantities of waste every day. But not all are equally responsible for this problem. Those who already have more, waste more — and this pollution is too often dumped on communities that are treated as “disposable.”
As pollution overwhelms many of our cities and natural resources become scarce, people around the world are increasingly realizing that this pattern must change. We cannot continue to throw “away.” Simply put, “away” does not exist. When we bury our waste, the landfills that we create hurt communities; they generate toxic leachates and emit methane gas which contributes to climate change. Burning garbage (otherwise known as “incineration”) is an equally primitive scheme that also destroys resources and is even more costly and polluting.
There is a much better approach. For generations now, workers and communities have conserved materials and created value through composting, recycling, and reuse. They have innovated solutions and demonstrated how to create locally resilient economies through strategies that generate livelihoods, rebuild the soil, protect public health, and recover materials for manufacturing. And today they are coming together with forward-thinking local governments to put forth a new vision of how we can live better in this world.
What are some of the elements of zero waste solutions?
At its most basic, zero waste is about significantly reducing, and eventually completely eliminating, the amount of stuff that we send to disposal. Most of what we now waste can be safely and economically recycled, reused, composted, or turned into biogas. We also need to simply use less disposable stuff and redesign our products so that they are toxic-free and built to last.
Wastepickers from Parisar Vikas compost waste in a housing colony in Mumbai, India.(Photo by Gigie Cruz)
But zero waste is also much more. It is about environmental justice, so that pollution and waste treatment facilities are not concentrated in poor and disenfranchised communities. It is about inclusion, so that the millions of people worldwide who make a living by collecting and selling discarded materials (aka waste pickers, catadores, grassroots recyclers) are able to live with dignity. It’s about putting money into real solutions, and combatting corruption. It’s about community organizing, education, and democracy, so that all citizens can participate in local resource management plans, 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
- Reusing discards
- Extended producer responsibility, especially for the most toxic products
- Comprehensive recycling
- Comprehensive composting or bio-digestion of organic materials
- Citizen and worker participation
- A ban on waste incineration
- 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 their waste disposal levels to zero. 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.
Zero waste can combat climate change
Preventing waste and expanding reuse, recycling, and composting programs – that is, aiming for zero waste – is one of the fastest, cheapest, and most effective strategies available for combatting climate change. GAIA’s international network is organizing to support community-based movements for environmental justice, zero waste, and real climate solutions.
We believe that a zero waste approach to managing our resources addresses root causes of global warming while safeguarding human health and dramatically reducing our demand on natural resources. As waste companies and other climate cons try to sell their incinerators and landfills as “renewable energy facilities” to governments worldwide, GAIA is working to expose these polluters’ false claims and highlight the real climate solutions provided by a zero waste approach. These are goals whose time has come, and these are the issues and stories that Zero Waste World will be sharing with you.